Ernest Hemingway was a real fucking man. He was a mustachioed man-steak not seen on this earth for generations, and maybe that’s for the best. One Hemingway was enough to tear his way through big and small game from the heart of North America to deepest darkest Africa. One Hemingway was enough to pen some of the greatest, primally emotional and brilliantly simplistic prose in the English language. One Hemingway was enough to sweat his way through countless hours of biddy boning and genuine-honest-to-God-death-defying-love-making with ladies across multiple decades and continents, siring suitably fucked-up kids along the way.
I know I’ll never get to sip Cafe Americano in a hipper than fuck Parisian coffee house, nor go swig for swig on a bottle of bottom-shelf gin at one in the morning on the darkened steps of some great French architectural marvel. I’ll never talk smack about the Fitzgeralds with him, then dine with them later that night, nor read his thought-to-pen words before anyone gets a chance to sully their manly-as-balls truth. I’ll never share a Bolshevik roll-up with him, nor earn his ‘admiration’ or ‘respect,’ but every day and in every way, I am trying and trying to live The Ernest Hemingway. As should you, dear reader, so get off your ass (not yet, sit down, finish reading) and get fucking sloshed, then kill something or nail somebody. Preferably all three.
Any hipster worth his salt wants Hemingway’s life of chauvinistic ‘authenticity,’ whether they know it or not, and since ‘Hipster’ was my second major at my mid-sized east-coast liberal-arts college, of course I wish I lived in Paris in the 20s and did the shit he did. So prepare for a loving-ass word-portrait, dear reader, in which I make it painfully clear that all I want to do is spend the rest of my God-given days between the sheets with Ernest Hemingway.
Born in 1899 to a fairly wealthy mid-western family, from an early age Ernest was taught to use such ‘fine and good’ language in his part-time journalistic pursuits as would characterize his later writing. He believed in the merits of experience and hard liquor. He learned to fish, hunt and camp, and developed a love of solitude and nature. I mean, come on. He’s prefect.
Ernest’s relationships with women were precisely as complex as they should have been for a man who
ate pink tacos faster than McRibs constantly created and redefined the literary ‘ideal woman’ for the four decades of his career. To go through all his wives, lovers and
female friends could fill a book, but none the less, I’ll do my best to not skip any sex-having.
Reportedly, Ernest hated his mom, but (thankfully)(?) since he wasn’t banging her, that Freudian bit of trivia need only be mentioned as highly formative, then set aside in favor of graphic, colloquial terms for vagina.
In 1918, Ernest volunteered as an ambulance driver and was sent to Italy. He managed to get himself blown (up) within a couple of days and was shipped off to a recovery hospital so as to not let his mangled, shrapnel-ridden legs depress anybody at the front, since everything was all so hunky-dory before that. Upon arriving in Milan, he fell mad in lust with a sweet slice toting a nursing license and an unfortunate name, Agnes von Kurowsky. The two apparently agreed to marry, but when Ernest was sent back to America after the war, he got a Dear John that said, “Oh yeah, hey, oops, I’m
banging engaged to this Italian guy now. Kthaxbi.” From that day, truly, Ernest was fucked (but not). He continually searched for a bangmaid with Agnes’ nurturing characteristics, imperviousness to danger/sense of adventure, and most importantly, an American who loved Europe. F. Scotty Fitz thought he needed a new woman for every book, and Ernest certainly made enough eviscerating/sanctifying portraits in fiction of his favorite (and in fact, all) sausage-wallets that I’m inclined to believe him. But as Billy Faulks, his greatest literary rival
astutely sneered, “Hemingway thought he had to marry all of them.” Ah, the folly of youth.
Ernest got over Agnes by getting a quickie marriage to the American Hadley Richardson in ’22. They were a good match, despite her being 8 years older (cougar territory, rawr), and since she was an accomplished pianist and financially independent outdoorswoman with half a brain and a nickle’s worth of imagination, she was ready to gtfo of Illinois. They moved to Paris where Ernest got work as a foreign consultant, and the couple soon became friends with like-minded ex-pats:
-Sylvia Beach- who ran Shakespeare & Company, and who apparently met Ernest when he walked into her store, five years before he ever published anything other than a newspaper article, and declared “I’m Ernest Hemingway,” then proceeded to tell her stories about the War, and showed her his scars.
