Hemingway in Sun Valley


Papa's Legacy:
An interview with Jack Hemingway

By Marilyn Bauer

Simply stated, Ernest Hemingway was his eldest son Jack’s life-long hero.

"Ever since I was very, very little my father was my hero," he explained in an interview at his home in Ketchum. "He really was, and probably more so than most fathers are boy’s heroes because I wasn’t with him a lot of the time."

Although Jack Hadley Nicanor Hemingway was born to Hadley and Ernest Hemingway on Oct. 10, 1923, in Toronto, Canada, it was only three months later that the Hemingways traveled back to Paris to settle into what Jack remembers as a cozy but noisy flat above a sawmill on the rue Notre Dame des Champs.

"We were a happy family until my father got himself into the unfortunate position of loving two women at the same time," Jack writes in Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman. "While such affairs are not all that uncommon, it was unacceptable to him and to my mother without making a definite choice. After much self-chastisement, he made that choice and that changed life for my mother and me."

Ernest would no longer be Jack’s full-time father and the boy would see his bigger-than-life "Papa" only on summer vacations and special occasions. The exception was the one year Ernest and his new wife Pauline stayed in Paris.

"I would see him after kindergarten," Jack remembered. "My school was only about a block away from the Closiere de Lilas, which is one of the places my father used to write in back then. Oh, it was not the place it is now, very fancy, expensive and closed in. Then it was just a cafe. I‘d have a grenadine and he’d be either writing or talking to people."

Jack remembers his father as a people magnet, attracting men and women both famous and unknown.

"When he was in a room with people, everybody gravitated around him," said Jack. "Even when there were very famous other people, they tended to gravitate around him. It wasn’t because he spoke loud or dominated the conversation; it was just that what he said was interesting and there was something captivating about the way he spoke."

Even as a very small boy Jack remembers the time he spent at Shakespeare & Company while his father debated with Sylvia Beach, the owner and a publisher, or James Joyce.

"I’d get to go with him to Shakespeare & Company on the rue de l’ Odeon," Jack recalled. "The store had a little semi-attic that was at a level just above the ground floor. There were some children’s books up there that I’d look at while Papa was down below talking to Sylvia Beach or James Joyce. I’d give anything to have had the perspicacity or to have been a child savant to remember everything that went on."

The memories Jack treasures most are the times he and Papa walked along the Seine and watched the fishermen trolling for whitebait with long bamboo poles.

"He’d take me for walks along the bridges that crossed the Seine," Jack explained. "That’s when I learned about leading, which helped me latter on with shooting. We would spit from a bridge and see if we could get it into the smokestack of the bateaux-mouches, the excursion boats that go up and down the Seine. It was tricky because you had to spit way in advance because the boat was coming.

"My first interest in fishing was with him looking at the French catching gudgeon or minnows. These guys had 18-foot rods with little tiny tips and very fine leaders. They’d sell their catch to these places where they’d have them deep-fried. They were a great treat and a favorite of my father’s and mine."

When Ernest and Pauline moved to Key West, Florida, Jack would spend his summers there. Often they would drive across country to a ranch outside of Cooke City, Montana. It was a typical western guest ranch with clusters of log cabins nestled in groves of lodgepole pine.

"He was writing in the mornings," Jack said, "and if Pauline would go for a ride, I would beg to be allowed to watch him fish. Every once in awhile he’d let me. Unlike most dads who want their kids to learn, he’d say, ‘Stay back, kid. Don’t scare the fish.’ I built this hunger. Finally at the end of the first year, I was allowed to fish with one of Pauline’s rods with a grasshopper impaled on a fly, and I caught my first fish. I haven’t been able to get enough of fishing ever since."

There was more and more fishing and shooting and boxing between the Hemingway father and son. Although their time together was limited, they made the most of every moment.

"When I came for a vacation, my father took a lot of time off to do things I could participate in. And so I got a very positive view of him. I think my brothers had a little more realistic view. When he was working, quiet was the order of the day. It would cause great anger both from him and Pauline if we disobeyed."

It wasn’t until much, much later that Jack realized why the rest of the world thought his father was great. He was prepping at the Storm Gate School in Cornwall, New York. A previous enrollment at Lake Forest High School was a disaster, because it was Jack’s first experience with a coed school and he "spent the time ogling the girls."

"I was sent away to school in the interests of getting my mind back on the right track," he said with a smile. "I wasn’t really conscious of my father’s importance as a writer until I was in my junior year. My English teacher, Mr. Borg, just couldn’t believe I hadn’t read my father’s work. He made me read several things. I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate Papa’s prose writings until the war years."

There were so many things Ernest Hemingway taught his son, including lessons on how to navigate the challenges of the world. And although Jack says his father was very old-fashioned, the lessons were timeless.

"He taught me what was important was the truth," explained Jack. "He told me never lie. Total honesty even if it seems stupid at the time. Except...there were two very famous sisters when I was a teen-ager. They had been great beauties--the Dolly sisters. He said you’re going to meet these two really beautiful women. They are very old now and they’re no longer beautiful but you’re going to treat them as if they were the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen. And I did. And their eyes just lit up. I learned something. Whatever someone’s values really are, you must respect them even if you have to prevaricate."

To Jack, his father was all excitement and unbounded enthusiasm. He also remembers him as very serious and occasionally plagued by black moods.

"He could be rough, too, and talk rough," Jack says. "For instance, my godmother, Gertrude Stein, was one of the people who really helped him early on very much. But at the same time he continued to grow after he no longer had anything to do with her. But she would periodically make these statements that everything he ever did he learned from her. And he would get furious; ‘That old bitch,’ he’d say.

"The thing that carried him was his enthusiasm. He had a great ethic of teaching. If he liked something--large ladies he found attractive, young writers--he liked to teach them and to introduce them to stuff, like the bullfights. He had an enormous amount of courage. He was on the edge of being a Leo and a Cancer.

Jack is a Libra who likes things to balance out in the end:

"I wish I could write like him," Jack says. "But I eclipsed him in fly-fishing."

Copyright © 2000 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.