Hemingway and Celebrity
In this virtual event series, filmmakers and special guests explore the writer’s art and legacy. Conversations on Hemingway: Hemingway and Celebrity was presented by The Los Angeles Times, PBS SoCal KCET, and features Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, Lesley Blume, Patt Morrison and Rachel Kushner.
- [Narrator] I hate the myth of Hemingway,
it obscures the man.
- His talent is stunning.
- He went against the grain.
- [Narrator] It's hard to imagine a writer
who hasn't been influenced by him.
- In order to have something new to write,
he had to have something new to live.
- [Narrator] And he fell in love quite a few times.
- He's complex and deeply flawed but there he is.
- [Narrator] Hemingway the man
is much more interesting than the myth.
- [Narrator] Hemingway starts Monday, April 5th
at 8/7 Central only on PBS.
- Good evening, I'm Andy Russell,
President and CEO of PBS SoCal and KCET.
Thank you for joining us for this conversation
about the writer Ernest Hemingway and celebrity.
Tonight as part of PBS's Conversations on Hemingway series
that leads up to the broadcast
of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's
three part six hour documentary series, Hemingway,
scheduled the air on PBS SoCal, KCET,
and on PBS stations throughout the country
beginning on April 5th.
And thank you to our partners at the Los Angeles Times
for our collaboration for tonight's event.
Hemingway was perhaps the greatest writer
of the 20th century.
He was also a complicated individual
who enjoyed and often distrusted celebrity.
He may in fact have been the first celebrity writer,
something he was keenly aware of and contributed to
from his earliest days coming back from World War One.
Tonight, the filmmakers along with our special guests,
bestselling authors and fellow Angelenos,
Rachel Kushner and Lesley Blume will be joining us.
They will discuss with our moderator, Patt Morrison,
how celebrity influenced Hemingway's art
among other aspects of his life.
Patt Morrison is a longtime Los Angeles Times
writer, columnist and podcaster
who has a share of two Pulitzer Prizes.
Patt's a good friend of public television and KCET,
winning six Emmys among her many awards.
On behalf of PBS SoCal, KCET and the LA Times,
thank you for joining us.
For more information on the film
and upcoming conversations
on Hemingway events like this one,
please visit pbs.org/hemingway.
Now, before we welcome our panelists,
let's take a look at the introduction of Hemingway,
the three part documentary series
premiering on April 5th, 6th and 7th
on your local PBS station.
- Hemingway was a writer
who happened to be American,
but his palette was incredibly wide,
and delicious, and violent, and brutal, and ugly.
All of those things.
It's something every culture can basically understand,
every culture can understand falling in love with someone,
the loss of that person,
of how great a meal tastes,
how extraordinary this journey is,
that is not nationalistic, it's human.
And I think with all of his flaws,
with all the difficulties,
his personal life, whatever,
he seemed to understand human beings.
- [Narrator] You see, I'm trying in all my stories
to get the feeling of the actual life across.
Not to just depict life or criticize it,
but to actually make it alive
so that when you've read something by me,
you actually experience the thing.
You can't do this without putting in the bad and the ugly
as well as what is beautiful.
Because if it is all beautiful, you can't believe it,
things aren't that way.
It is only by showing both sides,
three dimensions and if possible four
that you can write the way I want to.
- [Narrator] Ernest Hemingway remade American literature.
He paired storytelling to its essentials,
changed the way characters speak,
expanded the worlds a writer could legitimately explore,
and left an indelible record
of how men and women lived during his lifetime.
Generations of writers
would find their work measured against his.
Some followed the path he'd blazed,
others rebelled against it,
none could escape it.
He made himself the most celebrated American writer
since Mark Twain,
read and revered around the world.
- It's hard to imagine a writer today
who hasn't been in some way influenced by him.
It's like he changed all the furniture in the room, right?
And we all have to sit in it to some,
we can kind of sit on the edge of the arm chair on the arm
or do this,
but he changed the furniture in the room.
The value of the American declarative sentence, right?
The way you build a house brick by brick out of those.
Within a few sentences of reading the Hemingway story,
you were not in any confusion as to who had written it.
- I can't imagine how it's possible that any one writer
could have so changed the language.
People have been copying him for nearly 100 years
and they haven't succeeded in equaling what he did.
- If you're a writer, you can't escape Hemingway.
He's so damn popular that you can't begin to write
till you try and kill his ghost in you or embrace it.
And I think, identify that most about Hemingway
is that he was always questing.
The perfect line had not happened yet,
it was always a struggle trying to get it right
and you never will.
- [Narrator] For three decades,
people who had not read a word he'd written
thought they knew him.
Wounded veteran and battlefield correspondent,
big game hunter and deep sea fishermen,
brawler and lover and man about town.
But behind the public figure
was a troubled and conflicted man
who belonged to a troubled and conflicted family
with its own drama and darkness and closely held secrets.
The world saw him as a man's man,
but all his life he would privately be intrigued
by the blurred lines between male and female, men and women.
There were so many sides to him,
the first of his four wives remembered
that he defied geometry.
- He was open to life, he was open to tragedy,
he was open to feeling.
I liked that he fell in love,
and he fell in love quite a few times.
He always had the next woman
before he left the existing one.
- [Narrator] He was often kind and generous
to those in need of help,
and sometimes just as cruel and vengeful
to those who had helped him.
- [Narrator] I have always had the illusion
it was more important or as important
to be a good man as to be a great writer.