-James Joyce- with whom Ernest used to have massive benders which would often involve Joyce picking a fight with someone he didn’t like, then making Ernest fight them, yelling “Take care of him, Hemingway!”
–Ezra Pound– who Ernest revered as a sort of saint, and attempted to have released after he was committed to an insane asylum.
Pound saw talent in Ernest and brought him to Gertrude Stein, thus beginning the Hemingway’s relationships with the greatest fucking drunks in Paris.
Ernest and Hadley traveled extensively with the literary jetset, including annual trips to Pamplona for The Running
of the Bulls. Hadley got up the duff and for some ungodly reason the Hemingways moved to Toronto for the birth of their son, John. But after realizing that being in the cultural capital of Canada is almost—butnotquite—the same as the cultural capital of the planet, they soon moved back to Paris and reunited with their friends. I can only assume that around this juncture Ernest found himself knee-deep in snatch, because upon his return, shit starts to get real. This was during the period of writing and revising The Sun Also Rises, which had been inspired by one of the Hemingways’ trips to Pamplona, accompanied, among others, by Harold Loeb and his foxxy lover, Lady Duff Twysden. Ernest wanted to bang Duff, and strangle Harold, but was disappointed on both counts. Reeling from this rejection (which seems to have been his first serious poon interest– poonterest, if you will– outside his marriage to Hadley), he pursued Pauline Pfeiffer (and her sister. I get it Ernest, better odds, I totally get it), a fellow journalist, beginning in the summer of ’25. He proceeded to take Pauline on various trips with Hadley and John. Including Christmas vacation. Hoping against hope for a threesome. Well hey, he was blinded by the secks, what can you do.
Hadley dumped him in ’26, and divorced him by ’27, and Ernest put a ring on Pauline within the month. She soon pooped him out two more sons, Patrick and Gregory, and since Pauline was loaded, they left Paris in ’28 and moved to Key West, where Ernest would keep a permanent house for the rest of his life, and do some of his most notable writing. And have a shitload of cats.
During the 13 or so years of their marriage, Ernest pursued countless woman on his numerous trips between America and Europe. He drank profusely, hunted and fished constantly, and wrote his best work while he was married to Pauline (I in part attribute that to the fact she sort of let him do whatever the fuck he wanted while she stayed at home with the kids. It’s probably why their marriage lasted so long. Depressing.). He was an established writer thanks to the huge success of The Sun Also Rises and Farewell to Arms, and had decided to grow the most resplendent lip-scarf that ever graced the face of a mortal man, so of course he played those cards to the hilt.
Among many, he did his best to slam the society staple and Truman Capote muse, Slim Keith. He took her on hunting trips and oggled her fierce diva duds, but never managed to tap dat since she was head-over-ladybits for Howard Hawkes, the movie maven.
Ernest also had it bad for Marlene Deitrich, dimepiece to the stars, though both denied they ever bumped uglies (in Marlene’s case, he’s like the only one who didn’t ring her devil’s doorbell). Ernest described them as “victims of unsynchronized passion,” which, as presh as that sounds, is a little less poetic in light of the rull graphic letters he wrote her.
He had his way between the fertile loins of Jane Kendall Mason, an attractive and wealthy woman who could, in fact, go shot for shot, and ‘fished’ with him whenever he wanted off the coast of Florida. She was energetic but high-strung and “wild-assed,” with a third husband on the way out and shopping for another. While Ernest lived in Havana they kept a house, but he was still mentally committed to his marriage with Pauline, and eventually Jane left because he kept bringing his kids around (and used her as the model for an adulterous bitch in one of his books, but that one’s up in the air as far as wet-blanketing goes). I’ll say a lot for, and a lot against the man (but mostly for), but he was always devoted to his children.
