The Man And The Legend

Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century, is buried in Ketchum, Idaho, where spring comes late. He was not quite 62 years old when he committed suicide on July 2, 1961. He was honored in his time and had won a Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize.

On the centennial of his birth, CBS News Sunday Morning Anchor Charles Osgood honors this literary giant through the words of novelist John Updike, Hemingway's friend A. E. Hotchner, biographer Michael Reynolds and Hemingway's son Patrick as they reflect on his literary legacy.


In his Nobel acceptance speech, Ernest Hemingway read the following words:

"Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes and in this, sometimes, he is fortunate, but eventually they are quite clear and by these, and a degree of alchemy that he possesses, he will endure or be forgotten."

There is a monument to him in Ketchum, where he died. There is an elementary school named after him and a tourist industry. But the real monument, of course, is his work.

And his work is dazzling: The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, his short stories.

Michael Reynolds, a literary historian, has written five books about Ernest Hemingway. His latest, Hemingway: The Final Years, is coming out this summer. "Sometimes I feel like I know him. Sometimes we talk to each other in my dreams," Reynolds says.

"He involves the reader in a way that he doesn't make judgments for the reader. He forces the reader to become involved in what's happening in the story, whether it's a novel or a short story."

The following words are Hemingway's from a collection of his short stories:

"They shot the six cabinet ministers at half-past six in the morning against the wall of a hospital. There were pools of water in the courtyard. There were wet dead leaves on the paving of the courtyard. It rained hard. All the shutters of the hospital were nailed shut. One of the ministers was sick with typhoid."


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Novelist John Updike.
"The style of course catches your eye as soon as you read a sentence by Hemingway. The very daring use of Anglo-Saxon words one after the other," remarks writer John Updike.

Updike is the editor of a collection of the best American short stories of the century. Hemingway's The Killers is one of them.

"I've always taken that killing, that brutality in Hemingway--and some of it is pretty disturbing, actually it becomes almost sick, neurotic. But I took iall as an attempt to cope with the real fact of pain in the world. And so I never blamed him for it in the end. It's the world that is to blame, if anybody is. Hemingway just tries to give the news," Updike says.

Now, to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth this year, the last Hemingway book will be published this summer. It's called True at First Light a fictional memoir about his last safari in Africa.


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Patrick Hemingway.
"We were all spoiled by too much perfect weather and the older men were more uncomfortable and intolerant of the rain than the young outfit."

Those were the words read by Hemingway's son Patrick, who edited the book, at a Hemingway conference at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, where Hemingway's papers and manuscripts are stored.

Scholars and critics, editors and writers, four Nobel laureates among them, and ordinary citizens came to honor Hemingway. They came to praise or criticize his work; to discuss his place in history. There was talk about his style and his life. Psychiatrists talked about creativity and despair. It was a conference Hemingway would not have been caught dead at.

But, in a way, of course, he was.

"Whatever hyperbole there may have been in his mythic image, and whatever his failings as a man, as a writer, in my opinion, he was sometimes nearly perfect, " says CBS.com writer Gary Paul Gates.


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A.E. Hotchner
Hemingway friend A.E. Hotchner says, "There have been approximately 100 books written about Hemingway since his death. He's been dissected more than a frog in a biology laboratory."

And Francine Prose says "I don't think I noticed, in fact I'm sure that I didn't notice, the appalling quality of many of his many female characters. And if I did notice, I think I actually liked those women, because given the cultural alternatives that we were presented with then, I would much rather have been Lady Brett Ashley than Donna Reed."

It's almost 40 years since Hemingway's death, but here in Oak Park, Illinois, in the town where he was born, there is a special affection for the man and his work. Every other Tuesday, people from Oak Park and the surrounding area meet inside the small Hemingway Museum to read from his work. This da the story is Hills Like White Elephants, which is about abortion. But the word abortion is never used.