I may turn out to be neither, but would like to be both.
- [Narrator] Hemingway's story
is a tale older even than the written word,
of a young man whose ambition and imagination,
energy and enormous gifts
bring him wealth and fame beyond imagining,
who destroys himself
trying to remain true to the character he has invented.
- One of his weakness, I was going to say failings,
and it was a great pity,
it's a great pity for any writer,
he loved an audience.
He loved an audience and in front of an audience,
he lost the best part of himself
by trying to impress the audience.
- I hate the myth of Hemingway.
And the reason I hate the myth of Hemingway,
it obscures the man,
and the man is much more interesting than the myth.
I think he was a terrific father sometimes,
I think that he was a loving husband sometimes,
I think he was like so many people
except this enormous talent.
Hemingway is complicated, he's very complicated.
- [Narrator] The great thing is to last
and get your work done,
and see and hear and learn and understand,
and write when there is something that you know,
and not before, and not to damned much after.
- Thank you everyone for joining us
and for the people who are going to take us
on this excursion tonight.
First, the co-directors of the film,
Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
Ken Burns, the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes,
Emmys, Grammys, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
And Lynn Novick, the co-director,
who has herself created with Ken
more than 80 hours of outstanding documentary,
filmmaking winner herself of Emmy, Peabody
and Alfred DuPont Columbia Awards.
It's such a pleasure to talk to both of you again.
- Thank you.
- Thank you.
- And for our other panelists, Rachel Kushner,
who is a best selling author of novels
like "Telex from Cuba", "The Flame Throwers",
"The Mars Room"
and her forthcoming collection, "The Hard Crowd".
And Lesley Blume, who is the best selling author
of fallout about the Hiroshima cover up,
and the book,
"Everybody Behaves Badly:
The True Story Behind Hemingway's Masterpiece
The Sun Also Rises", a title I love.
Thank you both for being here too.
- My pleasure, thank you for having me.
- Hemingway, love him or hate him,
is the giant of 20th century American letters.
He's a presence in every high school classroom syllabus,
he's the ghost over every writer's shoulder,
and people who have hardly ever read him
can recognize a Hemingway parody.
I'm told that through Airbnb,
you can rent one of his old apartments in Paris
and put yourself on Instagram with Ernest Hemingway.
So Ken and Lynn first,
why with a man who seems to be so well known
was this a project you thought you could undertake
and find out yet more and tell us yet more about him?
- Well, I think that he is.
And thank you very much, Patt.
And in your introduction
gave me two Pulitzers that I don't have
or a Presidential Medal of Freedom that I have not received.
And so I don't wanna gild the lily at all here.
He is well known
but a good deal of that is a carefully constructed facade,
a facade of his own making and a facade that we made
because it was simpler to see him this great, great writer
in the kind of outward manifestation.
And then because of that,
in some ways, the writing begins to be treated
in a kind of conventional fashion.
And we were very interested in all of the complexities
and all of the undertow
and contradictions of Ernest Hemingway,
and a way in which we could find out
through the exploration of not just the biographical story,
but a deep dive into the writing itself,
some interplay between the both were in that conversation,
we could begin to find cracks and fissures
in the carefully constructed by him and by the rest of us
facade and break through to something else.
That may not be satisfying
because it's not tidy and tied into a nice bow,
but is realer and closer to whoever this person is.
I mean, the great gift of big people like this,
out sized people,
is their dramas are sort of magnified
in a way that we can understand them
as also bigger versions of our own dramas.
And this is true in the art side of his work
and in the personal side of his work
and the way they played against each other
and with each other in this notion of celebrity
or the notion of public image and that's mesmerizing to us,
we've spent the last six years
with not a single dull moment.
- My apologies for over awarding you Ken.
So let me ask Lynn then--
- I have a photograph on my refrigerator
that shows two men standing in hell,
the flames licking up around them
and one guy says to the other,
apparently my over 200 screen credits
didn't mean a damn thing.
- So Lynn, here we have a towering figure
of the 20th century.
The 20th century is the century of celebrity
and also the century of the kind of media
that allowed celebrity to exist and multiply.
And so as you undertook this,
you were looking for
not just the manifestation of that celebrity
but ways to tell it that also reflected
how it became its own echo chamber.
- Yeah, I think we started with the work itself,
the words he wrote,
and quickly realized that the words written about him
were as interesting.
And the pictures taken of him
and the way he was represented in magazines, newspapers,
even newsreels over time.
There's a presentation of a public persona
that's as much of the story of his life
as the words he wrote and the relationships he had.
And so it just was really interesting to see.
I think many people are familiar
with a very famous profile in the New Yorker
that was done by Lillian Ross late in his life.
But his presentation and representation in media
starts way back at the beginning
when he came home from the First World War
and he came down to Gangplank in New York City.
There's a reporter there writing about him.
So we say that's the first of many headlines
that he would garner in his lifetime.
And I can only imagine what it felt like
to be this young kid coming home from war
and finding yourself in the newspaper.
And then there's a public presentation
of something that's not really you but it is you
and what does that mean?
So we were really interested in that
from the very beginning.
- And you also managed to get his son, Patrick,
to talk about him and his family
in a way that I'd certainly never seen before.
Do you think it's only now that people are coming to terms
with realizing what kind of figure he was
and the reach of Hemingway's influence?
- There's been some enormously wonderful scholarship
that's been done in the last several years about Hemingway
that's helped us understand him.
