Newly discovered Hemingway cache includes telegram draft about 1932 Piggott movie premiere

Author upset with studio, plan for Piggott premiere

Ernest Hemingway stands in 1932 on the front porch of his in-laws’ home in Piggott. To the far right are Paul and Mary Pfeiffer, parents of Pauline Pfeiffer, to whom Hemingway was married from 1927 to 1940. Standing next to Hemingway is a Pfeiffer cousin, Barbara Peck.
(Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
Ernest Hemingway stands in 1932 on the front porch of his in-laws’ home in Piggott. To the far right are Paul and Mary Pfeiffer, parents of Pauline Pfeiffer, to whom Hemingway was married from 1927 to 1940. Standing next to Hemingway is a Pfeiffer cousin, Barbara Peck. (Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)


There's a piece of cardboard in the Special Collections Library at Penn State University.

On it, Ernest Hemingway scrawled a draft telegram message to an executive at Paramount Pictures about the world premiere of "A Farewell to Arms," scheduled for Dec. 7, 1932, in Piggott:

"Don't try to plant your lousy films on me Stop will not be in Piggott on December seventh and have only two friends there neither of whom has heard of a Farewell to Arms in book or picture form."

Hemingway thought Paramount had put a happy ending on its film version of his 1929 novel.

By all accounts, he was furious.

It was Hemingway's second cable to Paramount saying he wouldn't attend the premiere in Piggott. Apparently, Paramount didn't get the first one.

The cardboard cable message was recently discovered among a trove of Hemingway papers salvaged from a storeroom at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West, Fla., after Hemingway's death in 1961.

The materials were acquired by Penn State last year and recently opened to the public.

The cable draft is significant, said Sandra Spanier, a Penn State professor of English and general editor of the Hemingway Letters Project.

"As a professional writer, Hemingway was a perfectionist -- he rewrote the ending to 'A Farewell to Arms' 47 times before he was satisfied," said Spanier. "But this cable draft -- dashed off in the heat of the moment on a piece of cardboard that happened to be handy -- is significant in that it shows how spontaneous and unfiltered he could be in his correspondence. It really irked him that Hollywood had taken such liberties with his great tragic novel, and he had no intention of helping promote something he considered silly. It also shows that he rarely threw anything away, which is good news for scholars and historians."

Hemingway wrote much of "A Farewell to Arms" in Piggott during the summer of 1928, said Robert W. Trogdon, a professor of English at Kent State University.

From 1927-40, Hemingway was married to Pauline Pfeiffer, whose parents lived in Piggott. Hemingway spent about six months total at the home of his in-laws in Piggott, estimates Ruth A. Hawkins, former executive director of Arkansas State University's Heritage Sites and the author of a book on Ernest and Pauline.

Hemingway did much of that writing in the Pfeiffer's barn, which is a key attraction of the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center on the former Pfeiffer property. He wrote in what had been the hayloft.

Published in 1929, "A Farewell to Arms" sold 100,000 copies in its first year and made Hemingway a famous writer.

SLOPPY JOE'S

After Hemingway's death in 1961, his widow, Mary Welsh Hemingway, was called to retrieve the stuff that had been stored since 1939 at Sloppy Joe's, one of Hemingway's favorite hangouts in the 1930s.

She enlisted the help of Telly Otto Bruce, known as Toby, and his wife Betty Bruce.

Toby Bruce was from Piggott. Spanier said Bruce met Hemingway in Piggott and became the author's right hand man, driver, carpenter, mechanic, friend and confidant.

After sorting through piles of Hemingway's papers at Sloppy Joe's, Mary Hemingway took what she wanted to keep for herself (which she ultimately transferred to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library) and gave the rest of the stuff to Toby Bruce.

The collection passed from Toby and Betty Bruce to their son, Benjamin C. "Dink" Bruce, who stored it in ammo cans and plastic bins on the family's Key West property, according to Penn State.

Spanier became familiar with the collection's contents several years ago and persuaded Dink Bruce that it ought to come to Penn State, according to the university. Dink Bruce died in 2020, and his nephew and niece sold the collection to Penn State in October 2021.

Spanier leads a team of scholars who are now preparing the sixth of a planned 17 volumes of Hemingway's letters. Several items in the collection were included in Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's three-part documentary about the author, which aired last year on Public Broadcasting Service television stations.

