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This article is taken from PN Review 237, Volume 44 Number 1, September - October 2017.

A Cuban View of Hemingway Mario Menocal and Jeffrey Meyers
MARIO MENOCAL’S GRANDFATHER had been a general in the Cuban war of independence against Spain and president of the country from 1913 to 1921. Mario’s wealthy, cultivated and aristocratic father, Mayito, was educated at Lawrenceville School and Cornell University, and became Hemingway’s sporting companion and best Cuban friend. While fishing in the Caribbean on Mayito’s large yacht, Delicias, they would discuss pigeon shooting, jai alai, current books, local gossip, Cuban affairs and world politics while drinking gin with champagne chasers. Mayito went on Hemingway’s wartime sub-hunting expeditions, which he called a ‘stunt’, and accompanied him on his second African safari in 1953. Mayito’s son Mario – born in 1923, twenty-four years younger than Hemingway and the same age as his oldest son, Jack – was also educated in America. When Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1960 drove his family into exile, they lost their valuable sugar business, house and possessions. After leaving Cuba, Mario became an executive with PepsiCo and other companies, and a Spanish translator in Mexico City and Miami.

An eager and generous correspondent, Mario had ample opportunity to closely observe Hemingway and his elite circle of Cuban friends from 1940 to 1960. His letter of 18 April 1983 – elegantly composed, intelligent and perceptive – is the best one ever written about Hemingway. He is especially acute about Hemingway’s puritan character, relations with his son Gregory, African safari, sub-hunting in the Second World War and disastrous love for Adriana Ivancich as well as Martha Gellhorn’s provocative flirtations and Mary Welsh’s alcoholism. We disagreed about some important points, and I later found proof from Jane Mason’s diary and interviews with her family that she had been Hemingway’s lover. But Mario’s valuable insights enabled me to test and develop my ideas as I was researching and writing my life of Hemingway, published by Harper & Row in 1985.

18 April 1985
Dear Professor Meyers:

THE AFRICAN SAFARI. My father told me pretty nearly everything about his safari with E.H. It was the best time he ever had in his life. He had been looking forward to it since his childhood, and in his later years I think we talked as much about that as we did about all other subjects put together. He was sad and lonely after he left Cuba, he knew he didn’t have long to live, and nostalgia was a refuge and a solace for him.

Ernest was a good enough hunter during the Green Hills safaris; in the later one, he was quite simply afraid of shooting too badly, of making a spectacle of himself, which is something that, if circumstances dictate, can happen even to the world’s champion rifle shot. You will have noted how conscious (and admiring) I’ve always been of the efforts Ernest invariably made to create and sustain the image he had deliberately built up in the mind of the public. I think his fear was of damaging that image in the presence of a potentially hostile stranger. And in this case the stranger could only have been Earl Theisen as he was the only outsider, and he was an outsider who worked for a photo magazine and had a camera.

I don’t believe Ernest could have been afraid of the animals. He was physically courageous (no one who knew him ever doubted that); and he wasn’t a rookie, he’d shot lion and rhino and buffalo before. Even if he had been a physical coward (and I’m making this speculation merely for the sake of demonstration, and not because I’m willing to believe he may have been one), he was much too intelligent not to be absolutely certain that, backed by Philip Percival, Roy Home, and my father (who was an even better shot than the professionals), he would have been in no danger at all. His fear was of making a public mess of things and thereby transmitting his image in Ty’s presence. Had it not been for my father’s constant intervention, I believe the safari would have ground to a dead stop and there could even have been a lawsuit, or at least very bad feelings between Ernest and LOOK. Perhaps you have or can get the LOOK cover of Ernest with a leopard: that leopard, and almost every other animal shown in the LOOK articles, was shot by my father.

