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Video lit: On Ernest Hemingway

November 25, 2010 | 10:00 am

In 1952, Life Magazine sent star photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt to Cuba to get pictures of Ernest Hemingway for an upcoming issue. That issue would feature a new story, Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea," which would become one of his most famous. In two days, the magazine sold an astonishing 5.3 million copies; two years later, Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

A portrait of Hemingway would adorn the magazine's cover, but it wasn't that easy to get. As Eisenstaedt explains in the clip above -- part of the documentary "Alfred Eisenstaedt: Photographer" -- Hemingway's cats were a problem. "He was surrounded by 33 cats, two dogs and a wife!" Eisenstaedt exclaims. As Eisenstaedt stood at his camera about 10 feet from the author, cats gathered and rubbed against the legs of his tripod.

Last year, Life Magazine unearthed several never-before-seen shots Eisenstaedt took on that trip, of the village, fishermen and Hemingway interacting with them. Some of the photos were used as the basis for illustrations that went into the issue, but the photos went unplublished. In this online gallery, there are more details from Eisenstaedt about the trip and about Hemingway, his most difficult subject. "“[Hemingway] was horrible -– insulting everybody," he once said. Eisenstaedt died in 1995; Hemingway, in 1961.

Copies of Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" can by purchased used: AbeBooks has paperbacks for as low as low as $1, a signed copy for $36,000 and hundreds of copies in between.

The tradition of Hemingway's cats continues to this day at his home in Key West, Fla. Although Hemingway mainly resided there in the 1930s, the place has been preserved as his home and museum, and the more than 50 cats that inhabit the space include several six-toed descendants of a cat he recieved as a gift in 1935.


-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: At Hemingway's Key West Home and Museum, the six-toed cat Hairy Truman. Credit: Florida Keys News Bureau / Associated Press