He's always as you suggested, Patt, in your introduction,
been a staple of high school and college classrooms
where people are thinking about him
and trying to interpret and finding new meaning
in this short story or this novel or this moment
and that changes as our times change.
And then I think you have, as Lynn is alluding to,
this idea of a person at a very early age having something,
what we'd call boldface about him happening
and then you begin to see
the way in which that is never quite accurate
and the way then he almost instantaneously
began to lie about his own experience
and began to embellish the stories.
And so he's getting back
and he's playing the wounded war hero
back in Oak Park in the Chicago area
and he's now beginning to expand the resume
and there is an interesting dialectic that's going on there.
So all of these things are interrelated.
So we're always finding out new things
and we would never begin to presume
that this was definitive about him,
but just in a way as comprehensive as we could get
for a six hour documentary that was beholden
to enormous number of scholars and writers
in helping us on camera but also off camera get it right.
- Lesley Blume's book, "Everybody Behaves Badly",
one of those new pieces of scholarship,
Lesley, here's a man,
again, we thought he was a known quantity,
and the rollicking years in Paris of course
which would become kind of a parody in themselves,
what did you find out about him
that surprised you as a writer
and as someone with a sense
of American history of arts and letters?
- Well, I think I mean, look, I documented Hemingway,
how he became Hemingway, so 1921 through 1927,
and how he projected himself onto a world stage
with his breakthrough novel "The Sun Also Rises".
I think one of the things that astonished me about him
and it leads us back to our topic tonight
is how unrepentantly and rabidly ambitious he was
from an early age.
I mean, it was probably his defining characteristic
when he turned up in Paris,
he wasn't it at all embarrassed about it,
he didn't try to hide it at all.
He wanted to be a revolutionizing writer,
the greatest writer of his,
not just his time, but in American letters.
And it wasn't just about the writing,
which he took very seriously,
it was also about garnering
major recognition and celebrity too.
I mean, one of his earliest editors in Paris
called him the limelight kid.
And so when he launched "The Sun Also Rises",
he had already conceived this larger than life
sort of hyper masculine persona
with what I would say is astonishing precision.
And by the early 1930s,
he'd become so internationally famous for it
that it was parody ready.
In 1934, Vanity Fair,
they made a page of Ernest Hemingway paper dolls
and each of the paper dolls
was a different Hemingway persona.
So it was the booze guzzling, lost generation writer,
the bullfighting aficionado, the deep sea fisherman,
and I think they called him America's own literary caveman,
hard drinking, hard fighting, hard loving,
all for art's sake.
And that is the persona
that remains intact today a century later.
I mean, it's a really astonishing branding, right?
And so I think what really, really surprised me about him,
A, was the unrepentance about the ambition
and B, the extremely clear vision
of who he wanted to be in the public
and how bulletproof
that persona really has been for many decades.
- So let me ask Rachel then as a novelist
whether you have felt his presence over your shoulder,
what kind of influence you think that he exerts?
I mean, is this the yardstick of American fiction
over and over again,
or is it something else?
- Well, I would say a few things.
Listening to Tobias Wolff
say that Hemingway changed the furniture in the room,
I think that that is probably very true
for Tobias Wolff's generation of writers
and people maybe slightly older.
I tend to recognize a Hemingway-esque
short, declarative, strong kind of compression
in older writers,
and not just American, Irish writers too for instance
who kind of had to contend with Hemingway as young people
in let's say the 1950s
when such a thing was still pretty radical and new.
Now I don't know if younger writers
still wrestle with him in the same way.
But I would say for myself,
I was very interested in the persona
that Lesley talks about so articulately
partly because I set my first novel in Cuba
in the years before the revolution
when Hemingway quite famously
had made a home for himself there.
Moreover, when you go to Cuba now,
he's practically considered a Latin American writer.
He is on every syllabus,
Cubans are incredibly proud that Hemingway lives there
and they consider him an honorary Cuban.
So I put him in my book as a kind of cameo.
And in thinking about Hemingway,
I was thinking much more of the person than of the books
in my relationship to his writing as a writer,
it was much more thinking about his persona.
And when I wrote an initial draft, a scene of Hemingway,
I showed it to my husband,
and I just drew from what we all know
and are talking about right now,
the myths of the drinker, macho hunter, attention grabbing,
and I showed it to my husband and he said,
well, you might as well just have him in a hunting vest
waving a marlin around as if to say,
well, we already know this myth
and so in a certain sense to write about it is static.
So then I decided to try to incorporate
everything that I thought Hemingway didn't represent
and just to see what would happen.
And so I have a scene in a bar
where he is insisting that other men dance with him
and speaking quite vociferously
about his own frustration with gender norms.
And to watch this documentary
and learn that Hemingway was dressed as a girl by his mother
and later was very interested in his marriage
in exploring different facets of gender
that were not categorically hyper masculine at all
was so fascinating. - Yes.
- So suddenly, it seemed like he,
I mean, in the documentary, they talk a lot about his,
or at least from what I remember,
Hemingway's appreciation of Bach.
And Bach to me is about counterpoint.
And I started to think there are counterpoints in Hemingway
that continually resist the myth
even as he was an active agent in constructing it.
- Yes, right.
And they get to that too in the documentary.
I do wanna bring in another clip from the documentary.
Lynn, can you introduce this for us?
- Yes, we just chose a clip
on the beginning of our second episode
and the first episode ends
with the publication of "A Farewell to Arms".