MARTHA’S FLIRTATION WITH FELIX AREITIO. She had a heavy flirtation – I don’t think it was ever an affair, but it was certainly past the point to which a flirtation should have been taken, with the man you inquire about. His name was Felix Aréitio, he was a Basque, then in his late twenties, from the village of Ermua, and (as so many pelota players do), he used the name of his village as his ‘nom de jeu’. He was a very good jai-alai player, the second-best in the world in the position he played (there are only two in pelota: ‘delantero’, forward, who covers the front part of the court, and ‘zaguero’, back, who covers the rear); ‘Ermua’ was a ‘zaguero’. If I had been Ernest I would have objected to the physical familiarities Martha and Felix allowed themselves – yet it was precisely those physical familiarities which convinced me then and continue to convince me now that there was never an affair between them. ‘Physical familiarities’ sounds worse than it was, like ‘expletive deleted’ in the Nixon transcripts; they were never anything shocking, really, but rather unusual and unexpected: for example, Martha jumping into Felix’s arms at the tennis-court so he would have to carry her up the hill to the house instead of her having to walk – nothing could be more banal in 1983, but we are speaking of 1940 or thereabouts, and of relations between a sophisticated and extremely liberated American woman, and a very good-looking Basque peasant who happened to be a very good pelota-player. I consider it perfectly understandable that neither Martha nor Ernest should have realized that she shouldn’t indulge in such behavior. That’s the answer to ‘why did he tolerate it?’

DID I EVER SEE E.H. DRUNK? Only slightly less frequently than I saw him sober. Belligerent or fighting? He had a quick temper and pet hates, and bitterly resented intrusion, particularly when he believed the intruder was seeking personal benefit. That made him very angry; and he became belligerent (but not to the point of physical violence) when angry. I never saw him fight; in fact, I never saw him even come near to a fight, in all the years I knew him. I don’t think any of his other older friends ever saw that either.

MY EXPERIENCES WITH ERNEST. I understand him and his motivations better after having read A Moveable Feast. I find many things that he did and wrote much easier to understand after having learned from his own lips (so to speak) about his guilt at allowing himself to be seduced by Pauline and by the life she could give him. I don’t think he ever got over that, nor that he ever felt that any of the wives who came after Hadley were (qua wives, not qua lovers) deserving of the same treatment that Hadley would have had from him had he remained married to her.

ADRIANA IVANCICH. Her character: that of a charming, intelligent, gifted member of the Venetian establishment. Supremely worldly and sophisticated, even at the age of 19 or 20 as she was in the Hemingway period. Very good-looking, super-sexy in a very Italian way.

The following is very little known: Adriana was sincerely in love with Juan Veranes, and they were to be married. Adriana didn’t have a nickel, and when she and Juan agreed that he would arrive in Paris to go from there to Venice to marry her, on a specific date by a specific flight of a specific airline, she was absolutely sure that he would do so, and therefore she and Gianfranco and the rest of the family got together every penny they could scrape up to finance Gianfranco’s automobile trip to Paris to pick Juan up and take him to Venice for the wedding. Imagine the general feeling in the Ivancich family when Gianfranco spent the entire day at the Paris airport and Juan never showed up.

What happened was that Juan met another European girl, a Spanish one called Angelita Osborne, from one of the well­-known sherry-growing families of Jerez – and he transferred his attentions (and spent all the money he had scraped together for the trip to Venice) on Angelita, and turned his back without a qualm on the promises he had made to Adriana.

It makes me sad for her as she was then, and even sadder when I remember that she committed suicide just a few days ago. Poor Adriana, so full of life and beauty, so bright and clever and witty: I would never have imagined such an end for her, and regret it, and the unhappiness it reflects, most deeply.

I don’t think Ernest ever knew of the relationship between Juan and Adriana. However, I think Mary did know of it, and fostered it, logically so: it was another way of getting Adriana out of her life, and of getting Ernest to cease to make a spectacle of himself.

SUB-HUNTING. There are two aspects of this. The first is what we, his friends, believed. We believed that it was a gimmick he had invented so that he and Winston Guest and Paxtchi Ibarlucia and the other members of the sub-hunting crew could continue fishing without worrying about gasoline. Do I still believe that? Not as strongly as I did at the time, for the following reasons which as you will see have nothing to do with the morality or lack of it in the activity. We knew nothing whatever of what Ernest was actually doing, except what he told us. But Ambassador Spruille Braden did, and so did the Naval Attaché, who was a Marine, Lt. Col. John W. Thomason Jr. Neither of those men was stupid, nor is it probable that both of them would have been so dazzled by the Hemingway aura as to permit such an obvious swindle as the sub-hunting would have been if it was merely an artifice conceived to permit E. H. to continue fishing and being an ‘ocean bum’ (his term), undisturbed by the war.

