Hemingway’s FBI File!

July 3, 1961, Hemingway Dies

The 50th anniversary of Ernest Hemingway’s death has prompted a variety of articles, including an op-ed piece in the New York Times by A.E. Hotchner, who portrays the famous novelist as being obsessed about FBI surveillance.

He told Hotchner: “It’s the worst hell. The goddamnedest hell. They’ve bugged everything. That’s why we’re using Duke’s car. Mine’s bugged. Everything’s bugged. Can’t use the phone. Mail intercepted.”

Hotchner describes getting Hemingway’s FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act:

“Decades later, in response to a Freedom of Information petition, the F.B.I. released its Hemingway file. It revealed that beginning in the 1940s J. Edgar Hoover had placed Ernest under surveillance because he was suspicious of Ernest’s activities in Cuba. Over the following years, agents filed reports on him and tapped his phones. The surveillance continued all through his confinement at St. Mary’s Hospital. It is likely that the phone outside his room was tapped after all.

“In the years since, I have tried to reconcile Ernest’s fear of the F.B.I., which I regretfully misjudged, with the reality of the F.B.I. file. I now believe he truly sensed the surveillance, and that it substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide.”


In fact, Hemingway’s 125-page FBI file is online. Let’s check it out and see if Hotchner’s account is correct. [Warning: FBI files are incredibly repetitious. A page count is not necessarily a good indication of content].

Here’s the breakdown: Pages 1-91 date from the 1940s; Pages 92-109 are from the 1950s and include a rehash of such subjects as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade [remember, FBI files are repetitious]. And exactly one page (110) is from the 1960s prior to Hemingway’s death.

Let’s take a closer look:

Hemingway FBI file, Page 3
Yes, Hemingway ran a spy ring of 18 bartenders, waiters, etc.

Hemingway FBI file, Page 4
In fact, Hemingway supposedly considered this work so important that he turned down a writing job that would have paid $150,000 [$1,870,010.42  USD 2010].

Of course, there were some rough patches to his spycraft, like introducing an American envoy as “a member of the Gestapo.”

Hemingway FBI file, Page 3
Hemingway FBI file, Page 17

Oh dear. Hemingway’s amateur spy ring is nearly worthless!

Hm. Someone in the buro compiled a biography (Pages 19-33).

There’s quite a lot about Hemingway being superficially friendly with agents, but having a hostility toward the buro.  In fact, Hemingway’s views of the FBI figure prominently in his file. This is rather typical, as analysts often characterized subjects as “friendly” or “unfriendly” to the agency.

Hemingway FBI file, Page 48
And he hates what Hollywood did with “For Whom the Bell Tolls!”

Hemingway FBI file, Page 81

Because Sam Wood disliked the book and Gary Cooper was too old for the part!

Hemingway FBI file, Page 83
Of course, the file is a bit censored….

Hemingway FBI file, Page 97

OK, it’s heavily censored.

In 1961, the buro finds out that Hemingway checked into the Mayo Clinic under an assumed name (George Sevier).

Hemingway FBI file, Page 110

Oh, the FBI doesn’t care whether he registered under a fake name.

Gosh the now-forgotten columnist Westbrook Pegler never liked Hemingway.

Hemingway FBI file, Page 111

Hemingway FBI file, Page 112

There’s more, but those are the highlights.

In other words, the majority of Hemingway’s FBI file consists of a rehash about his amateur spy ring during World War II, a biography of him and background on some associates, notably Gustavo Duran. My hunch is that as a former reporter, Hemingway probably developed pretty good material but that out of professional arrogance, the buro dismissed him as a bungling meddler. Without seeing Hemingway’s reports, of course, it’s impossible to say.

And yes, the FBI compiled information about him and  the Spanish Civil War and collected stories about him from communist papers. There are a few items from the 1950s and some other miscellaneous material. But I don’t see anything beyond what the buro kept on all prominent individuals, like Louis Armstrong. Compare it to the FBI’s monumental files on Bugsy Siegel,  who actually was under heavy surveillance.

Note: The FBI has removed the file on Louis Armstrong from its website. But you can find it here.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1961, Books and Authors, Film, Hollywood, Libraries, Suicide and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Hemingway’s FBI File!

  1. Tour de force, Larry.

    It’s journalistic investigation like this i miss from the daily mirror.


    • lmharnisch says:

      @Native: Thanks! It’s fun. Not many people realize the FBI has put lots of its [heavily censored] files online and even fewer have taken the time to read them.


  2. Paul M. Mock says:

    It’s GREAT to see a 50th anniversary front page again! Those are what drew me to the original blog in the first place. I hope they can become somewhat regular here in the new blog. THANK YOU! Continued success with the new endeavour.


    • lmharnisch says:

      @Paul: That was one of the better ones. In terms of design, The Times was not particularly distinguished in the 1960s in terms of story play or layout. It might be interesting to contrast various front pages of the era — if I can manage the time. Thanks for reading!


      • Vincent says:

        That’s a strange-looking banner headline — flush-right top deck, flush-left bottom.Conventional wisdow would have it both decks centered, or even flush-left top, flush-right bottom.


  3. Ronald Emmis says:

    Great one as usual, Mr. Harnisch.

    It is so good to hear that The Daily Mirror is back up, and will not die. You have no idea how good it is when I start each day going to this bookmarked site to read what you have posted here. I am sure I speak for all of your fans, and fans of this site, that we all do this in one way or another. That’s what this site means to me, at least.


  4. benito says:

    1. Thanks for this insight into H’s years in Cuba. Movies about this era include “Our Man In Havana” [some scenes were shot at his favorite hangouts]; “Islands In The Stream”; and “We Were Strangers”.
    2. Re H’s character, author Paul Theroux detests him for admiring bullies, of people and of animals. True, but consider this: In The Sun Also Rises, the extremely unflattering portrait of the gauche Jewish boxer was closely based on H himself. Ouch.
    3. H deleted adverbs and adjectives on the recommendation of his editor, and it caught on. If Westbrook Pegler had trouble reading H, his head would’ve exploded reading War and Peace. Personally, I draw the line at Ulysses.


  5. Jim Hogue says:

    Our man in Havana


  6. Pingback: The FBI Thins Its Files |

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