And so as Lesley was describing,
he's already launched himself on the world
with "The Sun Also Rises"
and publishes his, in my mind, his great masterpiece,
"A Farewell to Arms" and now he is very, very famous
and so we thought we just, given our conversation tonight,
drop you into the beginning of episode two.
(soft jazz music)
- [Narrator] By the time "A Farewell to Arms"
toped the bestseller lists in 1929,
colorful stories had already begun to circulate
about Ernest Hemingway,
many of them told by the writer himself.
He'd once planned to be a professional boxer, he claimed,
he'd fought in the Italian Army during the Great War,
then wounded seven separate times,
and then awarded a chest full of medals
about which he said he was too modest to speak.
And he'd nearly starve to death in Paris
while learning to write.
None of these stories was true.
- He mythologized himself.
Why do people mythologize?
To woo other people and also to keep them at a distance.
To feel inadequate were to boast about being over adequate.
- Hemingway constructed his myth to a large degree
and he made the mistake that all mythmakers do,
he thought that he could control it,
and there comes a time that you can't anymore.
It's taken on a life of its own.
It became very exhausting to be Hemingway,
the Hemingway that the public thought.
And let's face it, when he was in the public,
he was always in the public eye
and the people expected Hemingway to be Hemingway.
- [Narrator] His art and the godly myths
that grew up around him
were already becoming confused in the public mind.
At first, he himself was embarrassed
by some of the tall tales when he saw them in print.
But as his fame grew over the coming years,
it became harder and harder
to tell the real Hemingway from the one he had created.
- There's a Chinese proverb by the sage to Hangzhou
and he has it this way, he says,
good fortune is as light as a feather
and few are strong enough to carry it.
When you think of the weight
that his fame must have laid on him, even when he was young,
and the anxiety that would produce
of how can I live up to this?
How can the next book be better?
What is in me to make this real?
It's very hard, I think, to be a public person like that
and so I think every public person
creates some kind of avatar, if you will, of themselves,
some holograph of themselves to present publicly
to save whatever is private in them.
The problem is that eventually your avatar will consume you.
- Ken and Lynn, this was also the Hemingway you portrayed,
you think of Oscar Wilde, each man kills the thing he loves,
Ernest Hemingway really loved himself
but he also loved his writing and that was,
excuse the four legged critic here,
and that was the sense of himself
that he brought to the table,
and his own sense of disappointment in his own craft.
- Yeah, I mean, he was tough on himself,
that's for sure true
and he was always pushing himself to experiment
and do something different
and that persona was very constraining
and I think in some ways, it affected his work
in trying to figure out how to negotiate that
and whether readers would think he's always his protagonist
and if he's writing nonfiction, then is it about him.
And it got very, very complicated
and I think that's why we call that episode The Avatar.
But then there are moments of real brilliance
even in the context of that,
especially some of the short stories
he wrote after his trip in Africa
where he's really sort of investigating
what this persona means in a way,
especially "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"
which is about a writer
looking back with regret on his life.
So he has a lot of self awareness,
at the same time, he seems not to if that makes any sense.
- I think Rachel hit it as did Edna in the clip that you saw
that I think there's this simultaneous
wooing and pushing away,
this feeling of inadequacy and a bragging about adequacy.
And I think it comes from the fact
that he is so split down the middle,
that he has helped to promote and construct this masculine,
hyper masculine image
and at the same time, what has been roiling all his life
is a curiosity about gender fluidity and androgyny, right,
that embodies some of the best work that he's done.
And that's an extraordinary thing,
it's going to be splitting him in two
and of course, it doesn't end well.
But we do have as a byproduct some extraordinary literature.
- Lesley, do you think that Hemingway changed the way his,
excuse me about that,
but not only about writing,
but did he change the way we read,
that we read fiction in this country
and our expectations about it?
- Yeah, absolutely.
I mean, look, I remember
when I first started researching my book,
I interviewed editors and writers all around the world
and as we've been hearing Rachel say,
I mean, you're either writing against him
or you are writing in his grand tradition in a way.
And readers read on that level also.
And I think that when, especially with American writing,
the very spare, hard, concise writing
that has been so predominantly known as American writing
over the last seven decades,
that comes back to Hemingway and what he built
and what he released in a commercially successful way
in the 1920s and 1930s, that all comes back to him.
And so whether American readers realize it or not,
or international readers realize it or not,
when they're reading anything that's in that tradition,
a lot of that comes back to Hemingway
and before that, Gertrude Stein and other people
who were experimenting with that style
in Paris in the 1910s and 20s.
- And for Ken and Lynn,
as you explore this and research this,
you must surprise yourselves,
you must change direction once in a while
in how you construct the narrative
that you're putting together.
What were those moments with Hemingway?
- Well, one of the things that I realize is,
and I think Lynn agrees,
is that we now can't remember
the people who decided to do this,
that is to say, what baggage, what preconceptions we had,
and that had to be jettisoned pretty early.
And then if you do the style of filmmaking we do,
which is not to have a set research
that said writing and then a script
that informs the shooting and editing and done,
but are constantly researching and never stopped writing,
it permits us that kind of corrigibility
to be constantly turned over and constantly refreshed
and constantly surprised by new information.
So the whole process of this film
was a process of discovery,
it wasn't our exposition
of what we already knew about Hemingway
and wished you to know,
it was more you have shared in our process of discovery
and that was, I mean, that's always been our style
but in this particular case, it was revelatory
because it left us forced to seek like water will,
different places that we didn't expect to go
and to find darkness and to find lightness
in places you expect to have darkness and darkness
and in places you expected to have lightness.
