“He seemed to go through a period where his public image, his lifestyle, the sort of person he was, captured the public imagination even more than his work did.”
-Jack Hemingway (son of Ernest Hemingway), 1986
“I want to run as a writer, not as a man who has been to the wars; nor a bar room fighter; nor a shooter; nor a horse-player; not a drinker. I would like to be a straight writer and be judged as such.”
-Ernest Hemingway, 1950 (in a letter to Robert Cantwell)
THE RISE OF PHOTOJOURNALISM AND MASS-MEDIA HELP MAKE HEMINGWAY ONE OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY’S FIRST AMERICAN INFLUENCERS.
After graduating from high school in 1917, Ernest Hemingway worked as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. This job exposed him to the media’s growing addiction to sensationalism and taught him the craft of writing clear and succinct prose. Hemingway’s journalism experience, his interest in boxing and big-game hunting, and his military service during and after the First World War enabled him to explore fiction writing about everyday people and to hone his innovative writing style. His adventurous lifestyle and the success of The Sun Also Rises (1926) coincided with the public’s growing interest in photojournalism and lifestyle magazines, pushing Hemingway into the limelight. By the 1930s, Americans craved international recognition of their culture as one that surpassed that of Europe. Hemingway’s trajectory from literary celebrity to international icon in the 1940s and 1950s paralleled America’s increasing global economic and cultural dominance.
We have on offer a collection of over 100 original press photos from Wide World Photos (acquired by the Associated Press in 1941) that span three decades and chronicle Hemingway’s public and private life. Selected highlights include:
-Images of Hemingway’s overseas travel as a war correspondent during the Second World War
-Photos of time spent with Gary Cooper, Sinclair Lewis, Lauren Bacall, and Fidel Castro (featured in The Atlantic in 1965)
-Shots of fishing excursions in Cuba and Peru, bullfights in Spain, and hunting trips in Africa
-A photo of Hemingway, and his fourth wife Mary, that accompanied a New York Daily News story breaking the news of a 1954 plane crash in Uganda in which he and Mary were presumed dead
-Pictures on the occasion of his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature
-Portraits of Hemingway that were printed in The New York Times and other leading publications announcing his death in 1961
Scribner, his publishing house, promoted Hemingway’s daredevil side and attempted to build him up like a Hollywood star by disseminating photos to fan magazines, newspapers and gossip columnists. In turn, the media courted him and relished in his super-masculine adventures. Though Hemingway showed some ambivalence towards celebrity, the paparazzi and the public were fascinated by this bon vivant who was a big game hunter, bullfighting enthusiast, playboy, and avid traveler. Hemingway capitalized on his persona as both a man’s man and a literary superstar, taking risks in art and life and cheating death numerous times.
His relationship with the press became more strained in the 1940s and 1950s as he dealt with mental health issues and failed marriages. The media focused on his loud and aggressive behavior in public, especially when drunk. His opposition to being portrayed as a caricature of himself, and his desire to be respected for his craft, led to clashes with journalists. He sought professional accolades and acceptance and feared that the public’s fascination with his larger-than-life personality prevented him from being among the literati. The General Editor of the Hemingway Letters Project observed, “On the one hand, you have a writer who cares very much about his public reception. He’s always asking how the sales are going. He loves good reviews. He courts celebrity to some extent. On the other hand, he does have this intense desire for privacy.” (Spanier and Mandel)
The photos in this collection expose a thrill-seeker with a serious side. Underneath the bravado, he was a sensitive writer plagued by self-doubt who wrote crisp, piercing sentences that told stories about soldiers, lovers, hunters, bravery, fear and death. In 1952, his publisher, Charles Scribner said, “The important element in Hemingway’s writings derives from his constant concern to convey powerful psychological states: despair and hope, fear and courage, anger and resignation…the ultimate goal is the transformation of character.” Hemingway’s literary ascension was completed when he received the two biggest prizes in literature. The Old Man and the Sea was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953. In October of 1954 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, saying he was “proud and happy.”
During the early part of Hemingway’s career the press often romanticized him, but as his fame grew, so did media scrutiny, making him a prisoner of the image he created. Even his funeral, which was limited to close family and friends, became a media circus.
While Hemingway's relationship with the press was often turbulent, it was also a reflection of his complex personality and the era in which he lived. Hemingway’s style forever changed the landscape of literature and this exceptional photo collection offers a glimpse into the life of this literary giant, providing a collector with the historical context to better understand his work and his legacy.
Over 100 silver gelatin prints (113 by our count, although with some duplicates), the images measuring approximately 8 1/2x6 1/2 inches (21.6x16.5 cm.), and slightly smaller, and the reverse, most with a Wide World Pictures or Associated Press stamp, and most with a press clipping or slug, on verso. Photos from 1934-65.
Hans-Peter Rodenberg. The Making of Ernest Hemingway. Zurich: LIT Verlag, 2014.
Lillian Ross. “How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen?” The New Yorker, May 6, 1950.
Charles Scribner, Jr. In the Company of Writers. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1990.
Sandra Spanier and Miriam B. Mandel, Ed. The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 5, 1932–1934. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.
Price: $12,500 .