Key West Forced To Bid A Farewell To Smarm
A festival honoring Ernest Hemingway with a look-alike contest, fishing tournament and lots of partying was canceled Wednesday after his three sons asked for a cut of the proceeds and threatened to sue.
The Hemingway Days Festival began 16 years ago and has been a popular tradition in Key West, where the writer lived for years.
Hemingway’s granddaughter, Lorian Hemingway, judged the writing contest and always attended, but her father and two uncles objected to the atmosphere and lowbrow Hemingway items on sale.
“We never wanted the festival to end, but that it be done with approval so that it could be done with integrity - not a tasteless use of the name and likeness of Ernest Hemingway,” said Marla Metzner, president of Fashion Licensing of America.
The agency represents the Hemingway brothers, Jack, Patrick and Gregory. They sought a 10 percent cut of the 10-day festival’s proceeds, and total control of marketing and all other aspects.
“The family looked the other way for too long,” Metzner said.
Michael Whalton, who founded the festival, wanted no part of the deal. He said he earned $16,000 a year from the event but decided to shut it down instead of lose control.
“We really have worked hard to find a balance of events to honor him as a literary genius and a larger-than-life character,” Whalton said.
Lorian Hemingway called the threat from her father, Gregory, and uncles “a strong arm coming down on people who are essentially minding their own business. “I don’t agree with this at all. I started crying.”
Hemingway lived in Key West on and off before buying a house there in 1931. He completed “For Whom The Bell Tolls” in Key West and wrote there often. He lived in Key West until 1940, when he divorced his second wife and moved to Cuba. He returned to Key West off and on until he killed himself in Idaho in 1961.
Metzner said the brothers respect Hemingway’s connection to Key West. Their primary concern was not money but control of the event and regulating the quality of merchandising, she said.
Many of the events were tasteless, Metzner said. The festival included a lookalike contest, street festival, arm-wrestling competition, sailing regatta and golf tournament, among many other events.
The merchandising extravaganza of T-shirts, caps and other run-of-the-mill items seemed to particularly upset Hemingway’s sons.
The brothers recently began selling a limited edition Hemingway Monte Blanc pen for $600 and a line of eyeglasses that begin at $300. They have plans to sell other upscale items, Metzner said.
The controversy wasn’t likely to dampen the enthusiasm of Key West residents for Hemingway.
“The passion that Key West has with Hemingway is spiritual and that will never die no matter what these people do,” said Mike Morawaski, manager of the Hemingway House. “They can’t destroy that.”