Anybody going to watch the Ken Burns Hemingway Documentary on PBS?

It was a different time, I know, but I was saddened by the African safaris. Wanton slaughter of wildlife, something he pursued over most of his life.

Had a trans son/daughter. Greg/Gloria.

It was a pretty good doc and I hadn’t necessarily set out to watch the whole series. It really delves into the complexities of the man.

I’ve enjoyed all of Burns’ documentaries. The only one that didn’t really do it for me was Vietnam, probably because I’m just done being guilt tripped over that conflict and just can’t get into the post-fall of Saigon sentimental crap anymore.

Yes, that was sad for me and my wife as well (she even lived right near there in Kenya for a couple years). Even more sad to know that folks still go trophy hunting in Africa although they don’t have the luxury of slaughtering every single animal they come across.

The weird thing was (to me) that judging by many of the photos taken at his homes, he had an affinity for pets and in particular, cats.

Yeah although I’ve always appreciated Hemingway’s talent as a writer, his many personal flaws are clearly evident in this documentary:

  1. He was extremely insecure. He couldn’t handle criticism; he engaged in feuds with critics, to the point of physically threatening a guy who wrote a bad review; he acted like he knew everything about everything. I saw very little to indicate that he had any concept of humility. He couldn’t handle the possibility of his third wife Martha Gellhorn achieving more acclaimed stories than himself, so he deliberately undermined her ability to cover the events of World War II, to name just one example.

  2. He threw his friends under the bus by trashing them or their thinly-disguised avatars in his stories. That’s a bitch-ass move, I don’t care how many lions you can shoot. He did a hatchet job on a guy by the name of Harold Loeb, portrayed unflatteringly in The Sun Also Rises as Robert Cohn; he also talked shit about John Dos Passos in A Moveable Feast. It’s just not a classy thing to do, nor is it becoming of someone who fancies himself a hard man.

  3. He witnessed political repression of Spanish Republic personnel by doctrinaire Stalinists, and he willfully swept it under the rug rather than report on it and jeopardize his career. Apparently he was well aware of people being tortured, kidnapped, and summarily executed, and he made no public outcry about this. Either he didn’t care, or he actually bought into the Stalinist propaganda; neither option is very good.

  4. As mentioned above, he seems to have been obsessed with dominating nature by killing animals. Yes, he was the product of a time when Teddy Roosevelt and the myths of Manifest Destiny were idealized, but even going beyond the trophy hunting, was his obsession with bullfighting, which I really can’t find any possible justification for. He claimed he always sought a clean kill while hunting - how exactly did he square that with the prolonged torture of a bullfight? My guess is, he didn’t - he viewed the natural world as little more than a playground for his own thrills. I searched for evidence that he preached any kind of conservationism, and couldn’t find it.

  5. He validated every stereotype and myth of the self-destructive artist. He was quoted in the documentary as saying something like “if it makes me feel good, it’s moral. If it makes me feel bad, it’s immoral.” That’s…not a way of life to be admired.

I don’t mean to totally trash the guy and his legacy; he did have good qualities too, like most people. He had undeniable talent. He was far from the worst hedonist of his day; he displayed great courage in many of the things he did during World War I; I don’t think he’s some kind of irredeemable beast destined for the fires of hell. He just seemed like he could, you know, be kind of an asshole.

Definitely. I’ve been to Key West and seen the famous 6-toed cat descendants that still live at his house.

Ken Burns? Hemingway?


Lamoral, well said.

The program said Hemingway was always uncomfortable being interviewed on film, but that canned interview late in his life was indeed very sad, including him saying “comma” and “period,” the latter not for emphasis. I can’t imagine his voice wasn’t recorded earlier in his life, though; I would love to have heard a young Hemingway.