- Rachel, before we had Lynn set up the next clip,
one of the things that comes through
is that he had a mania for new experiences
because those new experiences fed his writing, fed his muse
and this is probably the most weaponized muse
I think we have seen in American letters.
So how different is this
from the standard novelist experience
that you need to keep refreshing,
you need to keep hanging yourself out there
for an experience that will inspire you to internalize
and then tell the stories that you wanna tell?
- Gosh, well, it's a great question.
I don't know if there is a standard novelist,
I mean, there are just so many different ways of doing it
and I don't know if Hemingway
is an example to other people of any of those ways.
He certainly had a drive to live
and I actually, in watching the last clip,
I was thinking about the ways in which
some of what we learn in this incredible documentary,
I should say that Ken and Lynn have done
and as I've told everybody after seeing it, six hours of it,
all it did was wet a craving for more Hemingway
and then I read 'A Moveable Feast"
and several other Hemingway novels.
But one of the things we learn in the documentary
is that he came back from World War One
and told all these tall tales,
but then unless I misunderstand,
in World War Two, he was there as a journalist,
however, seem to somehow grab a submachine gun
and get involved in active combat.
And my impression was that he did that not for attention,
it wasn't part of his deep hunger for fame,
it was something so much darker
and maybe related to the hunting,
the need to have a life
that is invigorated by blood lust and violence
is fascinating to me.
But I don't know how it,
if that is a common experience for most writers,
of course not,
but for Hemingway,
part of why we continue to talk about him,
he was pretty unique,
but at the same time, he was also somebody who hung out
with Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein,
and these kind of more fussy grand personalities
of the modernist era.
But then there he was in World War Two killing
or at least firing a submachine gun.
- No, no, no, and I think that Rachel
you've hit the nail on the head,
his big hero was Teddy Roosevelt
and Roosevelt wanted to bag all the animals on safari
which he duplicated
and I think the trophy that Theodore Roosevelt
wanted to have more than anything else was a human trophy,
you wouldn't put it on your wall, that's not done,
but on San Juan Hill in a horrific moment,
it's what happens.
And somehow I think something overtook Hemingway,
he was no longer a correspondent,
he was in danger of getting in serious trouble
for violating the conventions,
but he fought as a soldier in World War Two
as a relatively old man as soldiering goes.
- And there was a moment in the film that made me laugh
about him butting heads with General Patton,
who's of course from San Marino, California
because I couldn't imagine two bigger egos
coming up against one another
in the middle of the biggest conflict
the world had ever known.
Lynn, can you set up the next clip for us?
We talk about a man living on the cusp of danger
and this is a perfect example of that.
- Yes, exactly.
I mean, he was a risk taker physically throughout his life
and he liked sports that were,
he threw himself into life, let's put it that way,
and he's suffered over the course of his life
actually quite a number of head injuries from car accidents,
and from World War One obviously.
And it's a theme that kind of evolves
over the course of the film.
And he's also just interested in new experiences
and so this is a scene from our third episode
when he's gone back to Africa
where he had been in the 30s with a second wife,
he's now back in Africa with his fourth wife on a safari
and they're trying to kind of rekindle their romance
which has been very complicated their relationship
because of many things that have happened to him
and how he has behaved.
And this just shows I think a bit of what happens
when you are a celebrity
on the scale that he was at that time.
- [Narrator] As a Christmas gift for his wife,
Hemingway hired a small plane
that flew them over the Ngorongoro Crater,
the mountains of the moon,
and the mighty Murchison Falls in Uganda.
As the plane dipped low above the gorge
so Mary could take photographs,
the pilot encountered a flock of birds,
dove to avoid them and hit a telegraph line.
The plane plunged into the bush,
Mary was knocked unconscious, two ribs broken,
Hemingway suffered a torn shoulder.
They spent the night high above the bank of the Nile
for fear of elephants,
fortified by a bottle of scotch
that had somehow survived the crash
and listening to the cries of hyenas.
A search plane spotted the wreckage
but failed to see the survivors.
Word quickly spread around the world
that the great writer Ernest Hemingway was dead.
Meanwhile, Hemingway had flagged down a passing launch.
And when they reached the landing
on the eastern shore of Lake Albert,
a policeman and the bush pilots
offered to fly them on to the Ugandan capital, Entebbe.
They climbed aboard.
But as the ancient plane rattled down the rutted runway,
the fuel tank exploded in fire.
The pilot helped Mary and the policeman
get out through the windows,
Hemingway was too big to follow them.
Twisted metal barred the door, flames were rising,
Hemingway was trapped.
He hurled his head against the door again and again
until he battered it open.
He insisted to news men gathered in Entebbe
that he had never felt better.
My luck, she is still good, he said,
and he looked forward to reading
all the premature obituaries
that had already been published around the world.
- [Narrator] In all obituaries or almost all,
it was emphasized that I had sought death all my life.
Can one imagine that if a man sought death all of his life,
he could not have found her before the age of 54.
- Who else gets into plane crashes in two days in Africa,
has the word go out all over the world that he's dead
and reads his own obituaries.
No one does that.
- [Narrator] Surviving two airplane crashes
in the interior of Africa,
Ernest Hemingway and his pilot Roy March
returned to Nairobi in high pedal.
