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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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Wyatt Earp: Great American Moustaches

The toughest and deadliest gunslinger in the West also kept the barbers in business.

No, this man is not snorting a furry banana. It must be – now, close your mouth – must be the water in Dodge City, Kansas, a city once policed by Mr Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (1848 – 1929). A testament to his merit is that he also policed, as deputy U.S. marshal, the aptly-named city of Tombstone, Arizona – alongside his three brothers Virgil, Morgan, and Warren. But it is the fulsomely coiffed Wyatt who was reputed to have been the toughest and deadliest man of his day with a six-shooter.

Tombstone was a silver mining town. It was also the scene of a legendary face-off between cowboy and lawman, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It happened at 3pm on the 26th October, 1881. It involved five outlaw cowboys (Billy and Ike Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and the McLaury brothers), three of the Earp brothers, and temporary deputy Doc Holliday. It lasted thirty seconds. The names alone are impressive.

Thirty shots were fired. Three men were wounded; three were killed; two fled.

Read about it and other wonders of the Wild West in these picks, from the Memorial Library’s collection:

Murder in Tombstone: the forgotten trial of Wyatt Earp (Yale UP, 2004), by Steven Lubet
Is the title not enticement enough? This book, written by a law professor, examines the legal fallout of the lead picnic at Tombstone. It’s considered the very best study and telling of the O.K. Corral’s aftermath.

Wanton West: madams, money, murder, and the wild women of Montana’s frontier (Chicago Review, 2011), by Lael Morgan
Have you ever wondered about a certain “professional class” of women in the Wild West? Look no further than Lael Morgan’s study, where feminine charm meets hard-edged capitalism. She chronicles the highs and lows of these adventurous women: people like Chicago Joe, with her addiction to finance and handsome men; the enterprising black prostitute Lizzie Hall; and Carmen, just as likely to stick a stiletto in a man as have a drink with him. Moralists wrote them off as “soiled doves;” reformers warned that these women faced an inescapable hell of disease, violence, and alcohol and drug addiction. Yet a surprising number prospered, flaunting their freedom and banking ten times more than their “respectable” sisters.

Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters (University of Oklahoma, 1979), by Bill O’Neal
I opened this book at random to a grainy, black and white photograph of ‘the bodies of the Dalton gang after the Coffeyville raid, propped up against the wall of a livery stable owned by John J. Kloehr, who fired shots into all three of the Dalton brothers during the shootout.’ This has to be the go-to source for anyone who freely makes a rubberband shooter of his right hand.

Into the West: the story of its people (Knopf, 1999), by Walter Nugent
A good history of the American West by a retired university professor. Whether expressed as history or literature, the story of the American West has revolved around recurrent themes of land and people. This title looks into the processes through which individuals and groups – defeated, dispirited, or merely bored in the places they are – gamble everything and reinvent themselves as westerners.

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Duke Ellington: Great American Moustaches

Duke Ellington at the Hurricane Club, 1943

‘Mood Indigo.’ ‘Creole Love Call.’ ‘Prelude to a Kiss.’ ‘Black and Tan Fantasy.’ They could be different styles of facial fungus, but no – they are examples of some of the greatest jazz music ever composed. And they were composed by an immaculately moustachioed Duke.

Duke Ellington (1899 – 1974), who came to music at an unlikely late age, nevertheless brought a certain genius to jazz music, and is credited with lifting the style to an art form. One of the greatest moments in jazz history is considered by many critics to have been a short period in the early 1940s, before a union dispute over royalties temporarily halted recording in the U.S. In 1940 Ellington switched from Columbia to RCA Victor. He had just begun to work with a brilliant young composer called Billy Strayhorn. Together they took Ellington’s band to heights never before reached.

The song ‘Ko-Ko’ (1940), in particular, is considered a masterpiece. ‘Originally written as part of an extended work,’ says the dictionary of American National Biography, ‘it is based on a blue in E-flat minor and is built up of the layering of increasingly dissonant and contrasting lines. Dense and abstract, there is little soloing beyond some straightforward plunger work by trombonist Nanton.’

The lives of jazz greats have furnished us with some of the most entertaining, troubling, and astonishing stories of twentieth-century America. Here are a few selections from the Memorial Library’s collection.

