On May 13, 1950, Lillian Ross's first portrait of Ernest Hemingway was published in The New Yorker. It was an account of two days Hemingway spent in New York in 1949 on his way from Havana to Europe. This candid and affectionate profile was tremendously controversial at the time, to the great surprise of its author. Booklist said, "The piece immediately conveys to the reader the kind of man Hemingway was--hard-hitting, warm, and exuberantly alive." It remains the classic eyewitness account of the legendary writer, and it is reproduced here with the preface Lillian Ross prepared for an edition of Portrait in 1961.
Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, and to celebrate the centenary of this event, Ms. Ross has written a second portrait of Hemingway for The New Yorker, detailing the friendship the two struck up after the completion of the first piece. It is included here in an amended form. Together, these two works establish the definitive sketch of one of America's greatest writers.
writer Lillian Ross made her reputation as a journalist on this 1950 profile of Ernest Hemingway. And she also made a lifelong friend of Hemingway on the head of it. Yet, strangely enough, despite her tremendous admiration for her subject--"the greatest American novelist and short-story writer of our day," she declares in the opening sentence--the piece was widely viewed as an assault. Some readers were "almost deliriously censorious," Ross writes of the book's original publication, "about the way Hemingway talked and the way he enjoyed himself and the way he was openly vulnerable."
Ross essentially made herself a fly on the wall during two days that Hemingway and his fourth wife, Mary, spent in New York City while en route to Venice, and she wrote down everything the great man said and did. Hemingway hit the airport bar within minutes of landing, proceeded (several shots of bourbon later) to his suite at the Sherry-Netherland, summoned his old friend Marlene Dietrich for caviar, champagne, and war stories, bought a winter coat at Abercrombie at his wife's insistence, looked at pictures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art while pulling on a flask, met with his publisher Charles Scribner, and ran into friends. And he talked ceaselessly, sometimes brilliantly, sometimes foolishly in a kind of pseudo-Native American dialect (dropping articles) about life and art, baseball and women, hunting and horseracing, writing and competing ("I beat Mr. Turgenev," he declares at one point. "Then I trained hard and I beat Mr. de Maupassant").
Whatever one feels about Hemingway, one has to admire Ross's extraordinary success in bringing the man to life in this slim volume. Her Portrait of Hemingway is worth any hundreds of chapters of standard, fact-filled biography in conveying a tangible, immediate sense of what "Papa" was really like. --David Laskin