Soon after returning to Paris in September 1944 Martha Gellhorn received a very friendly phone call from her estranged husband inviting her out to dinner with a few friends. Martha, who, strange as it may seem, still had a very soft spot for Ernest - and perhaps expected him to become again the man she first met back in 1936 - accepted his invitation, probably because she was feeling lonely and afraid.
The evening started off well enough, with Ernest describing his adventures with Lanham, and his first steps back onto German territory since the 1920s. But half way through the evening he became extremely antagonistic toward Martha, sniping continuously at her as a person, as a wife, and as a writer, and declaring there was no such thing as a good woman writer. It eventually became so bad, and embarrassing, that Hemingway's other guests made their excuses and left the restaurant,
which Hemingway also blamed on Martha. When they were on their own Martha, her soft spot gone for good, and her fear turned to a dreadful anger, again asked for a divorce. Hemingway refused. Martha then did what she did back in Cuba - she poured the remains of her drink over
Hemingway's head and left.
Martha returned to her hotel in a frustration of tears, and an infuriating inability to understand why Ernest behaved toward her the way he did. Had he invited her out to simply ridicule her? She feared he was probably going insane.
In the bar of her hotel Martha found Bob Capa celebrating a huge win at poker. After Martha had slowly, tearfully, recounted the evening to Bob (who was on the floor of the bar counting and re-counting his winnings) he suggested she telephone Mary Welsh's room at the Ritz straight away.
“ And when Hemingway answers I'll tell you what to do.”
They both went to Martha's room (Capa's pockets stuffed with dollars, francs, pounds, and useless Nazi Reichsmarks) where Martha followed Capa's instructions. When Hemingway answered, Martha said.
“ Hello, Ernest.”
She then put the receiver down as Capa instructed her to do.
“ It'll be okay now, Martha, you'll see.”
And it was. Hemingway agreed to a divorce a couple of days later, and within a few weeks the legal proceedings began back in the States.
Capa's own friendship with Hemingway (it had come under a severe strain after that motorcycle incident back in July 1944) was also nearing its end, with Capa telling Hemingway he couldn't understand why he wanted to marry Mary when Martha was the best woman any man could marry and stay married to. The six foot plus Hemingway told the diminutive Capa to get lost, and then threw a full bottle of champagne at the photographer. Hemingway missed his target of course, but no one knows if Capa caught the bottle and toasted Hemingway later. He probably did, and if he
didn't he should have done because Hemingway would soon need all the help he could get.
As Martha and Capa were calling Mary Welsh's room, Colonel Clarence C. Park, Inspector General of Patton's Third Army, was sitting at his desk in what had been a private dining room of a small hotel in Nancy, Northern France, near the German border. All the hotels in Nancy had
been taken over by the US military, and the one Park and his staff found themselves in was an early 19th century stone building with imposing views to east and west, and a proprietor who looked after them as if they were family. Park lit yet another Lucky Strike and poured another cup of strong black coffee - knowing full well his blood pressure would rise as a result - and read again the order he was about to send to Ernest Hemingway:
“ You will proceed by military aircraft and/or Government motor transportation on or about 4th October from present station to Headquarters, Inspector General Third Army (Rear) to carry out the
instructions of the A.C. of S.H-2, Supreme Hq. AEF.”
Park then sealed the order in an official US Army envelope and pressed the green button on his newly installed intercom system:
“ Liz, any further news of Mr Hemingway's whereabouts?”
“ The last we heard, Colonel, is that he's back at the Ritz Hotel in Paris.”
“ Wouldn't you like to be at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, Liz?”
“ Indeed, Colonel, but I guess this old place will do for the time being.”
“ I guess it will, but I'll buy you a drink at the Ritz one of these days.”
“ I look forward to it, Colonel.”
“ So do I. Now, will you please organise a dispatch rider to collect an order I have here for Mr Hemingway?”
“ Straight away, Colonel.”
As Clarence Park quickly smoked his cigarette and drank his cup of coffee, he thought about the time he'd spent gathering together the evidence that Ernest Hemingway was actually carrying arms in contradiction of the strict laws governing war correspondents, had in fact used grenades against the enemy as if he were a serving soldier. Patton's instructions had been explicit.
“ Nail him!”
But now the vibes coming from the General's HQ suggested Park should not take too much time over the case, that under no circumstances was Park to bring the good name of the American Army into disrepute.