"'Well,' the man said, 'if you don't want to you don't have to. I wouldn't have you do it if you didn't want to. But I know it's perfectly simple.'
'And you really want to?'
'I think it's the best thing to do. But I don't want you to do it if you don't really want to.'
'And if I do it you'll be happy and things will be like they were and you'll love me?'
'I love you now. You know I love you'."


"I don't find Hemingway's heroines especially unreal. I find them at their best quite real. And I think there's often a sensitivity toward the female point of view that he's not given much credit for. In a story like Hills Like White Elephants. You can certainly feel the woman is the heroine. She's the one suffering. She's the one who's anxious," says Updike.

During World War I, Hemingway was an ambulance driver in Italy, where he was badly wounded. He spent time in France, Spain, Cuba, Africa. He was married four times and had three sons. He was a big-game hunter, a deep-sea fisherman and a journalist in the Spanish Civil War and World War II . He was one of the most famous Americans in the world, as famous as Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh--a superstar.


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A Farewell To Arms.
"Very early on he became aware that he was going to be a part of the lasting American literary canon. I mean there wasn't any question about that. The question was where he was going to be in it. You've done the great stories, you've done The Sun Also Rises, you've done A Farewell To Arms. And you're 29 years old," Reynolds says.

A Farewell to Arms is about World War I. This is how it begins:

"In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees."

"Nobody has given us the first World War in Italy. The retreat from Caporetto as written in that book doesn't exist anywhere else. That's real." A.E. Hotchner says.

Hotchner was Hemingway's friend for the last 14 years of his life. His book about those years, called Papa Hemingway, has been reissued for the centennial.


A.E. HOTCHNER
A.E. Hotchner and Ernest Hemingway
"Everywhere he went he became a student of what was happening. He's a chronicler of times that nobody else has chronicled. What other record do we have of the Spanish Civil War but For Whom the Bell Tolls?" says Hotchner.

Other stories followed; some of them not well received. His answer was to keep writing. The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer prize in 1953. But the following year, the year he won the Nobel prize, Hemingway and his wife Mary were in two plane crashes in Africa on two successive days. He was injured in the second crash more severely than was at first supposed.

"All over the world obituaries appeared: Hemingway dies in plane crash in jungle. Instead he walked out of the jungle, by some accounts carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of Gordon's gin, which was a wonderful image to have. I asked him about that. I said: 'Did you really come out with a bunch of bananas and a bottle of Gordon's gin that you rescued from that thing?' He said: 'Would I come out with bananas'?"
recalls Hotchner.

But Hemingway never fully recovered from his injuries. He continued to travel and to write, but writing became more difficult. And the Cuban Revolution compelled him at last to leave his beloved home there. He suffered from insomnia and depression. He endured electro-shock therapy and tried several times to kill himself.

"I always say that he had a lot to be depressed about at the end," says Patrick Hemingway. "He was waiting to go back to Cuba, probably to leave it permanently, but certainly to go back and collect his things. And the Bay of Pigs was a disaster. I mean there was no chance for him to go back, and all his manuscripts were there. All his possessions. I think he had plenty to be depressed about."

And Hotchner recalls "the last picture I took of him, which is the last picture in the book, if you look at his pants, they're doubled over in front. They are absolutely doubled over, from the man that he was. And he really looked like a skeleton. It broke my heart to see him like that."


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True At First Light
True at First Light has only occasional glimpses of Hemingway's power as a writer. This is one where Hemingway remembers a time in the past when he had had to kill an old horse that he loved:

"So you had brought him up here five days beore because someone had to do it and you could do it if not gently without suffering and what difference did it make what happened afterwards.

'Good-bye old Kite,' I said and held his right ear and stroked its base with my fingers. 'I know you'd do the same for me.' He did not understand, of course, and he wanted to give me another kiss to show that everything was all right when he saw the gun come up."


On a Sunday morning, July 2nd, 1961, at his home in Ketchum, Idaho, Ernest Miller Hemingway, not quite 62 and old and tired beyond his years and unable to write, got out of bed, put a shotgun to his forehead, saw the gun come up, and pulled the trigger.



©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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