From another and perhaps equally valid point of view, the consumption of gasoline by the Pilar, even had she remained at sea for 24 hours a day, 12 months a year, would have been so insignificant, as viewed by someone in Braden’s or Thomason’s position, as to lead him to say to himself, ‘what the hell, I have to authorize thousands of gallons for crooked Cuban politicians and military and naval officers to sell on the black market; Ernest is a great American, I’ll let him have all the gas he wants, and if he ever spots a sub, great, and if he doesn’t, it will be so many gallons the Cuban pols didn’t get their hands on.’

And that is what I think now.

I also think that Ernest would never tell himself the truth about his activity. He must have realised that, even if he had spotted a sub, what could he have done, except radio to US naval vessels that were too far away to do anything about it? Did he seriously think that a German sub would allow a fishing boat such as the Pilar to approach to close quarters? It would have machine-gunned him to Kingdom Come! Ernest must have known that, and I don’t think he or any member of his crew had any sort of Kamikaze mentality or intention.

AMBASSADOR BRADEN’S REPUTATION with Cubans, as I remember it, was that of a blowhard and blusterer. Some people say he was a very shrewd businessman, or had been, in Peru; others said that he had very little or nothing to do with Braden Copper. My feelings, for what they are worth, were that the US Ambassador was the second (or first) most important man in Cuba, and whether the US sent us a complete asshole – as they did on many occasions – or a WASP so wrapped up in his own Waspishness that he could never be expected to understand a Latin American, even a Cuban mentality, (we got some of those, too) or a truly competent man (and there were also some of those) – there he was: the US Ambassador and we had to live with him.

E.H.'S FRIENDSHIP WITH GUSTAVO DURAN. I am delighted to have read (in your article) that he was investigated by the State Department, cleared, and had a distinguished career in the UN. Mr Durán’s successful record delights me for two reasons. One, it is another item of evidence that E.H. was the patriotic American we always knew him to be. Two, it emphasises once again Ernest’s ability as a picker.

MANUEL BENITEZ. I know him well; he is very much alive, and saw him often. He was and is a dreadful man, although sometimes a very comic one. Let me see how well I can describe him to you.

His history is very simple. His father was a Colonel who became political boss in Pinar del Río province, and got his son appointed to the Cuban equivalent of West Point. When Batista and the other army sergeants revolted, Manuel Benítez (then a recently graduated lieutenant) was one of the three officers who threw in their lot with the sergeants. Batista rewarded him for this by making him a Colonel (the highest rank there was, after the 1933 revolt), and subsequently Chief of Police. In both positions his name was a synonym for graft.

He was always a slightly pudgy man, and his looks were a perfect caricature of the standard ‘Latin Lover’ type: black hair, swarthy skin, handsome in a coarse way.

I suppose his outstanding characteristic was his absolute, utter lack of shame. He is the sort of man who openly acknowledges being the worst sort of thief and grafter, and sincerely believes that if you are not one it is because you’ve never had the opportunity. He carried this belief to the extent of telling anecdotes of events (about Batista, for example) when he (Benítez) held office. They were most interesting and funny, both because Manolo is a very funny person, and because of the utter shamelessness with which he relates an anecdote, with himself as protagonist, that another man would pay blackmail to keep secret.

However, despite his comic side, I believe him to be fundamentally an evil man who would commit any crime, and may have committed many, without the slightest compunction.

JANE MASON. You say that ‘it now seems clear’ that Jane Mason was E.H.’s ‘mistress’ from about 1932–36. I don’t believe Jane and Ernest ever had an affair. On the other hand, I would lay odds that she and Sánchez did have one. My reasons for believing as I do are twofold. The first is Ernest. He wasn’t an ‘affair’ man: I don’t think he knew how to conduct one. When he went from one sexual partner to another, it was from a wife to a woman he intended to make his wife. He always wanted to get married and stay married. None of us, especially not my father or Elicio (who, I repeat, were his best friends, and the latter of whom was additionally his most assiduous companion except for stooges), ever mentioned Ernest’s name in connection with that of Jane Mason. And they did mention her name in connection with others, especially with Thorwald.

RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN E.H. and his sons. While they were under college age, they were very good. After that they seemed to spoil – I wasn’t around very much just then, so I don’t know exactly how or why. By the way, Patrick is not exactly my age: Bumby is. I will be 60 on 16 June.

GREGORY HEMINGWAY. I ceased to see Gigi many years before I left Cuba. I am quite a lot older than he, and although I suppose it wouldn’t make a great deal of difference now, when I am 59 and he is (I suppose) in his early fifties, as it did when I was 20 and he was 14 or 15 or even younger. I don’t know his exact age.

We all liked him very much. He was lively, clever, witty, and seemed wise beyond his years. He was a very good shot, as was Patrick, but Gigi was more notable because he was younger and quite small in size. Patrick came to stay with me at Santa Marta, after I was married, and I think greatly enjoyed himself. I don’t know why Gigi didn’t come. I have only two sources of information about Gigi, after I ceased to see him: Mary – it was she who told me, on more than one occasion, that Gigi was a transvestite – and Gigi’s own book about himself.

Then later I read Gigi’s book, which didn’t really cast a lot of light on his life when I knew him; except he wrote that in those days when he wasn’t even in his teens, he had frequently been drunk. If he has suffered all the troubles you say, poor Gigi, especially alcoholism, certainly no small part of them must be due to his unorthodox childhood. To your question of whether I believe Ernest was responsible for Gigi’s condition I must reply that of course he must have been, in good part. Until I read Gigi’s book I believed that Ernest had been a very good father to his children until their late teens but after I read it, I began to wonder.

By the way, when I say ‘his children’, I mean Patrick and Gigi – Bumby was Mrs Hadley Mowrer’s child, he wasn’t under Ernest’s influence one percent as much as the younger children, nor did he ever participate (except for very brief periods) in the life with Ernest in Cuba. Later, after Bumby was married, he did come to Cuba to live. I think he worked for Merrill Lynch while he was there. But we disliked his wife, so saw very little of him. I don’t think he saw a great deal of his father even when he lived in Cuba, but I was away most of the time, so I can’t state that as a fact.

ERNEST AS A CATHOLIC. As far as I knew, his family was Protestant, and although I know that Ernest spoke of himself as a Catholic, I think he became one when he married Pauline. I should rather say that he said that he became one; Ernest was no more a Catholic than he was a Moslem. As religion is one of my least favorite subjects for conversation or reading, you will understand that I have never given much more thought than as expressed above to Ernest’s religion or lack of it.

PAULINE AND MARY. I believe that the basis for the later friendship of Pauline and Mary is as follows. Patrick had a serious motorcycle accident. He was very ill indeed, and it was thought best that Pauline come down to take care of him. Of course she stayed at the Finca, as Mary’s guest. Neither woman had any reason to resent the other, and they were both good persons. I suppose they liked each other, and became friends. This is surmise, as I wasn’t in Havana while Mouse was ill and his mother was there.

I can’t compare their intelligence because I never knew Pauline. I would say (from photographs) that as far as looks were concerned, Mary was far superior.

MARY AND ALCOHOL. Mary did not drink heavily (in fact she drank very little) when she married Ernest. I can only recall seeing her drunk on occasions when everyone else, the undersigned very much included, was drunk too. She was more a party drinker than anything else. In later life (in late widowhood), she began to drink more than was good for her, and I think I know the reason. Mary is a very strongly sexed woman, and could not stand the absence of a man in her life. In fact, I would attribute her present alcoholic condition to her inability to resign herself to age and the concomitant loss of feminine attraction, and therefore of masculine companionship. I realize this may be an over­simplification – but am sure that her inability so to resign herself is at least one of the principal reasons for her present state.