On the second crash,
Hemingway suffered a bad bump on the head.
Mrs. Hemingway however came through it unscathed.
- So, Lynn and Ken,
and here's part of the myth of Hemingway,
the idea of a man who courted death
and certainly his mythology could only have been enhanced
by surviving two plane crashes in a matter of few days.
But his intimate relationship with death
as far back as the suicide of his father
and rehearsing suicide for his dinner guests
at his dinner table in Florida,
looking back at reading Hemingway now through this filter,
it does kind of alter your sense of what he was about,
not just the vigorous Teddy Roosevelt forward motion,
but a man who was stalled in this death moment
throughout his whole life.
- I wouldn't say stalled, Patt,
everything else is exactly right.
I think that he's stalled by other things,
the celebrity stalls him, the facade of self invention,
the lies stall him.
But in fact, whatever his mental illness,
whatever this suicidal ideation
that comes from the example that his father gave,
whether it's his experience as a teenager
in the First World War,
really coming this close to death,
his great service to us in whatever short story it is,
whatever novel is to be referring to that thing
as all good novelists do that none of us want to face,
and that is the fact
that we're not getting out of here alive.
And there is a kind of smell of death that attends to him.
I think a lot of that that is distasteful
is part of the hyper masculinity,
the toxic masculinity of him.
But the thing that's so valuable to us in almost every story
is this willingness to go ahead of us
and to say, this is our fate.
And it is unspoken,
he is so much of what he writes
because of the spareness of the prose,
it's what's unsaid in the things.
And so it's like an iceberg,
it's very little at the surface and the rest is beneath it.
And what he is luring you into
is a kind of fundamental understanding
of this inevitable mortality
which is what human beings
spent most of their lives avoiding.
And to me, he's not stalled in that,
he's given us a great gift.
The other stuff, it's up for grabs.
And I think he said it pretty well,
I would have found it already.
And he would find it later,
but this is a part of what
is in almost every sentence that he's writing.
- And Lynn with the creation of an avatar,
you use it to keep people at a distance
and to help understand yourself.
So there are so many elements
that he kept even at a distance from himself at least,
it seemed to be a reluctant embrace,
whether it's the androgyny
or his sense of not who the public man is,
but who the private man is and his own failings about that.
Can you speak to that?
- Well, I think earlier,
we were talking about what did we learned about Hemingway
and I think for me, the big takeaway was vulnerability.
What Lesley was speaking about, this armature around him,
it's not just insecurity and anxiety and depression,
those are all there but there's a kind of vulnerability
that he doesn't let people see in the public
and in this public persona,
but in his private correspondence, you see it
and kind of a neediness and kind of just emotional openness
in a way that I really find surprising
and very much in conflict or contradiction
with this sort of everything we've been speaking about.
And so, I'm sorry, I actually lost track of the question
'cause I was thinking about, I'm sorry.
- We know what he thought the ideal man was,
but we don't know necessarily
what he thought the ideal husband was
or what the ideal father was or,
but that protection of himself through the avatar,
aspects like androgyny. - Yeah.
- And how you brought those out in the film
in a way that certainly I hadn't seen
and I think will be surprising to a lot of people.
- I think the ways that we access some of that
was primarily through his own letters.
Miraculously, he saved everything
so there's an incredible collection of his manuscripts
and letters at the JFK Library in Boston,
and a project to publish every letter he ever wrote
and the letters back to him
are also in many cases accessible
so you really see him having conversations
with people in his life and revealing himself
in ways that totally contradict the public persona
in so many ways.
So I think that's how we sort of triangulate
his published work, his public persona,
and the real Ernest Hemingway
in so far as we could touch it.
- And as that monster is getting more monstrous,
there's also at the same time,
I don't know if it's mitigating,
but maybe a mitigating honesty
and vulnerability, as Lynn is saying,
that also is compelling and brings you in,
he's aware of stuff that's going on in him,
he may not want this to be published
that he wants his wife to be Peter
and he'll be Catherine in lovemaking,
but it is very much a part of the conversations
that populate the letters.
And there's a kind of freshness and honesty to that,
even as the demons are overtaking him.
And that's why this story to me
is so compelling on so many levels.
- I want to get a very quick answer
from Rachel and then from Lesley about this,
which is, how then he has changed
what we come to expect to see of writers
not just on the page,
but in their public presentations.
I mean, Dickens was a celebrity,
but Edith Wharton wasn't out there
telling people how she was living on her estate,
she wrote it in her pages,
but you didn't know about that lived life
to use the phrase of hers.
So very quickly, Rachel and then Lesley,
if you can speak to that,
and how that's changed our expectations
for what American authors
are supposed to be beyond just being authors.
- Well, I don't know.
I mean, it's something that I sort of ignore thinking about,
the question of fame generally and authorship.
I'm sort of stuck on thinking about
the singularity of Hemingway to be honest.
And I just wanted to add in a couple of things
about the documentary,
which is the photographs themselves, I think,
especially when he was quite young,
really speak to what Lynn was saying
about his vulnerability, he looks so soft.
And it's not at all what we come to know
of the more calcified image of Hemingway
with the beard and the turtleneck.
And it's a less formed person who seems more complicated.
In terms of fame generally, I don't know,
I think that at least slightly prior to Hemingway
and ever since,
having a public persona is a reality to being an author
and maybe two quick things.