Called the Toby and Betty Bruce Collection of Ernest Hemingway, the cache consists of 18 linear feet of material in 17 boxes, according to the finding aid, which is available at https://aspace.libraries.psu.edu/repositories/3/resources/11174.

The contents range from the head of "Ernie's old cloth stuffed doggie" that he made as a child to what appears to be his first short story, about a fictional trip to Ireland when he was 10 years old.

It's the most significant cache of Hemingway materials uncovered in 60 years, Robert K. Elder wrote for The New York Times.

The collection includes "four unpublished short stories, drafts of manuscripts, hundreds of photographs, bundles of correspondence and boxes of personal effects that experts say are bound to reshape public and scholarly perception of an artist whose life and work defined an era," according to the Times.

"Lucky for us, Hemingway was a pack rat," said Spanier. "He saved everything from bullfight tickets and bar bills to a list of rejected story titles written on a piece of cardboard. The collection adds texture and nuance to our understanding of one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, and will be a valuable resource for scholars, students and aficionados."

Other documents in the collection also mention Piggott. One of those documents is a May 19, 1950, letter from Hemingway to Toby Bruce instructing him to bring a considerable amount of fishing tackle with him when he comes to visit Hemingway in Cuba, including "2,000 yards of 15 thread linen line," a 12-ounce Tycoon rod and "all the smallest size white feathers you can get."

They were gearing up for a fishing tournament.

In the letter, Hemingway wrote, "That Piggott lawyer deal is evidently complicated and need your advice. Pauline agreed that it was a good idea when she was here and authorized me to try to see why and where."

The name of the Piggott lawyer wasn't disclosed.

The collection also includes photographs of Pauline taken on their first trip to Africa.

The materials aren't digitized for online viewing. And researchers at the library have been swamped since the Bruce collection was opened to the public, so it can take a while to fulfill requests.

ABOUT THAT PREMIER

After Hemingway refused to attend the premiere of "A Farewell to Arms" in Piggott on Dec. 7, 1932, the film premiered instead in New York City the following day.

Spanier said it wasn't shown in Piggott until a couple of weeks later. Hemingway didn't attend that showing either. Stories differ on why.

Some say he left town for the weekend to have an excuse for not attending, according to Spanier. Others say he stayed in town but refused to go while others in the family did.

In her book "Unbelievable Happiness and Final Sorrow: The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Marriage," Ruth Hawkins retold a story that Virginia Pfeiffer, Pauline's sister, told a friend years later.

After realizing the movie ending more closely resembled what he had written in the book, and after reading positive reviews from the premiere in New York City, Hemingway decided to go to the premiere in Piggott when it took place later in December 1932.

"The afternoon of the premiere, however, he went to the town square to hear all the buzz about the upcoming premiere from women gathered at the soda fountain at Reve's Drug Store," Hawkins wrote. "After he overheard two women expressing displeasure about 'Tarzan the Ape Man' being preempted for the special showing, Ernest became furious. He stormed up the hill to the Pfeiffer home and retreated to the barn with a bottle of scotch and got drunk. The family found him in no shape to go anywhere and went without him."

According to Hawkins, Paramount executives decided to send a print of the film to Piggott for the proposed Dec. 7, 1932, premiere so Hemingway could see it and provide some comments for publicity purposes.

Paramount's initial telegram read: "Two prints, unexpectedly available, made possible a private showing of the motion picture version of 'A Farewell to Arms' to your family and friends at Piggott on the night of the Broadway premiere or before ... Immediate reply appreciated so arrangements can be made."

Under the impression Paramount had changed the story's ending, Hemingway replied to that first telegram: "Do not send here. If the book and motion pictures survive, a really great picture interpretation will be made. Meanwhile, although Paramount bought picture rights, it did not also get the right to my sanction of the picture version."

Hemingway had scribbled out several vitriolic responses before settling on that one, according to Hawkins.

One of them read, "Use your imagination as to where Paramount can put two prints."

Exactly what Hemingway wrote in the second telegram he sent to Paramount regarding the premiere is unknown, said Spanier.

But there's a piece of cardboard at Penn State University that gives a clue.