Never knew before about his interest in androgyny and gender-role swapping; never knew about his young Italian muse Adriana, either. And two plane crashes in Africa within days! Yikes. Loved Fitzgerald’s zinger that Hemingway “wanted a new wife for every book,” and ex-wife Paulina and current wife Mary bonding as graduates of “Hemingway University,” and Papa referring to the Nobel Prize in Literature as “the Swedish thing.” Good to see A.E. Hotchner, who was close friends with both Hemingway and with Paul Newman; he died just last year.

The last segment about Hemingway’s descent into madness was very sad. Hadn’t heard before that he actually tried to walk into the moving blade of an airplane propeller. The final sequence, with Edwin Newman’s tribute to him played over a collection of pictures of Hemingway throughout his life, was quite moving.

Hemingway’s papers are now at the JFK Library in Boston. Here’s how they got there: JFK and Ernest Hemingway: Transcript | JFK Library.

My book club just chose For Whom the Bell Tolls, which I’m looking forward to reading.

I think I’ll also now go back and re-read Joe Haldeman’s The Hemingway Hoax, a great sf book for any fan of Papa. A Hemingway scholar and a con artist decide to fake the short stories that Hadley lost on the Paris train, and then make a killing selling them to the highest bidder; things get seriously weird after that.

I don’t remember her name, but I loved listening to the older female writer that had the Irish or Scottish accent.

Another thing I hadn’t realized was how physically frail he looked after he survived the two plane crashes in 1954. Perhaps it’s because people seem to age slower today but, by the time of his suicide, he could’ve easily been mistaken for someone in his 80s.

My wife and I were both shocked that he was only 61.

'Tis herself: Edna O'Brien - Wikipedia

Yes, it’s hard not to feel bad for him after witnessing that NBC interview and everything that went along with his final years. And also, I didn’t realize until finishing the documentary last night that A Moveable Feast was one of the last things he wrote; it was one of the first things of his that I ever read, as a freshman in college.

The effect of repeated head trauma on Hemingway’s health and his psyche can’t be overstated. Even one bad concussion can have lingering effects forever, and he seems to have injured his head again and again and again all throughout his life. While some of these incidents were beyond his control, such as the plane crashes, I have to assume that many of them were a side effect of his heavy drinking. It must also be remembered that drinking was a far more commonplace form of self-medication at the time; after what he witnessed in World War I - again, something beyond his control - it’s kind of understandable that he would turn to booze. But the boozing plus hard living and a physical lifestyle = more head trauma, which probably led to more drinking, which probably lead to more head trauma and bodily stress. He really wore himself out and his physical appearance showed it.

Hemingway is one of the innumerable cases where it makes you question where the borderline lies between “mental problems” and “character flaws.”

Also, it should be added that his friendly mentorship of the young J.D. Salinger, who first met him in Europe during World War II, was one rather heartwarming counterexample to his reputation as not getting along with other writers.

Thank you!

Having just one brain injury makes you far more at risk for subsequent brain injuries compared to someone that hasn’t had one. I’m sure his heavy drinking added to that already elevated risk.

Yes, that was a nice little story.

Here’s a brief but engaging JFK Library-sponsored conversation with Ken Burns, Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein about the documentary, starting at 1:11:05 here: 45th Annual PEN/Hemingway Award Celebration - YouTube

Before that, if you’re interested, are readings by last year’s and this year’s PEN/Hemingway Award-winning novelists.

Got through the first half hour of the first episode…and just lost interest. Don’t care. Not a fan of the writing. Less of a fan of the man.

Just finished it. What a soul-crushingly sad and depressing documentary. I knew the man fell far short of the myth, but not to that degree. Attempting to walk into a spinning propeller blade? Pretending to kill himself with an unloaded shotgun to friends as a laugh, years before actually killing himself the same way?

To the world he was, and still to a degree is, HEMINGWAY the larger than life character, one of the most famous American authors ever, and seemed to live a life as interesting as anything in his novels. In reality he was a very insecure, depressed, sad person, already a has-been by his forties. I guess nobody gets to live out their own myth.

My opinion, as well. I don’t get the appeal. Never have. But I’ve never been a big fan of big macho (faked or otherwise).