Ernest Hemingway: Great American Moustaches

Hemingway’s own life was at least as adventurous (if not more so) than his fiction. And he wore a moustache.

On January 25, 1954, the dead man rode into town carrying a bottle of gin and a bunch of bananas. His head was bandaged, his arm was wrapped in part of his shirt, and there were burns on his skin. But he was, after having been reported dead by the international press, very much alive.

Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961) was one of those rare men who get to read their own obituaries. On January 21 he and his wife Mary chartered a flight over the Congo Basin. Days later two Hemingways and one pilot found themselves camping in the bush after the plane had caught a utility pole and smashed into the jungle. A fire was made against prowling cats, and drinks — no doubt welcome by this point — were passed round. A commercial airliner soon spotted the crash sight, but no signs of life, and reports reached news centres that the great author Ernest Hemingway had died.

Meanwhile, the trio had made it to Butiaba on Lake Albert, where a bush pilot found them, picked them up, and would have flown them to civilization had this second plane not caught fire shortly after taking off, crashed into the ground, and exploded. Nothing survived, except the four passengers. By road the group travelled to Entebbe on the shores of Lake Victoria, where newspapers were headlining their deaths. Hemingway suffered a concussion from head-butting his way out of the burning wreckage, torn kidneys, torn spleen, torn liver, compressed vertebrae, and burns. And he probably needed a shave.

Just months later, the Swedish Academy awarded him the Nobel Prize in Literature, because there isn’t a prize for being an all-around tough guy. His books are classics of 20th-century American fiction. I’m proud to list a few very interesting selections from the Memorial Library’s collection. They are, like the man himself, off the beaten track.

Ernest Hemingway Rediscovered (Plexus, 1988) by Norberto Fuentes
Ernest Hemingway’s life was as romantic and exciting as anything in his novels and stories — and this magnificently illustrated large-format volume captures many of his best years. The text, recounting Hemingway’s life and times between 1939 and 1960, is a remembrance by Norberto Fuentes, who was Hemingway’s good friend during that period. The more than 150 candid black-and-white photos of Hemingway and friends had never appeared anywhere until the publication of this book. Another 50 full-color photos taken more recently capture the different atmospheres of the writer’s several homes.

The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos and the murder of Jose Robles (Counterpoint, 2005), by Stephen Koch
The thrilling story of friends Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos in the Spanish Civil War. In The Breaking Point, Stephen Koch reveals that both Hemingway and Dos were in Spain as part of a group sponsored by Stalin’s propaganda ministry. Shortly after their arrival, Dos’s close friend Jose Robles Pazo was killed as a purported fascist spy. Dos could never accept Robles’s guilt, putting him at odds with Hemingway and placing his politics (and literary reputation) into question.

The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, volume 1: 1907-1922 (Cambridge UP, 2011), edited by Sandra Spanier and Robert W. Trogdon
With the first publication, in this edition, of all the surviving letters of Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), readers will for the first time be able to follow the thoughts, ideas and actions of one of the great literary figures of the twentieth century in his own words. This first volume encompasses his youth, his experience in World War I and his arrival in Paris. The letters reveal a more complex person than Hemingway’s tough guy public persona would suggest. A detailed introduction, notes, chronology, illustrations and index are included.

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