I think that regarding fame with puritanical judgments
as though one can safely exist on the clear side of it,
of having refused it and preferring privacy,
is yet another way of managing your fame.
First, and second,
I think that wanting fame in a craven way
that perhaps maybe Hemingway and others have wanted it
does not at all negate
his incredible seriousness as an artist.
- And Lesley.
- I'll root this in history
because I'm not a novelist, I'm a historian
and so I can't really speak
to how it would affect my desired persona
in the marketplace.
But I mean,
one of the things that made Hemingway so extraordinary
was that he was such a huge departure
from the writers that preceded him that you mentioned,
Wharton, James Joyce,
I mean, these people were not mega celebrities.
And one of the things that Scribner's,
Hemingway's first major commercial publisher,
was so excited about when he came into their world
was that they were getting two things
for the price of one with Hemingway,
A, they were getting great revolutionary American literature
but B, they were getting a hell of a story
in Hemingway himself
because here he is, he's this outdoorsy writer,
that did not exist in the American imagination
about literary figures up to that point.
I do think it's very important at this point
because we haven't really touched on this
in any part of our discussion
to say that the persona and the Hemingway brand,
it was actually grounded initially in reality.
I mean, he didn't just totally fabricate this persona
and then market it.
I mean, he was an outdoorsman, he loved fishing,
he was incredibly annoyingly devoted to bullfighting.
I mean, everything he was passionate about,
he was irritatingly devoted to for some
because he would lay claim to it
when he got passionate about it.
But the passion was genuine.
So, it turned out
that it happened to be wildly lucrative also.
And I think that after Hemingway was launched as Hemingway,
it became a lot harder
for writers who followed him for generations
to not have personas of their own,
I feel like so much more was expected of them
to go beyond what they put on the written page
and be some embodiment of some world
or some idea of their world in a lucrative public way.
- Lesley makes a really good point that he's also,
when we blow past the attributes of this outer life
that are rooted in real experiences,
he is an extraordinary observer
of nature and of human behavior
and that comes from his active engagement
in these various things, whether it is bullfighting,
whether it is deep sea fishing,
whether it is hunting in Africa,
whether it is being with the lost generation
and whether it is in a trout stream in Michigan,
he's doing it.
And the only other thing I would challenge, Lesley,
is that Mark Twain experienced this,
had that same sort of celebrity,
the same relationship to the outdoors,
and unlike Hemingway,
was really willing to face
and directly try to come to terms within his age
the twin American things that we're dealing with,
space, the physical space, and race,
which was going to be and always has been our original sin.
And so there's lots of similarities
and public embarrassments and public stuff hanging on
and so he is the most famous writer since Mark Twain
as we say in the introduction,
and it's important to understand
that there was a 19th century antecedent
to this kind of big celebrity writer.
- One of the things I've wondered about a lot
in just studying Hemingway
and thinking about the questions we're raising here tonight
is he was such a great noticer like Ken saying,
but how does that change
when you are at the center of attention.
When you walk into your room, - That's the problem.
And everyone's paying attention to you
and you're holding forth
and giving advice about bullfighting
and what best wine to drink and everything else,
but at the same time I'm sure he is noticing,
but the whole dynamic shifts when you're the celebrity
and that had to have an effect.
And it was hard to be a fly on the wall
when you're Ernest Hemingway at a certain point.
- It's a corollary to the Heisenberg.
Once you're so self involved, once you've invited this myth,
can you really do the same sort of observational things
as you did before
when you're also at the same time trying to perpetuate
or distract from these vulnerabilities?
It's the question which makes him so interesting.
- So maybe to apply in his writing in the 1940s,
really until "Old Man and the Sea",
we see it sort of deteriorating
in quality and in originality.
And then he doesn't really staged a comeback
until he's had a period of aloneness
and introspection with old men (indistinct).
And so it catapults him back into this period of time
of being an observer and really staring down his demons.
And Ken, on your former point
about how Hemingway is always the one
who has us focused on what's terrifying about life,
I mean, he trained himself to be like that
ever since he was a young writer,
he went through what he described to one of his editors
as a self hardening process
where he would make himself look at death or battle scenes
or even the rotting carcass of a dog
by the side of a railroad
and make himself stare at it
and then just be able to describe it back
because he felt it was so much
a part of the human experience
and would therefore be so much a part of his experience
as an effective artist,
but that was like diligence on his part.
- I wanna get to a couple of questions
and one of them asks and you deal with this in the film,
was he ever not on?
And I think one of the people you interviewed
said it was just exhausting to be Hemingway.
- I think he definitely was not on all the time.
And he did sort of preserve part of his life for his family
and for intimate relationships with his wives
or other people that were important to him.
So his son, Patrick, that we've talked about,
described spending time with their father on the boat
or just at the pool just being together with his kids.
I mean, there is a private person there
who has a closed life,
like they built a wall around their house in Cuba
so that people wouldn't come in.
So there is a need for privacy
and there is a time when he just,
I'm sure is just, I would say, like let his guard down.
But it's rare, you don't see that.
- And there's the daily writer's discipline
which he had until things began to really fall apart.
He is really admirable in his ability to not only write
and do it on a daily basis,
but to be an extraordinarily tough editor
having 40 endings to "A Farewell to Arms",
to constantly rewriting our opening shot
as his own emendations
which we were in computer graphics taken off
and then we reapply it as if he was editing
one of the most famous paragraphs ever written
which is the opening to "A Farewell to Arms".
