Monday, May 28, 2012

Hemingway Curse

What is the Hemingway Curse?

Following is an excerpt from The Copycat Effect:
The copycat effect even affects celebrity families. Learned behavior and the modeling power of the copycat effect may be a stronger link than even biological predeterminism. The so-called "Hemingway Curse" is one such example. Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway wrote literary masterpieces. His father and two siblings died by suicide, and the rumors of a Hemingway Curse has become an urban legend. 
One allegorical story is told of Hemingway's mother baking a cake for him on his 21st birthday, and putting the gun his father used to kill himself in the middle of the cake. The story was repeated in Time Magazine. But other sources note that Hemingway's father died by suicide by gunshot when Hemingway was 26, and it was Hemingway who asked for the gun his father had used from his brother. 
Hemingway, nevertheless, decided to use the same basic method, death by shotgun, and killed himself on July 2, 1961. His granddaughter actress and singer Margaux Hemingway was only 41 years old when she died by suicide near the anniversary of her grandfather's suicide 35 years earlier. She was found on July 1, 1996, having overdosed on prescription drugs. Ernest and Margaux Hemingway are both interred in the same Ketchum Cemetery at Ketchum, Idaho. 
Her sister, Mariel Hemingway was interviewed by CNN News reporter Connie Chung on January 17, 2003. When Chung asked Mariel Hemingway about the "Hemingway Curse," she responded: "I just think that it's an easy way for the media to go -- it's just such a hook, the Hemingway curse and suicide and this, that, and the other thing. That's not my life." 
The copycat effect may even play a role in the so-called "Paradise Syndrome." Reuters reporter Rachel Noeman explained the term in a 1996 news story: "They inherit celebrity names, appear to have it all and live apparently gilded lives, but what may at first seem like paradise can end in pain or even tragedy." 
Noeman was reporting on the suicide death of Amschel Rothschild, 41-year-old chairman of Rothschild Asset Management and great-great-great-grandson of Nathan Meyer Rothschild -- who established in 1804 the merchant bank in the City of London that still bears his name. He hanged himself in a Paris hotel room ten days after Margaux Hemingway, who also was 41, was found dead. 
Noeman was making the link between the two, in terms of the "Paradise Syndrome." While the modeling of a suicide on those most like the suicide victim is most often discussed in terms of people basing their suicide on that of a celebrity, descendants of celebrities may actually be the most vulnerable for the copycat effect. Amschel Rothschild’s widow Anita Rothschild repeated what is often said in the wake of such deaths, that it was “totally unexpected,” and the family was "shocked and devastated."

Robert Roper wrote in Obit Magazine in 2011 of the risk factors leading to Ernest Hemingway's suicide, putting the final act in the broader context of the famed writer's six major brain traumas (resulting in concussions?), his alcoholism, the prescription drugs, and some questionable mental health treatments (including electroconvulsive therapy).

Roper very directly talked about Hemingway's dance with suicide:
He often talked about suicide.  The times just after finishing a book were some of the worst for him.  Even in his robust roaring 20s, world-famous as an author already, he talked often about having night terrors, about feeling “contemptible,” about being afraid he was losing control – “you lie all night half funny in the head and pray and pray and pray you won’t go crazy.”  In a love letter to the woman who would become his second wife, he wrote, “I think all the time I want to die.”  A love letter!  The inner Hemingway was agonized, was ever on the cross.
Roper also extends the number of people directly related to Ernest who died by suicide:
In 1928 his father had killed himself.  Hemingway’s mother sent him the revolver that his father had used – it was a Smith & Wesson his grandfather had carried in the Civil War.  Hemingway was said to cherish the gun but to have been deeply disturbed by his mother’s gesture.
* * *
Of his five brothers and sisters, three died by their own hand, a fourth probably also.  One of his sons, Gregory, was drug-addicted and deeply troubled and died in jail.  One of his granddaughters, Margaux Hemingway, the actress, also was an addict and an early suicide.

Therefore, looking at those in Ernest Hemingway's orbit, who did die by suicide?

Ernest Hemingway: born July 21, 1899,  339 N. Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois; 61, died by suicide by W. & C. Scott & Son shotgun, July 2, 1961, Ketchum, Idaho.

Directly related to Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hall (Ernest's grandfather): attempted suicide with a Civil War-era .32 caliber pistol but lived because his son-in-law, Clarence, Ernest's father, had removed the bullets.
Clarence Edmonds Hemingway (Ernest's father): born September 4, 1871, Oak Park, Illinois; 57, died by suicide by his own father's Civil War Smith and Wesson .32 revolver, December 6, 1928, Oak Park, Illinois.
Ursula Hemingway Jepson (Ernest's sister): born April 29, 1902; died by suicide by drug overdose, October 30, 1966.
Leicester Hemingway (Ernest's brother): born April 1, 1915, Oak Park, Illinois; 67, died by suicide by a borrowed .22 pistol, September 13, 1982, Miami Beach, Florida. 
Which ones of Ernest's other siblings (Madalaine, Marceline, Carol) died by suicide? 
Margeux Hemingway (Ernest's granddaughter): born February 16, 1955, Portland, Oregon; 41, died by suicide by drug overdose of phenobarbital, July 1, 1996, Santa Monica, California.

Ernest's first wife, Hadley Richardson's father James Richardson, Jr., died by suicide in 1903.
Julius Mordecai Pincas, known as Pascin (pronounced pass-keen), Jules Pascin, or the "Prince of Montparnasse," born on March 31, 1885, in Bulgaria, was strongly identified with the Modernist movement and the artistic circles of Montparnasse - and Hemingway who features him in A Moveable Feast; died by suicide from cutting wrists and hanging, at age 45, on June 5, 1930, at Montmartre, Paris, France.
Ernest's third wife, Martha Gellhorn, died by suicide by drug overdose on February 15, 1998, in London.

There are others. I just haven't discovered or been made aware of them yet.

For a review of the 2012 movie Hemingway & Gellhorn, click here.

by Loren Coleman ©2004, 2007, 2012.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Has anyone explored the hidden meaning and history of the Hemingway name (old Norse for devil's way) in relationship to other Hemingway families? Do you think they were aware of the underlying meaning? Are other "Hemming Way"s similarly tragic?