The playbill advertising the Premiere of A.E. Hotchner’s play, The Old Man and the Sea, at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, announces “A.E. Hotchner, Hemingway’s official biographer, and his son, Tim Hotchner, wrote the adaptation that runs through February 17.”

Ed Hotchner is a talented man but there is no way he was Ernest Hemingway’s “official biographer”.

Ernest Hemingway, himself, did not appoint an official biographer during his lifetime.  His will gave all of his estate, including his literary estate, exclusively to his widow, Mary Welsh Hemingway, who became literary executrix.  Soon after Ernest’s death, Mary came under pressure to appoint an official biographer because a couple of authors were rushing out versions of Ernest’s life that she found scandalous.  Further, several publishers were approaching Charlie Scribner, Ernest’s publisher, with proposals for biographies of Ernest.

Mary first approached Paul Mowrer, Hadley’s second husband, in a letter extolling his virtues as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who had known Ernest personally in his Paris days.  Mary had worked for Mowrer when he was editor of the Chicago Daily News and she respected him. Mary wrote that she was confident Mowrer could do a better job than Professor Carlos Baker, who had never met Ernest, and did not write very well.

Paul Mowrer declined the offer because he was seventy-five and felt he was too old to undertake such a large project.

Somewhat reluctantly, Mary then turned to Carlos Baker, who was extremely excited at the opportunity.  Over the years he submitted drafts to Mary and she made many corrections and editorial suggestions which Baker accepted.

The idea that Hotchner was the “official biographer” is particularly preposterous.  There was no way Mary would have appointed him.  Indeed, she brought proceedings to obtain an injunction prohibiting Hotchner from publishing Papa Hemingway.  Despite losing the case at first instance, and on appeal, she persisted in attempting to put pressure on publishers to reject Hotchner’s book which she thought amounted to theft of her intellectual property in Ernest’s spoken utterances, and was full of errors besides,  The underlying reason for her anger at Hotchner was that he had  breached Ernest’s privacy by disclosing his mental decline and suicide.  It was only after Papa Hemingway was published, that Mary finally admitted publicly, in an interview with Oriana Fallaci, that Ernest had killed himself.

I discuss all this in greater detail in my forthcoming biography of Mary, Hemingway’s Widow.

Tim Christian