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Snapshots of Mary Welsh Hemingway
By Kenneth Koyen
Photo by Morris Warman
The legendary Ernest Hemingway.
Mary Welsh Hemingway
By Kenneth Koyen
The first time I met Mary Welsh was
during "The Phony War." It was the spring of 1940. Eight months
Although I had taken French language classes in college, I was far from fluent. I decided to better myself. As my work at the paper began in the afternoon, my mornings were free. I enrolled in a French language class for foreigners given by the Alliance Francaise. It was held in the Sorbonne. I found about 20 people in the class. Most of them were Poles who had fled the German invasion of their country. They appeared to have the means to re-establish their lives in a new venue.
One woman did not appear to be part of
the Polish group. She was not. She was American. We introduced ourselves. She
said that she was Mary Welsh and that she was a correspondent for the London
Daily Express at the paper’s
I learned later that she was 32, the
daughter of a
She landed a job at The Chicago Daily
News writing womens’ page stories. On a holiday trip to
As our French classes went on we merely nodded at each other. We did not chitchat. We gave our attention to our instructor, an attractive young French woman who spoke English as well as she spoke French. I cannot certify that our French improved markedly. But I do know that the classes ended abruptly on May 10. Then the German Army launched its assault against the Allies. "The Phony War" was over and the world learned a new term, "Blitzkrieg."
With the fall of
I looked up a friend, Will Lang. He was
running the re-established bureau of TIME and
I was introduced. I said,
"Hello," to Mary and reminded her that we had met as fellow
students. She briefly acknowledged the fact. I got the impression that she
did not wish to discuss any relationship with other men, no matter how
innocuous, in front of Hemingway. During the luncheon, Hemingway commanded
the conversation, I listened eagerly for a memorable quote that I could
retell. There were none. Their talk was about story coverage, past and
future. Mary had left the Daily Express. She and Hemingway were each
writing for TIME and
As the talk continued I learned that
Hemingway was grandly billeted at the Hotel Ritz. It also became evident that
Mary was sharing his quarters. Mary’s maiden and writing byline name was, of
course, Mary Welsh. But her correct, legal, name was Mrs. Noel Monks. She had
married Monks, an Australian journalist, not long after she first arrived in
Mary had met Hemingway in
As the war continued Mary busily filed her stories to TIME. But not long after our luncheon she attracted far more attention from what she said than from what she wrote. She accused Andy Rooney and two other correspondents of plagiarism. Rooney was then a staff writer and war correspondent for the Army’s newspaper, The Stars and Stripes. Rooney, who had met Mary several times, was astounded.
The charge that he stole a story and words from her copy still rankles Rooney. Today he says, "It’s just not anything I would have done." The longtime, irascible sage of television adds, "This was one of my earliest claims to fame."
In 1945, a year after Hemingway and
Welsh began their lives together, Gelhorn divorced Hemingway. Mary managed to
divorce Monks in 1945, seven years after their marriage. After the war
Hemingway and Mary continued their adventurous celebrity existence together.
They traveled widely. He wrote his novels to popular and critical acclaim and
honors. They lived in his house in
Before their marriage a woman friend of Mary’s, who had had an earlier affair with Hemingway, spoke to Mary. The friend warned that Hemingway could be "beastly." According to The New York Times, he had once described Mary as "a useless, smirking war correspondent," and "a scavenger." He once threw wine in her face in front of friends. He once smashed her typewriter. The Times later described her wedded existence as a "bruised life."
They remained together even as matters became more difficult for Mary. Hemingway began to decline mentally. He suffered from delusions. He had a considerable fortune, but he feared needlessly that his banker was mishandling it. Hemingway thought that the U.S. Government had agents, including the FBI, shadowing him about non-existent tax fraud.
Because of these and other episodes, Hemingway was examined and treated by physicians and psychiatrists. He was taken to institutions, including the Mayo Clinic, and received a series of drastic electro-shock treatments. Against Mary’s wishes he was released from the Mayo Clinic and returned home to Ketchum.
Early on the morning of
The sound woke Mary. She left her bedroom and raced down the stairs to find the body. She reported to the police and press that Hemingway had shot himself accidentally while he was cleaning his gun. She wrote later that she did not know why she said that.
A.E. Hotchner, a writer and a frequent companion of Hemingway, wrote that he could not fault Mary for covering up. Hotchner thought that Mary was unprepared to accept what had happened and unable to explain it. "What difference does it make?" he asked. Her instinctive reaction was understandable. Suicide might tarnish the image of the powerful writer, the fearless adventurer.
Hemingway had once offered Dorothy Parker, the wit and writer, a better word than "Courage." It was, he said, "Guts." He defined "Guts" as "Grace under pressure." But there was no "Grace" in suicide. It could be seen as surrender and a final act of defeat. The police and the coroner ruled that Hemingway’s death was suicide.
Mary passed the following years writing her autobiography, "How It Was." It was published in 1976. It might well have been subtitled, "The Importance of Being Ernest’s Wife." Overlong at 537 pages, it stressed passages of affection and love. On a lower key, the difficulties, including those of the last years. The "it" in the book’s title referred, of course, to life with Hemingway. Without Hemingway the book could not have been written. If it had, it would not have been published.
Mary moved to
In her last few years she became an
invalid and seldom left her