March 11, 2014

Sexy letter from Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich up for auction


Hemingway stampIf you’ve been after an original letter from Ernest Hemingway that includes a giant rubber whale, a WWI mine launcher, and some pillow talk… boy, this must be your lucky week.

Hemingway’s 1955 letter to Marlene Dietrich, “the first Hemingway letter to Marlene Dietrich to become available at public auction since 1997,” is up for sale. In the words of the auctioneer, this letter “holds a wealth of promiscuous, provocative imagery and language rife with double entendres.”

In what sounds like an act of spring cleaning, Dietrich’s grandchildren are holding an inheritance sale on March 17, with 250 of her possessions. The sexy letter is expected to sell for $35,000-$50,000.

Dated August 28, 1955, the letter is addressed to “Dearest Kraut” (his nickname for Dietrich) and signed “Papa.” It was written during the filming of The Old Man and the Sea, and six years before Hemingway’s suicide. Hemingway mentions in the letter that they’ve had trouble finding a fish big enough for the film (he says they got some nice shots of the harpoon, but even two fish over 400 pounds were not large enough for the Cinemascope shot).

Dietrich was in the middle of a successful, groundbreaking run in Las Vegas. Both parties were married but their affairs are well-known (he was a famous womanizer; she had relationships with JFK, Greta Garbo, and John Wayne).

They met on a fancy ship, the Île de France, on their way to New York City in 1934. Hemingway, being Hemingway, was on his way home from an African safari. Dietrich was headed to the U.S. after visiting relatives in Nazi Germany. They exchanged flirtatious letters for thirty years.

Hemingway explained to a friend that his affair with Dietrich was never consummated because they were “victims of unsynchronized passion. Those times when I was out of love, the Kraut was deep in some romantic tribulation, and on those occasions when Dietrich was on the surface and swimming about with those marvelously seeking eyes, I was submerged.”

Dietrich had complained about the response to one of her shows in Las Vegas. In the letter, Hemingway imagines how the performance might be improved, first with an explicit fantasy between the two of them, then turning more serious as he talks about his work and his feelings for her:


It would probably have something novel like having you shot onto the stage, drunk, from a self-propelled minenwerfer [sic], which would advance in from the street rolling over the customers.

As you landed on the stage drunk and naked I would advance from the rear, or your rear wearing evening clothes, and would hurriedly strip… to cover you revealing the physique of Burt Lancaster… and announce that we were sorry that we did not know the lady was loaded.

[Next we would] break into the Abortion Scene from Lakme [a French opera].

This is the scene which is really Spine tingling and I have just the spine for it. I play it with a Giant Rubber Whale called Captain Ahab… You are foaming at the mouth of course to show that we are really acting and we bottle the foam and sell it to any surviving customers….

Marlene, darling, I write stories but I have no grace for fucking them up for other mediums. It was hard enough for me to learn to write to be read by the human eye. I do not know how, nor do I care to know how to write to be read by parrots, monkeys, apes, baboons, nor actors.

I love you very much and I never wanted to get mixed in any business with you as I wrote you when this thing first was brought up. Neither of us has enough whore blood for that. Not but what I number many splendid whores amongst my best friends and certainly never. I hope, could be accused of anti-whoreism….

I think you could say you and I have earned whatever dough the people let us keep. So what. So Merdre. I love you always.

It’s a bizarre and intimate piece of Hemingway’s history.


Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.