Thursday, May 23, 2019

Tennessee Williams meets Ernest Hemingway for Lunch at the Floridita in Cuba 1959

Ernest Hemingway Bust in El Floridita

     This is excerpts of a very interesting article by Steve Newman about the lunch meeting  bringing Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Kenneth Tynan and George Plimpton together.  This proved to be an interesting meeting that seemed to be a great experience for all that were there.
     In April 1959, Tynan was travelling to Cuba to interview Fidel Castro, who’d recently chased Batista off the island, and called in to see Tennessee Williams — who was living in Key West at the time — suggesting the playwright might like to come along.
     “I’ve arranged to have lunch with Hemingway at the Floridita tomorrow, “said Tynan, “why not join us?  “Hemingway? You are joking, right? I’ve heard he kicks people like me in the crotch.”  “Nonsense. But if he does I’ll kick him back.”   In the end curiosity got the better of Williams, and the two writers headed off to Cuba.

Tennessee Wiliams
Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams, III was born in Columbus, Mississippi, on March 26, 1911. His first great theatrical hit, The Glass Menagerie, was staged in 1944. From that moment on he never looked back as a playwright. By the time of the lunch with Hemingway, Sweet Bird of Youth had been doing good business on Broadway for a month, and he was now considered, along with Miller and O’Neill, to be one of America’s greatest playwrights.

Kenneth Tynan
     Tynan was a rising star.   Hemingway was on his last legs with only one more book left in him, and suicide just around the corner.   But Williams, who admired Hemingway’s work, still feared the tall and big chested novelist who greeted him and Tynan with handshakes and hugs, as they walked into the famous Floridita bar and restaurant.  Hemingway ordered Papa Doble, The cocktail created just for him by the El Floridita owner, Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, for everyone in the party.  They signed a few autographs and then had to listen to a trio of singers that saluted Hemingway. Hemingway laughed and hugged the singers, tipping them well, before explaining, to Williams and Tynan, that the bronze bust of himself on the bar in the corner was always covered up for Lent.   Hemingway then ordered lunch, lobster with a salad, and white wine.

George Plimpton
     The group were then joined by another journalist, and sometime friend of Hemingway’s, George Plimpton, who spotted that Tennessee looked slightly terrified, and as Plimpton put it “…Tennessee Williams’ tendencies were noticable and I only saw the great respect Hemingway had for him.”   Williams then told Hemingway he’d met the bullfighter Ordóñez in Spain, describing him as “a lovely boy, very friendly, very accessible.” Hemingway said nothing.” Williams then said, I was introduced to Pauline back in Key West. I was very sorry to hear of her death.   “She died like everybody else,” said Ernest, “and after that she was dead.”  There was something of a pause.

     The conversation moved on to the air crashes Hemingway and Mary had suffered in Africa, with Hemingway giving detailed descriptions, and how close they came to death, with Hemingway adding “You can survive on one kidney, but if your liver gives out, you’re through.”  He then made his goodbyes and said what a pleasure it had been to meet you Tennessee, and can I say how much I enjoy your work, although I’ve never seen any of your plays I do enjoy reading them.