Bell tolls for Hemingway fans as festival is scrapped

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The Independent Online
Has the bell tolled for Ernest Hemingway in one of his favourite haunts, Key West?

Yes, say his three sons, unless they get a cut of the Hemingway-related profits in the United States' southernmost town. Not quite, say the organisers of Hemingway Days, a five-day festival of literary lectures, street fairs, hard drinking and arm-wrestling contests.

For the past 16 years, the fishing village-cum-tourist resort, a mecca for gays and lesbians, has hosted the festival, attracting an average 10,000 tourists.

This year, Hemingway's three sons, all elderly, decided the event was "tasteless and tacky," particularly the "Papa" t-shirts, caps, false bears and other trivia sold on the streets. They threatened legal action but said they would swallow their pride for a piece of the action - 10 per cent to be exact.

Festival organiser Michael Whalton was disgusted. The event only makes around pounds 10,000, he said, meaning the Hemingway brats were haggling over pounds 1,000. He said he would call off the formal event to avoid a long and expensive legal battle, although he felt he could win in court. "Life's too short," he decided.

But true to his literary hero, Mr Whalton is not giving in without a fight. "We're still going to hold the Hemingway lookalike contest - always the climax of the festival," he said. "They may be able to sue us over him but I hope they can't sue us over people that look like him."

Last year, 127 bulky, white-bearded, daiquiri- swilling men took part in the contest, at Sloppy Joe's bar on Duval Street, a favourite Hemingway haunt. It was there he met a future wife, Martha Gellhorn, relaxed after writing much of A Farewell to Arms, and from where (according to a story he liked to tell himself) he stole an entire urinal for his own house on Whitehead Street.

"The festival portrayed my dad as a big-drinking beachcomber bum," said Patrick Hemingway, one of the Nobel-prize winning author's sons. "But for a beachcomber bum, he certaintly accomplished a lot in his life."