Hemingway's writing to Marlene Dietrich on display
Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 31, 2007 at 10:03 p.m.
He called her "Kraut," and she called him (what else?) "Papa."
Ernest Hemingway and Marlene Dietrich met while traveling across the Atlantic on the Ile de France in 1934. Their friendship lasted until the Nobel Prize-winning author's death in 1961.
Thursday, the John F. Kennedy Library is releasing 30 letters Hemingway wrote to the legendary actress and singer between 1949 and 1959. Maria Riva, Dietrich's daughter, donated the letters, as well as typescripts of two stories, two poems, and an early version of the novel "Across the River and Into the Trees" to the library in 2003.
Hemingway's widow, Mary, donated his papers to the library in 1968.
"When combined with the library's collection of correspondence from Dietrich to Hemingway, these new letters help to complete the story of a remarkable friendship between two exceptional individuals," Tom Putnam, the library's director, said in a statement.
Dietrich's grandson Peter Riva said in a telephone interview that when his mother sold Dietrich's estate to the German government in 1993 she made a point of excluding the Hemingway materials from the sale.
"She considered them to be American treasures," Riva said, describing his mother's views, "and wanted them safeguarded for the nation. Frankly she was advised by friends to sell them."
Riva said an appraisal had estimated the donation's value at $6 million.
The correspondence consists of 25 letters (seven handwritten), four telegrams, and a Christmas card. They show Hemingway at his most unbuttoned: profane and boyish, sometimes playful, sometimes philosophical, and always deeply affectionate.
A sense of Hemingway's epistolary camaraderie (and intimacy) with Dietrich is apparent in a Feb. 1, 1950, letter he sent from Venice. "Mary is fine and sends her love," he wrote. "I'm on a big program of sticking with Miss Mary, and no matter who or whom. It is an easy program to stick to by a simple system of making love all night and thus being automatically fairly worthless for any other woman consumption."
It's plain from both sides of the correspondence (the JFK Library already had 31 letters and telegrams from Dietrich to Hemingway, sent between 1950 and 1961) that the strong emotional bond between them was matched by a comparable physical attraction. Intense protestations of love pepper the correspondence.
Yet Dietrich and Hemingway were never lovers. They were, as Hemingway once remarked to his friend and future biographer A.E. Hotchner, "Victims of un-synchronized passion." Whenever one party was unattached, the other was not.
The lack of physical consummation may have contributed to the often-heated sentiments Hemingway expressed. "What do you really want to do for a life work?" he wrote on June 19, 1950. "Break everybody's heart for a dime? You could always break mine for a nickel and I'd bring the nickel." Later in that letter, he refers to his new novel as "Under the Arm-Pits and Into the Trees."
The Hemingway-Kennedy connection began when then-Senator John F. Kennedy invoked the novelist in the opening of his book "Profiles in Courage." Later, Kennedy invited Hemingway to his inauguration. After the novelist's death, JFK intervened to assist Mary Hemingway in retrieving documents and personal possessions from Cuba, where the couple had lived.
In addition to housing Hemingway's papers, the library hosts the presentation of the annual Hemingway Foundation Award/PEN Award for distinguished first work of fiction. This year's ceremony will be held today, with Patrick Hemingway, the novelist's son, presenting the prize to Ben Fountain for "Brief Encounters with Che Guevara."
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