He had an affair with Sara Murphey, the wife of his friend Gerald, but it gets weird and stuff because both of her sons died the winter after he strolled down her ovary hallway. And then, since all his Paris friends knew them too, they all kind of knew Ernest was banging Sara, and he got really involved with cheering up her dying children even after they broke up, and blahblahfuckingblah, it got uncomfortable, lets move on.
Ernest had formed a friendship with the Baron Bror Blixon (oh those wacky Swedes and their alluringly alliterative appelations), who had once been married to Karen Blixon, who we all know as burnette Meryl Streep from Out of Africa. When Bror knew Ernest, he was on his third Baroness, Eva, who was twenty-something years younger, a former race-car driver and liked to walk around half naked a lot. The Blixons, the Hemingways and a couple of other friends from the Paris days, stayed on Ernest’s boat for most of the summer of ’35, and Ernest stayed in Eva’s cabin. I have no idea how Bror and Pauline were cool with this, but it’s not for me to paint you ’emotion’ portraits, now is it.
This was also around the time rumors of Ernest being into dudes started to seriously circulate (Zelda Fitzgerald had in fact accused her husband of playing Hemingway’s rusty trombone, but come on, she was obvi just jeal). When once criticized about his overt displays of masculinity by the writer Max Eastman (“Come out from behind that false hair on your chest, Ernest, we all know you.”), Ernest ripped open his shirt to display his chesthair, then punched Eastman in the face. That’s how you prove you don’t touch any dick but your own.
In 1937 Ernest went to Spain to cover/fight in the Civil War. While there he was ostensibly contacted to write a film script for an anti-facist propaganda movie, and met his soon-to-be third wife, Martha Gellhorn. She was a tough-as-beef-jerky, respected war correspondent, and it was clear she was going to bag him from the minute they met if he was the last thing she sank her proverbial whore talons into. They traveled around the world together as journalists, covering the start of the Second World War, and lived the rest of the time together in Havana. When Pauline gave in and divorced him in 1940, his and Martha’s relationship only lasted through the end of the War because he was such an asshat (in ’45 he made her cross the Atlantic in a boat full of explosives because he refused to do her the favor of getting her an airplane press pass) and she was such a SBW (she told him he was a bully and that her jukebox was no longer accepting his quarters), that without the excitement and constant threat of death that generally goes along with war, neither of them could stand the other after the bullets stopped flying. She was, in fact, the only of his wives to start divorce proceedings, and by all accounts, Hem didn’t really know how to take that. I imagine though he dealt with it the way he dealt with most things- with excessive alcohol, sex and blood-sport. Their complex relationship of mutual respect, competition, and sexual whizzbang is given the wonderfully tawdry treatment only the Home Box Office could provide in the classic Hemingway and Shithorn. Do yourself a favor and seek it out, like Scott Fitzgerald to gin.
SUPER BONUS FUN FACT- during the post D-Day retaking of France, Ernest was riding in a jeep with some resistance fighters and they got caught in machine-gun cross-fire, so they jumped into a ditch were Ernest proceeded to offer around a thermos of pre-mixed martinis. It’s good, it’s too good.
In Spring of ’46, Ernest married his final wife, Mary Welsh, who stuck around partially through sheer tenacity until his death, and partially because he’d adopted a ‘cheaper to keep her’ mentality about the marriage. They’d met during the War, and while he was still married to Martha, Ernie smoothly asked Mary to be his wife on their third date. They spent much of their marriage hunting in Africa or formerly-glacial America, and survived two plane crashes, an affair with the 19-year old ‘ethnically beautiful’ Adriana Ivancich, another with Ernest’s secretary, Nita Jensen (whose own parents thought was a floozy and who he first seduced by asking on the dock by his boat, “Has anyone ever made really good love to you?” TRUTHFACT.), and perhaps most trying of all, a Nobel Prize. Ernest had health problems in the last decade of his life, which, along with legal troubles, the deaths of most his friends, and an alarming and escalating daily alcohol intake, contributed to the depression which would make him kill himself in 1961. But first he finished his Parisian memoirs, A Movable Feast, which is his best and truest pieces of writing, and, in essence, a love letter to the city, the art of writing, his (ex-)biffle, Scott Fitzgerry, and his first wife, Hadley. I’m not even gonna joke about that, because my throat is too tight.