Well no, General Sir, he had no intention of doing that, thought Park, but Christ all the
witnesses were now lined up, all the affidavits taken. The case was pretty well clear cut - Hemingway was as guilty as hell. But it was now pretty obvious that Patton had cold feet and probably wished he'd never instructed Park to pursue the matter. Park was beginning to feel the
same way. There was a knock on the door.
“ Come in.”
A motorcycle despatch rider entered the room, came to attention and saluted.
“ Ah, good man.” Park handed the despatch rider the order. “ We believe Mr Hemingway is currently staying at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, room 37. Make sure he gets that order, and signs for it. If he's not at the Ritz find him, and get that order into his hands. Is that understood?”
“ Yes, sir!”
“ Let me know, via radio, as soon as the job is done.”
“ Yes, sir!”
“ What's your name, soldier?”
“ Buckley, sir, Private Christopher Buckley, First Class, sir.”
“ Okay, Private Buckley, First Class, Mr Hemingway's future is in your hands.”
“ Yes, sir.”
As Park watched Buckley leave the room he would have given anything to be in the private's shoes, and astride his powerful Harley Davidson motorcycle. Ah, well.
It is of course entirely feasible that Ernest Hemingway's attitude toward carrying arms from July 1944, in contravention of the laws governing war correspondents, may have come about as a result of his work for the FBI in the early 1940s. He may have justified to himself that he was entitled to do so, and outside of the law? Once a serving field agent, always a serving field agent might easily have been his defence.
According to the big game hunter, socialite (and possibly an intelligence agent), and friend of Hemingway, Thomas Shevlin, quoted in Denis Brian's book, The Faces of Hemingway, Ernest always “...hankered for a more active role in World War II than being an ambulance driver or a war correspondent, but he couldn't have gotten into the army. Although he was a terrific shot, his eyesight wasn't any good. And he was shot up physically.”
Hemingway therefore needed another outlet for his inherited military knowledge and skills, plus a desperate need to be part of the action. But as what?
At the start of the war it then dawned on Hemingway that Cuba was undoubtedly full of falangist Spaniards, who naturally had Axis sympathies, and were probably already spying on the USA on behalf of Franco, and by association, Hitler and Hirohito. These people needed to be watched, and their activities reported to the appropriate US authorities, who had at last woken up to the dangers of foreign espionage. Hemingway of course realised that counter-espionage was an area in which he could excel. As a correspondent he was a good listener, had an eye for detail and a brilliant memory, and could, obviously, write a damned good report. Hemingway decided he was going to be a spy, and a good one.
Ernest Hemingway immediately got in touch with the US Ambassador in Havana, Spruille Braden, and put forward his proposition. The 54 year old, rather thick-set, and now greying Braden, listened carefully to what the novelist had to say, thanked Hemingway for his offer of assistance and informed him he would make contact with the necessary agencies. Then, just before Hemingway left the ambassador's high-ceilinged office (where a huge fan the size of an aeroplane
propeller gently whisked the warm, fly buzzing air into a rather unpleasant mixture of dust and dead flies that was almost impossible to inhale) the career diplomat Braden, in a rather uncharacteristic and hesitant fashion - with the shimmering blue Gulf of Mexico a hundred or so yards behind him at the bottom of the Embassy garden - asked:
“ Mr Hemingway, my daughter is a great fan of your work.”
Here it comes, thought Hemingway, although it's usually “my wife”.
“ Is she? That's wonderful.”
“ Yes, she knew I was meeting you today and wondered if you might sign her copy of...”
It'll be A Farewell to Arms, thought Hemingway, that famous anti-war novel.
“...A Farewell to Arms, which I think is one of the greatest anti-war novels ever written, second only to Robert Graves's Goodbye to All That.”
Why, thought Hemingway, do they always have to link me with that awful English poet? Although Goodbye to All That is a damned fine book.
“ I'd be happy to, just let me have it some time.”
“ I have it right here.”
That's my boy, thought Hemingway, one day you might just get that top job in London, although, being a fluent Spanish speaker, and a Latin American expert, and something of a king maker in these here parts, you'll probably end your days in Haiti.
Spruille, opening a drawer, and, taking out a rather battered copy of the novel, passed it over to Hemingway.
“ What's your daughter's name?”