I regret very much having had the misfortune to see Mary when she was falling or had fallen into her present condition. For eight years before I began my present business, in 1975, I was employed by PepsiCo and travelled frequently to New York. I never failed to call Mary, and she always found something pleasant for us to do together; on one occasion she invited me to see the play ‘Hair’, which she detested, but I liked; on another she and I and the former (and late) Ilka Chase and her husband went to some sort of function at the Museum of Natural History. This was in addition to my visiting her at her apartment, simply so that we could bring each other up to date on each other and on mutual friends. We usually had at least one meal at Voisin, which was across the street from her apartment.  But in 1975 I quit Pepsi and therefore ceased to travel to New York with any frequency. When I was last there, I hadn’t seen Mary for a long time. I was staying with my nephew and thought that it would be a good thing to take him to meet Mary, and I did so. Although it was only noon, she was absolutely drunk, more so than I had ever seen her and drunk the way alcoholics get drunk. I made the visit as brief a one as I could, and was very sorry that I had gone. A year or two later I had occasion to use the services of her lawyer, Alfred Rice, and asked him if I should go and see her. He recommended that I don’t, saying that five minutes after I had left, she wouldn’t remember that I’d been there. He was very sad for her, as was I.  By no means did that begin with Ernest, nor was it due to him. He can be blamed for many things, but emphatically not for poor Mary losing her memory and becoming an alcoholic. Please be assured that although in 1975 (fourteen years after Ernest’s death) Mary may have drunk more than she did during Ernest’s lifetime, in no way could she have been considered an alcoholic. I can’t say when things changed, but it was after that date.

SLIM HAYWARD. I did know her, although I only saw her on two or three occasions. I always thought she was more Mary’s friend than Ernest’s. They were thrown together a lot when The Old Man and the Sea was being filmed and Hayward visited Cuba, although Slim returned on her own, later, to go fishing with Ernest and Mary and Elicio Arguelles. Come to think about it, I actually met Slim long before that: I met her many years before, when she was married to Howard Hawks, and Ernest was either married to or about to marry Martha. I think it must have been when For Whom the Bell Tolls was about to be filmed.

Slim was very tall and slim, and she was one of the most flat-chested women I’ve ever seen, but quite attractive despite that. She was also very famous for her good taste in dress, and was on the list of ‘ten best-dressed women’ for many years. I didn’t know her well enough to form any opinion about her intelligence, but she was very quick and clever and pleasant to talk to, and she married two of the biggest powerhouses in Hollywood, so she must have had something besides looks, as she couldn’t compete with movie stars as far as looks were concerned.    

Where do you get these rumors about women being sexually involved with Ernest? That’s not the sort of man he was at all. I don’t care what kind of letters Slim says she has, I don’t believe there was ever anything between them.

Can it be possible that a number of women, who never in their lives had anything to do with Ernest sexually, are now saying that they slept with him? I imagine it is a distinction of a sort, but not one I would have said that Slim Hayward or Jane Mason would ever have sought, especially in old age.

BUCK LANHAM. I’m not surprised to learn that he was a puritan. He was a true American gentleman, the best type of pre-WWII US Army officer – I can only wish for the sake of the US that its present Army had more Buck Lanhams. However, Ernest wasn’t really a coarse-spoken person, and I can’t see why Buck should have been offended by his speech, but I do quite understand that he must had been put off by E.H.’s behavior, which could certainly be boorish and inconsiderate, especially when he had been drinking too much for too long. I can also perfectly understand Mrs Lanham (whom I never met) being offended by Ernest’s attitude towards women. Ernest didn’t understand women and wasn’t really very good at relations with them. His Cuban friends, who were in any case absolute epitomes of male chauvinist piggishness, solved that problem very simply: their wives rarely saw or consorted with E.H.

By the way, that aspect hurt Mary very much. She minded the fact that all of Ernest’s Cuban friends visited her house but she was never asked to theirs. I don’t understand why her closest friends (my father and Elicio) didn’t explain to her that, in my father’s case, he and my mother separated (although they never got a divorce, and continued to live under the same roof) in 1935, and never had any sort of social life after that; while in Elicio’s case, his marriage went through hell for years before it achieved any stability, and neither did he and his wife ever do any entertaining.

You ask what, apart from war experiences, was the basis for the Hemingway–Lanham friendship. I don’t think there was any other basis than that. They met during the war, became friends, went through bad times together (and Buck especially appreciated that, because Ernest didn’t have to go through them), and that was enough for the friendship, as it has been for so many others.