So, am I over-romanticizing an alcoholic, paranoid, womanizing, all-around-sonovabitch? Probably, but then again it was a romantic-fucking time, when there was no word for depression so you were called ‘artistic;’ when men were real men, and when woman didn’t spread those legs unless they were goddamn wooed apart. I can forgive a whole lot when it comes to brilliant and talented men. Remember that, Marcus Mumford
Well, folks, it’s that time again. We’ve brought you stories of turn of the century Ireland and racist America and now it’s time to turn to Old Hollywood. Actors and actresses, poets and intellectuals of the post Great War era were really into having sex. And generally not with people they were married to.
Today, we’ll turn to one of the most overlooked lesbian sexual adventurers of the Old Hollywood era. Actually, she was one of the only out-of-the-closet-and-proud-of-it Lesbian socialites around in the 1920s and 1930s. So good for her! Am I right?! Anyway, we’re talking about the Cuban/Spanish-American playwright and intellectual Mercedes de Acosta. I suppose it really isn’t fair to call her a sexual adventurer, because while she did have relationships with a lot of famous actresses, she did fall pretty hard for her most famous lover, Greta Garbo. She was on again off again with the silent film star for a really long time, like almost 15 years.
But before Greta were three of old Hollywood’s most adored pretty ladies. The first two weren’t that famous and you’ve probably never heard of them. Alla Nazimova and Tallulah Bankhead were their names. The third was the first really important modernist dancer of the 20th century, Isadora Duncan. She was really well-known for her use of long, flowy scarves in her dancing. And even more famous for the freak-accident involving a scarf and a car door that culminated in her (comically?) ironic death. (Was that wrong? I’m sort of sorry.) She was also famous for embarking on a number of adventurous sexcapades. In fact, it was our research into Isadora Duncan that led us to the tantalizing subject of this post because before the whole scarf debacle, she had a steamy affair with the far more scandalous Mercedes.
After Mercedes married Abram Poole in 1920, she started having affairs left and right with Hollywood starlets, writers, dancers, and pretty much anyone in that swanky 1920s/30s scene. You know the type. Notables include Edith Wharton, Pola Negri (wife to designer First-name-not-important Valentino), ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina, the supposed greatest stage actress of the 20th century, Katharine Cornell, and get this…Marlene Deitrich. Yeah. Girl got what was hers. (According to my favorite reliable resource, wikipedia, Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein’s long time partner, was not a fan of Mercedes, but admitted that she’d be hard to get rid of since she was intimately acquainted with the most important women in the US — Garbo and Deitrich.)
Most magical of her numerous affairs was by far her long and rocky relationship with Greta Garbo, who she called the love of her life. It was apparently miss fancy-pants Garbo who called the shots in their relationship and would go months without writing, driving Mercedes a little crazy. Greta finally called the whole thing off after almost 15 years in 1944.
But here’s where shit got scandalous.
Dying of a brain tumor and hurting for cash, Mercedes wrote an autobiography in 1960 called Here Lies the Heart in which she told about all of her affairs with famous women from back in the day. But these ladies were still around and they were not so into broadcasting the lesbian relationships of their past. And she lost a lot of friends. And by a lot, I mean all of them. Everyone stopped talking to her. People wouldn’t buy her book. She died poor and alone at the age of 75.
But she died a proud lesbian, which is what she sort of stood for throughout her whole life. And good for her, because she spent most of her young, scandalous life dealing with a bunch of pussies who couldn’t get their shit together for long enough to even approach the threshold of the closet.
So good for you, Mercedes. Garbo can suck it. Am I right?