Immediately Hemingway heard Al Jolson singing, I'm Coming Home Virginia, somewhere in the back of his head, and then, as he dedicated and signed the book, he started singing the tune.
“ You must have inherited that from your mother?” commented Spruille.
“ Holding a tune. I hear your mother is a fine singer?”
How the hell did he know that?
“ She is.”
Don't trust this man, Ernest, not now, not ever, a voice said in the back of Hemingway's brain.
“ A lovely name, Virginia. Named after the State, or the Queen?”
“ Yes it is. No, my wife is a great fan of Virginia Woolf.”
“ Really? I have to say I find her work less than satisfying. I consider all that Bloomsbury stuff to be rather phoney.”
“ You may be right, Mr Hemingway. I have to say I have little or no interest in literature or writers.”
Well, there's an exit cue if ever I heard one, thought Hemingway, handing Virginia Braden's copy of A Farewell to Arms back to her father.
“ It's been a pleasure meeting you, Mr Ambassador, and I look forward to hearing from you.”
“ Oh, you'll not hear from me, Mr Hemingway, but someone will get in touch. And thank you for your time, and for the book, I'm sure Virginia will be thrilled.”
With that Hemingway was ushered from the office. And as he closed the door Ambassador Spruille Braden (who would have his face on the cover of Time magazine in 1945, and would indeed end his diplomatic career in South America, dying in 1978) pressed the green button on his intercom.
His secretary answered immediately.
“ Miss Austin, would you be kind enough to get me the FBI on line two please?”
As he waited for the call to come through, a once athletic but now rather overweight Spruille Braden read the first page of his decaying copy of A Farewell to Arms again:
“ In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains...”
Damned fine book, Mr Hemingway, thought Braden, which gets better with every reading. Wish I was looking out across an Italian river toward some distant snow-capped mountains now, instead of this termite-invested dung heap.
Then, with a wry smile and a shake of the head, Spruille tried to fathom out why he'd just lied about having a daughter called Virginia, but could not. He better remember he had one now. As J. Edgar Hoover had once said to him, way back in the early days, it gets easier to lie the longer you go on lying. Well, damn me if he wasn't right, thought Spruille, as the red telephone began to ring.
In October 1942, FBI Agent, R.G. Leddy, sent a confidential memo to the FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, which, in part, reads:
“ Mr Joyce (Second Secretary of the Embassy) made enquiries of Hemingway concerning his attitude toward working with us, without disclosing the reasons, and reported that his attitude appeared to be entirely favourable to the Bureau. Consequently, early in September 1942, Ernest
Hemingway began to engage directly in intelligence activities on behalf of the American Embassy in Havana. These activities he manages from his finca, with visits to Havana two or three times weekly. He is operating through Spanish Republicans whose identities have not been furnished but
which we are assured are obtainable when desired.
“ At a meeting with him at his finca on September 30, 1942, I was advised that he had four men operating on a full time basis, and fourteen barmen, waiters, and the like, operating on a part time basis. The cost of this program is approximately $500 a month. The ambassador has noted
that he likes Hemingway's approach and wishes to encourage him. Hemingway told me that he declined an offer from Hollywood to write a script for a March of Time report on the Flying Tigers in Burma, for which the compensation was to be $150,000, because he considers the work he is now engaged in as of greater importance.
“ We have also acceded to Hemingway's request for authorization to patrol certain areas where submarine activity has been reported, and an allotment of gasoline is now being obtained for this use, and he has secured from the ambassador a promise that his crew members will be
recognized as war casualties for the purpose of indemnification in the event any loss of life results from the operation.”
In 1942 Hemingway operated exactly the way he operated in the summer of 1944, by creating a private cell, a private army. And what all of this suggests is that, in 1942, Hemingway was regarded, by an ambassador - who was probably an FBI agent himself - and by the FBI themselves, as a highly regarded counter-espionage agent.
When Hemingway decided to leave for Europe in 1944 was that wholly as a result of Martha Gellhorn's encouragement - she knew little or nothing about his FBI connections - or was he still in the pay of the FBI, who may have wanted an intelligence foothold in Europe?
Note: To read more about Hemingway's 'courts martial' read the article 'Ernest Hemingway's Courts Martial' on this site.
Note: To read more about Hemingway's 'courts martial' read the article 'Ernest Hemingway's Courts Martial' on this site.