OAK PARK PURITANISM. You refer, by implication, to E.H., the simple boy from Oak Park, let loose in Havana, one of the ‘sin capitals of the world’. It is quite true that au fond Ernest was the son of Dr and Mrs Hemingway from Oak Park, with the moral background they taught him. It is also quite true that Havana was one of the ‘sin capitals of the world’. But the juxtaposition of Ernest and Havana, even as seen by ourselves (in our standing – similarly implicit in your query – of supreme sophisticates) didn’t work out in the way you appear to imply.

Please ask yourself the following question, as I have asked it of myself so many times. If there is one city in the world that has always been considered the ‘Sin Capital’, it is Paris. Why then, is the question you ask about Ernest and Havana never asked about him while in Paris, or while he was in Rome and other Italian cities, despite the fact that he was much younger and therefore much more likely to fall into temptation?

Ernest had the ethics and morals of an American of the middle class. Our ethics and morals were those of Cubans (the generalisation ‘Latin Americans’ isn’t specific enough) of the privileged class. To reduce to essentials something that could very easily turn into a hundred-page disquisition, essentially the main differences between the two codes of ethics – as practised, not as taught – lie in the field of sexual morality.

Yet when Ernest diverged from the straight and narrow path in that area, he didn’t do so in the ways we, his Cuban friends did. Never for a single moment did Ernest forego American middle class morality for the life of a swinging Latin American playboy. Nothing can be further from what he actually did. When he forewent US middle-class morals it was to adopt US privileged-class morals. Let me rephrase that. When Ernest broke the code of sexual morals he had been taught, it was not through the sort of break that one of us would have committed: it was through the sort that people of Winston’s and Tommy’s sort would commit.

I don’t believe any of the biographers or essayists who have written of Ernest have attached sufficient importance to, or described in detail, the process whereby he discarded the normal avocations of middle-class America (for example, team sports) and adopted those of the leisured class (for example, big game fishing and shooting). I believe his liking for bullfighting should also be considered a leisured-class avocation for and as among Anglo-Saxons; your ordinary American small-town man boy of the twenties and thirties knew nothing about bullfighting and cared less.

Despite Ernest’s contemptuous reference to ‘Porcellian­ed, Skull-and-Bones-ed’ spectators of bullfighting (in Death in the Afternoon, look it up), such spectators were much more likely to be the sort of people among whom members of Porcellian or Skull and Bones were to be found, than Americans of any other class; and for good reason: travel to Spain cost money.

And when Ernest took up American leisure-class avocations, he also adopted American leisure-class morals. If his sins could have spoken they would have done so in upper-class Eastern US accents, as opposed to middle-class Middle Western ones – and by no stretch of the imagination would they have had done so in the accents of ‘señoritos madrileños’ or of Cuban swingers.

Why has none of the experts on Hemingway ever examined or commented on this aspect of his character?

Why did Ernest choose all his intimate friends, almost without exception, from the privileged class? Buck Lanham is an exception, but there are very few others. And even Buck Lanham was a member of an elite: within the US Army he was a marked man, an only slightly junior member of the group of officers who were marked for stardom, for the top jobs, after the Marshalls and Eisenhowers and Bradleys retired.    

Ernest was not a Puritan, except to the extent that all middle-class Americans of his generation were, to the same extent that Puritanism was present in the morals of middle-class Americans born around the turn of the century.

We Cubans were quite familiar with American middle-class morality. We worked and played with Americans, all our lives; how could we be unfamiliar with it? There was nothing mysterious or strange or different about it; it was the way Americans thought and lived and acted. Their ways would never be ours, nor would ours ever be theirs, even if we lived a thousand years – but that didn’t mean there was anything strange about them.

HEMINGWAY AND THE FBI. Finally, you cannot imagine how deeply I have been angered – even more deeply as it is an anger fueled by impotence – by your revelations that the FBI was in fact pursuing Ernest when he was hopelessly ill. That damage is done; Ernest took his own life, and as the criminal arrogance of FBI and the stupidity of his physician contributed to his suicide, I’m very glad you’ve made it public.

M.G. Menocal

This article is taken from PN Review 237, Volume 44 Number 1, September - October 2017.

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