And it's having access for us as filmmakers to those papers,
you began to see the ability of him being on
in a completely different way as an artist,
as a writer, as a disciplined writer.
And there's something really admirable about that in him
even as everything begins to fall apart,
he's still struggling to maintain some sort of discipline.
And the real tragedy is that when that blank page is,
as our third episode is called, is before him,
it's an existential stew.
- One of the aspects in the documentary
and a couple of our questioners viewers have asked about it,
is the issue of misogyny
because misogyny is one of the first words
that may come to mind for a lot of Hemingway readers,
maybe the casual readers.
But Edna O'Brien in the documentary said,
he's really not a misogynist.
And this seemed to me
one of the more surprising aspects of this
and perhaps you can both speak to that
and then I'd like a very quick comment from Rachel.
- If you treat a woman badly, that's misogyny in my book,
he treated lots of women badly.
But he is also able to put himself
into experiences of people not of his gender.
And I would just rather than try to make
some facile argument for you,
I would suggest you read "Hills Like White Elephants"
or "Up in Michigan"
and just say that this is a woman hating man,
it is definitely not.
- [Patt] Lynn.
- Yeah, I think one of the things that's really important
is to separate his personal behavior in his life
from his work.
And so like Ken is saying,
there's a lot of examples and evidence
of his behavior being,
what Ken said earlier, toxic masculinity, misogynistic,
not viewing women as equals and treating them badly,
and objectifying them
and all the things that we have language around now
that wasn't really probably so easily identify them,
not to let them off the hook at all,
but he fits into a pattern that's very easy to recognize.
On the other hand, in his work,
and it kind of goes back to this question of vulnerability
and empathy and understanding of human nature,
he's reflecting much more complex relationships
between men and women,
how things don't work out, why people can't connect.
And I haven't seen misogyny in his work.
So I think that's,
unfortunately, because of the celebrity
and the public persona,
there's this idea of Hemingway as a misogynist
or his work being misogynistic.
And one of our advisors has a wonderful article she wrote
where she assigned one of her students
that came into her class saying,
I hate Hemingway because he's a misogyny and she said,
okay, here's a pink highlighter,
go back and read all these short stories
and come back and show me where you find misogyny in this.
And every week she'd come back to class
and she couldn't find anything.
It wasn't there.
- Point taken.
Can we get 30 seconds from Rachel about this.
- Yeah, I guess I agree with what Lynn is saying
or it resonates with my own experience.
I don't find his work notably misogynistic.
And in watching the documentary
and listening to Edna O'Brien describe her own experience
reading Hemingway's short story, "Up in Michigan",
and the way in which it boldly narrates
the experience of rape,
moreover, including the girl's point of view,
it did make me wanna reassess all of his fiction,
which is not to say that I considered him a misogynist,
but I also didn't maybe consider him
to be a writer unlocking female points of view.
And I do think that the life is separate
and that he's quite obviously
a man of a particular generation
where each one of his four marriages,
the women are doing a lot of supporting and sustaining
so that he can be the big man and write his books,
but this has been the case for almost every male writer
of the 20th century.
he seemed like he had a great hunger for romantic love.
And if you are interested in love,
you are also interested in putting yourself
into a place of need and vulnerability.
And since he was with women,
his place of need and vulnerability was also with women.
Although that said,
I would never wanna be married to Hemingway.
- Okay, Ken, go ahead.
- Nope, nope, nope, you don't wanna be married to Hemingway,
that's for sure.
- Do you think, Ken and Lynn,
we're looking back at 100 years of this man's work,
100 years from now,
will we also be talking about him and his work?
Do you think?
- I think so, I think so.
- I hope so.
- I think in the way that Michael Kataka spoke
that he's very American
and at the same time,
there's universal themes of elemental human activity,
making love and ordering a good meal,
all of the things that falling in love,
losing somebody that you love,
these are all in Hemingway,
the sort of sexual politics that are engaged there,
nature, just observations in nature,
I mean, "Big Two-Hearted River",
one and two are just stunning,
stunning pieces of writing about
and observations about nature that are really fantastic.
The first story I ever read
when I was a kid was "The Killers".
It takes place in a diner and in a shabby flophouse room
and nothing happens.
It is so filled with danger and dread
and foreboding and violence and death,
it is so amazing,
I can't believe that we won't be drawn
to that kind of subtraction of action
in a story in 100 years.
I don't think we'll lose other writers either.
I mean, I think the fact that we're talking about him
100 years later is a little bit reassuring.
- And I can assure you
that once you have seen this documentary,
you're going to go back and reread Hemingway
and reassess whatever it was
your high school teacher told you
and whatever it was you have thought about it since.
So my thanks to the panel,
especially to Ken and Lynn for delivering
another terrific, microscopic but mega look
at an aspect of American culture
that really needs some reexamining.
And we reexamine a lot of our own understanding
of American character and American nature when we do
so thank you both for doing this again for us.
- Thank you, Patt.
I'm very grateful to her Rachel and for Lesley
for being such extraordinary panelists tonight,
we really enjoyed listening and rearranging our molecules
about how to think about the guy
we spent six years thinking about so.
- So we want to let you know that for more information
about this new documentary,
to register for upcoming conversations on Hemingway events,
you can go to pbs.org/hemingway,
and Hemingway premieres April 5th, 6th and 7th
on your local PBS station.
Thank you all for watching
as for your questions and your comments as well.
- Thank you.
- Thank you, Patt.
- Thank you.