The Duke Ellington Reader (Oxford UP, 1993), edited by Mark Tucker
One of our most fascinating books is an anthology of work by and about Ellington, edited by jazz scholar and musician Mark Tucker. Tucker, who taught at Columbia University and the College of William and Mary, has put together what you might consider a Who’s Who of jazz criticism. Collected here are beautiful and sometimes unlikely essays by Quincy Jones, John Hammond, Ralph Ellison, Simone de Beauvoir, Blaise Cendrars, and so on. There are interviews with Ellington and with musicians who worked with him (including Strayhorn). There is a review of the Ellington orchestra’s 1933 BBC broadcast. There are transcribed solos. It is a delightful book that altogether defies categorisation.

With Billie (Pantheon, 2005), by Julia Blackburn
Ellington’s short film Symphony in Black (1935) won an Academy Award and introduced the singer Billie Holiday, who was then 20 and had already spent time in prison for prostitution. Julia Blackburn paints Holiday’s portrait as seen through the eyes of friends, lovers, fellow musicians, critics, producers, pimps and junkies, narcotics agents, and others, from her Baltimore childhood to her rise to fame and her tragic death.

The History of Jazz (Oxford UP, 1998), by Ted Gioia
From the rent parties of Harlem to the after-hours spots in Kansas City, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to Wynton Marsalis and Pat Metheny, this book captures all the vibrant colours of jazz on one glorious palate. Gioia’s “Olympian knowledge” is paired with a sometimes contentious subjectivity in this history of an art form, reaching across cultures and oceans.

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Mark Twain: Great American Moustaches

To honour the great month that is Mo’vember, we’re highlighting — wait for it — the all-time greatest American moustaches. (Our choices may be found rather more historical than contemporary, due to copyright restrictions on images.) So until the month is out we’ll be introducing you to bewhiskered Americans worth knowing.

The First Mo’vember Man

The great Mark Twain, in all his crumb-collecting glory.

We’re starting off with Mark Twain, a man who would appreciate enterprises such as this one. Mark Twain (30 November[!] 1835 – 21 April 21) is sometimes considered the greatest American humourist. ‘Be respectful to your superiors, if you have any,’ he said. He hasn’t got any. His books are classics, a status he defined as ‘something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.’ Hemingway (another good ‘stache) said of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, “all modern American literature comes from Huckleberry Finn … There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”

The best way to meet Twain is to read him. (Am I, the librarian, at all biased?) Here’s our moustachioed hero on a variety of subjects:

evolution: ‘The only reason why God created man is because he was disappointed with the monkey.’ Autobiographical Dictation (1906).

natural phenomena: ‘Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.’ Letter to an Unidentified Person (1908).

respect: ‘Virtue never has been as respectable as money.’

government: ‘Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.’ quoted by Albert Bigelow Paine in Mark Twain: A Biography (1912)

pedal revolution: ‘Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.’ Taming the Bicycle (1917)

So once you stitch your sides back together, read more of the original American comic genius. Here are a few gems from the Memorial Library’s collection:

Autobiography of Mark Twain, volume 1 (University of California Press, 2010), edited by Harriet Elinor Smith

Twain’s life-force was uncontainable. Or so he thought: “What a little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words!” A man’s real life, he believed, was “in his head.” But Twain’s internal monologue would fill, he supposed, a book each day, 365 books a year. His solution to this problem, I quote here a Guardian review, “was to have a secretary follow him around and take down his every passing thought.”

In this much-anticipated and well-received volume, the autobiographical text consumes 467 pages, followed by almost 200 pages of explanatory notes. Also available in audiobook.

Mark Twain: the adventures of Samuel L. Clemens (University of California Press, 2010), by Jerome Loving

Fifty-two short chapters “that seem perfectly designed for bedtime reading.” The author is a professor of English at Texas A&M University.

The Singular Mark Twain: A Biography (Doubleday, 2003), by Fred Kaplan

Reviews point out the biographer’s dilemma: there is so much on Twain by Twain that is well-written that who needs the secondhand account? By no means is this an easy book but Christopher Hitchens appreciates Kaplan’s angle on Twain the businessman. “Contemptuous as he may have been of the Gilded Age and the acquisitive society,” says Hitchens, “Twain was ever ravenous for money, and his acumen was almost inversely proportionate to his ambition.”

Mark Twain: Lives and Legacies Series (Oxford UP, 2004), by Larzer Ziff

A good short biography from an academic press. Ziff, to quote one review, “is an excellent choice for the Twain biography because he brings a deep knowledge of American literature, broadly, and the period of Twain’s life and career, especially, to bear on the insights his book contains.”

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