Love Letters | Ernest Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich, 1950-1955

 
Ernest Hemingway and Marlene Dietrich


‘I can’t say how every time I ever put my arms around you, I felt that I was home.
 Nor too many things. But we were always cheerful and jokers together.’  

Ernest Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich, 1951

Marlene Dietrich & Ernest Hemingway, 1938

"Dearest Marlene:
 I always love you and admire you and I have all sorts of mixed up feelings about you […]  
please know that I love you always and forget you sometimes as I forget my heart beats. 
But it beats always.”

Ernest Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich, Aug. 12, 1952

*
The novelist and the femme fatale met on a French passenger liner in 1934. Hemingway
 was returning from an African safari with his second wife. Dietrich was traveling back 
to Hollywood after visiting relatives in Nazi Germany on one of her last trips home.

“Marlene Dietrich told the story later of how they actually met,” says Sandra Spanier, 
the editor of the "Letters of Ernest Hemingway." 

“[Dietrich] came into the dining room of the ship, and asked to join a group of people.
 And when they stood up, she realized there were 12 people at the table and she would
 make 13. And so she started to excuse herself. That’s when Ernest Hemingway appeared.
 He said he didn’t mean to intrude but he’d be glad to be the fourteenth person at the table.”

Dietrich and Hemingway went on to have an intense, flirty correspondence until the author 
killed himself in 1961, though they reputedly never slept together. Spanier describes their 
love as “platonic.”

“They claimed the timing was never right for the two of them to get together, 
but they were very intimate friends,” she says.

Spanier says they talked about their families, their work and their feelings about life and about 
each other. “They even had a fantasy scheme,” Spanier says, 
“that they would open a nightclub together one day. She would be the singer,
 and he would be the bouncer.”

Hemingway imagines the nightclub act in one of his racier letters to the actress, dated Aug. 28, 1955.

Ernest Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich, Aug. 12, 1952 letter 


Hemingway's letters to Dietrich are affectionate and playful. He signs his letters “Papa” and 
refers to her as “my little Kraut” or “daughter.” Spanier says Hemingway referred to
 most younger women that way.

Spanier believes Hemingway and Dietrich bonded over their experiences in World War II. 
Hemingway was a war correspondent and Dietrich entertained the troops in USO shows. 
“They both felt the war very intensely. And after the war, they had this feeling that 
they had been through something together and they were both tough people.”

For example, in a letter from June 27, 1950, Hemingway tells Dietrich:
 “We indestructibles should keep good contact. I am an old indestructible 
and you are a young one. But we know different from the others.”

He goes on to say, 
“Toi et moi have lived through about as bad times as there ever were. I don't mean just 
wars. Wars are Spinach. Life in general is the tough part. In war all you have to do is not 
worry and know how to read a map and co-ordinates.”

During the 1940s, Spanier says Dietrich and Hemingway would hang out at the Ritz hotel
 in Paris, after Hemingway had famously “liberated” the bar with the Allied troops. Once, 
at the Ritz, Hemingway gave Dietrich a poem he had written about death. “During the war,” 
Spanier says,
 “[Hemingway] attached himself to an infantry unit where 67 men had died in a 
24-hour period. He was heartbroken and wrote a long poem about that. And he 
asked Marlene Dietrich to read this poem in the Ritz bar and reportedly everyone
 had tears in their eyes including her.”

Spanier says Hemingway and Dietrich’s relationship made perfect sense, in a way. 
“They were both strong personalities. They both had to contend with their own celebrity
 and carve out a private space. And I think they saw that in each other and respected 
that in each other.”

Dietrich’s daughter, Maria Riva, goes a step farther. In her biography, Riva writes, 
''For my mother, Hemingway was the dashing War Correspondent in the turned-up-collar
 raincoat; the Hunter, shotgun cocked, standing strong in the path of a charging rhino; the 
Lonely Philosopher of the bleeding hands clutching his fishing line. … Whoever he
 visualized himself being, she accepted and believed in,'' she continues. ''She, the
 infatuated fan to all his fantasies, adored him and was convinced that she was the 
best friend he ever had. He adored her for being intelligent as well as beautiful, 
basked in her effusive adulation with shy pride.''

Ernest Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich, Aug. 12, 1952 letter 


Dearest Kraut :

Thanks very much for the good long letter with the gen on what you found wrong. I don’t know
 anything about the theater but I don’t think it would occur to me, even, to have you introduced 
even to me with strains of La Vie En Rose. Poor peoples.

If I were staging it would probably have something novel like having you shot onto the stage, 
drunk, from a self-propelled minnenwerfer which would advance in from the street rolling 
over the customers. We would be playing “Land of Hope and Glory.” As you landed on the stage
 drunk and naked I would advance from the rear, or from your rear wearing evening clothes and 
would hurriedly strip off my evening clothes to cover you revealing the physique of Burt Lancaster
 Strongfort and announce that we were sorry that we did not know the lady was loaded. All this 
time the Thirty ton S/P/ Mortar would be bulldozing the customers as we break into the Abortion
 Scene from “Lakme.” This is a 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 and all the time we are working on 
you with pulmotors and raversed (sic) cleaners which blow my evening clothes off you. 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. You are referred to in the contract as The Artist and I am just 
Captain Ahab. Fortunately I am crazed and I keep shouting “Fire One. Fire Two. Fire Three.” 
And don’t think we do not fire them. It is then that the Germ of the Mutiny is born in your 
disheveled brain.

But why should a great Artist-Captain like me invent so many for so few for only air-mail
 love on Sunday morning when I should be in church. Only for fun, I guess. Gentlemen, crank
 up your hearses.

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. Not only that but I was circumcised as a very early age.

Hope you have it good in California and Las Vegas. What I hear from the boys is that many
 people in La Vegas (sic) or three or four anyway of the mains are over-extended. This is very
 straightgen but everybody knows it if I know it although I have not told anyone what I’ve heard 
and don’t tell you. But watch all money ends. Some people would as soon have the publicity of 
making you look bad as of your expected and legitimate success. But that is the way everything
 is everywhere and no criticism of Nevada or anyone there. Cut this paragraph out of this letter 
and burn it if you want to keep the rest of the letter in case you thought any of it funny. I rely on 
you as a Kraut officer and gentlemen do this.

New Paragraph. I love you very much and wish you luck. Wish me some too. Book is on page 592.
 This week Thursday we start photography on fishing. Am in charge of fishing etc. and it is going 
to be difficult enough. With a bad back a little worse. The Artist is not here naturally. I only wrote
 the book but must do the work as well and have no stand-in. Up at 0450 knock off at I930. This 
goes on for I5 days.

I think you could say you and I have earned whatever dough the people let us keep.

So what. So Merdre. I love you as always.

Papa


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