Diplomatic Relations Restored With Cuba - My Trip There With Mary Hemingway!

Mary Hemingway and Fidel Castro with your reporter! all photos by Jay

You saw the news today......after 54 years the U.S. has restored diplomatic relations with Cuba, with embassies being reopened in both countries. Which brought to mind my trip to Cuba some years ago with Mary Hemingway, the fourth and last wife of America's most famous novelist. The news was of more than academic interest to me since I have spent the last 25 years trying to produce a motion picture about the life of Hemingway, and in so doing had the adventure of going to Cuba with his wife, Mary, along with the late, great director Sidney Pollack and screenwriter Waldo Salt, to meet with Fidel Castro and obtain permission to film there! The Hemingways had left their long-time home, the Finca, in Cuba in 1961 after Ernest split with Fidel over politics. HBO recently did a movie detailing Hemingway's tempestuous relationship with his third wife, Martha Gelhorn, although Mary told me that it was actually a brief relationship and Gelhorn ended up hating him.

Mary Hemingway and Jay at the Memorial site.

After I optioned the film rights to Mary's biography, How It Was, I enlisted film director Sidney Pollack to helm the movie and - in what turned out to be a real mistake - got the Academy-Award winning writer, Waldo Salt ("Midnight Cowboy"), to do the script. He took over four years to write it!....all 400 pages of it, which killed the production deal I had made with Sherry Lansing to film it at MGM, with Jon Voight playing Hemingway and Jill Clayburg playing Mary. Interestingly, when Waldo was dying at Cedars-Sinai, he called me to his hospital room and gave me a cut-down 150 page version of his brilliant script. Unfortunately, too late....by then there was scant interest in doing such a film.

Mary (center) with Waldo Salt (left) and Sidney Pollack (right) at a favorite Hemingway bodega.

A decade ago Mary had obtained permission from the U.S. government for us to go to Cuba despite the fact that civilian travel was prohibited. We went via Mexico City, and arrived in Havana to stay at a government guest house. Mary Hemingway returning to Cuba for the first time since she and Ernest had left was worldwide news, and our first trip to their home, the tourist-popular Finca, was an emotional experience for her. The house had been mold-sprayproofed but it was exactly as she and he had left it....his eye-glasses on the desk along with the mail from that very day, with many cats running around the premises, the bookcase full of their valuable volumes. Later when we met with Castro, Mary asked if she could take some of her precious first-editions home with her. Castro appeared shocked, saying "Oh, no, they belong to the Cuban people now." They had a fierce argument about that. Our meeting with Castro lasted four hours, with his pretty translator working beside him, although I realized he spoke perfect English...the translation gave him time to think of appropriate answers. "Of course you can film here," he said. "I learned all of my guerilla tactics from reading "For Whom the Bells Toll." A slight exaggeration, I am sure, but flattering to Mary. Fidel was smoking a cigar and when I bravely asked him if I could have one, he went over to desk and took a Romeo & Juliet from his humidor, clipped it and lit it for me (I have the picture!). When I returned to the hotel, he had sent me and my partner, Stanley Beyer, three boxes of his cigars to take home. The next day we visited the 93-year old captain of the Hemingway boat, Pilar, featured in the 1952 Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, "The Old Man and the Sea," and we went out in the legendary vessel. Upon returning to the U.S., we were told by The State Department that we would not receive permission to film there. Perhaps now that we have diplomtic relations, such a film can be shot. Perhaps.

Fun with Fidel. Mary on the left and Jay behind.

I still would love to film the action-packed, adventurous and moving story of this exciting man, a life which travels from Cuba to Ketchum Idaho (where he committed suicide after receiving electroshock treatments), from Key West to Nairobi, Venice, Paris and Madrid. I have a wonderful new screenplay called Ernest & Mary which centers on their love story. It is an unbelievable story which still deserves to be told. The New York Times ran an article detailing how the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation acquired 15 letter written by Hemingway, bought from an 80-year old friend of the famed writer, Italian-born Gianfranco Ivancich, member of a noble Venetian family. The most interesting of the letters expresses Hemingway's softer side, his anguish about having to shoot his favorite cat, Willie, who had been hit by a car near their home, the Finca Vigia outside of Havana, Cuba. "Certainly missed you, Miss Uncle Willie. Have had to shoot people but never anyone I knew and loved for 11 years. Nor anyone that purred with two broken legs." Such was the genius and humanity of Ernest Hemingway.

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