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Hemingway-Dietrich Letters: 'Just Flirting'

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Hemingway-Dietrich Letters: 'Just Flirting'

Hemingway-Dietrich Letters: 'Just Flirting'

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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It is also in Boston that we're learning some details about a possible romance between a great actress and great writer: Ernest Hemingway and Marlene Dietrich.

Now, there is some debate about whether they actually had a serious relationship but he did write letters and many of them are made public today at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Tom Putnam directs the library and joins us now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. TOM PUTNAM (Director, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum): Oh, good morning.

INSKEEP: Do I need to ask why does the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library has letters from Ernest Hemingway?

Mr. PUTNAM: Yes. When Mr. Hemingway died, his widow was not allowed to travel to Cuba to get all of his papers. And President Kennedy worked some back channels to allow her to travel there and Fidel Castro allowed her to take the papers out of Cuba. And then when she was looking for a repository, it was a friendship between Mary Hemingway and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis that brought the letters and papers of Ernest Hemingway to the Kennedy library.

INSKEEP: And they have been in the library relatively undiscovered for all these years?

Mr. PUTNAM: Oh, no. The papers are - have been here since the library opened in 1979. What's new this morning is that we have 30 new letters that were given from Marlene Dietrich's family to this collection and we're just opening those letters today.

INSKEEP: And describe what had been known up to now about Ernest Hemingway and Marlene Dietrich.

Mr. PUTNAM: Oh, well, certainly, people knew of their friendship and it's been much talked of and written of. This is the first time that we're seeing Hemingway's letters to Dietrich. So when Marlene Dietrich wrote to Hemingway, both letters, for instance, were down in Cuba and were brought back and had been a part of our collection.

INSKEEP: You've kindly sent us copies of some of these letters. I'm looking at one that is typewritten and Hemingway seems to have put a big space between every single word, there is a big spaces, but he writes at the beginning of this: I write this early in the morning, the hour that poor people and soldiers and sailors wake from habit, which could almost be the first sentence of the Hemingway short story.

Mr. PUTNAM: Yeah. Absolutely. You write the way that they are typewritten. He did that partly in case he wanted to edit and add words, and other letters you can see that in those spaces, he's out of words. But he also, I think, does it for effect.

INSKEEP: What are some quotes that really struck your eye?

Mr. PUTNAM: He writes to her, what do you really want to do for a life work? Break everybody's heart for a dime? You could always break mine for a nickel and I bring the nickel.

INSKEEP: So were they just flirting?

Mr. PUTNAM: Yeah. It seems that they were just flirting. It was part of some gamesmanship. They had met in 1934, there had been many who have commented about, you know, whether it was more than a friendship or not. Hemingway himself said to his friend A.E. Hotchner that they were victims of unsynchronized passion. When he was free, she wasn't. When she was free, he wasn't.

INSKEEP: He committed suicide in 1961.

Mr. PUTNAM: Unfortunately, yes.

INSKEEP: And she outlived him?

Mr. PUTNAM: She did. Yes.

INSKEEP: Did she ever talk in public about Hemingway and their relationship?

Mr. PUTNAM: I believe that she did. Her daughter writes that her mother was an immortal in the making and she knew which flock of rare birds to fly with. So I think she did talk about Hemingway and her friendship with Hemingway. It was part of her own public image.

INSKEEP: Oh, she wanted people to know?

Mr. PUTNAM: She did. Yes.

INSKEEP: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Putnam.

Mr. PUTNAM: Oh, sure. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Tom Putnam directs the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

(Soundbite of song, "Lili Marlene" by Marlene Dietrich)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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