Photographie originale dédicacée d'Ernest Hemingway : "A mon vieux et cher ami Adolphe Lévèque "
S.n., s.l. (Pérou) s.d. (Mai 1956), 10x15,5cm, une feuille.
Original photograph, inscribed from Ernest Hemingway to Adolphe Lévêque
Peru May 1956, 15,5 x 10,5 cm, one photograph
Original photograph, contemporary print, depicting Ernest Hemingway holding an imposing marlin that he had caught.A handsome autograph inscription from Peru May 1956 by Ernest Hemingway to Adolphe Lévêque (1902-1975), head bartender on the liner Île-de-France: “à mon vieux et cher ami Adolphe Lévèque” “To my dear old friend Adolphe Lévèque.”
This fishing scene, sent to a humble bartender epitomizes, with its apparent simplicity, Hemingway's – the most celebrated American writer of his time – passions and spirit.
The photograph was taken during the filming of the cinematic adaptation of The Old Man and the Sea
. Hemingway was there as a technical adviser, both for his skill as a fisherman and as a writer.
John Sturges, the director, discouraged at not having found any giant marlin to film in Cuba, went to Peru, accompanied by Hemingway, in search of the fabled fish: “They spoke of taking the plane to Cabo Blanco in Peru, where it was said that the marlin weighed on average 500 kilos and behaved like a great lord typical of Ernest's novel.” (Carlos Baker, Hemingway: History of a Life, vol. 2/1936-1961
Abandoning the editing of his African diary, Hemingway dreamt of living the adventure of his hero, and – like him – catching a giant marlin. Like Santiago, he ended up spending several weeks empty-handed but finally “brought next to the boat a fish of more than three hundred kilos before loosening the line so that the marlin could execute a dozen lovely leaps to generate shots for the filming.” The irony of course, was that the production decided in the end to use a plastic marlin that Hemingway called a “giant condom.”
If the month spent in Peru was partially omitted from his biography, several photographs have become legendary, immortalizing this miraculous catch during which the “old” writer with his imposing sailor's beard seemed to embody his work. Some of these clichés shown in the postcard are today fused with photographs from Cuba; and the Miss Texas, the boat from the production, is often confused with the famous Pilar, acquired by Hemingway in 1934 and today exhibited in Havana.Very rare, the original printing of this image seems to have been reserved for the members of the expedition. It is possible that Hemingway received a few copies, although we do not know of any other signed original photographs of the shoot.
Hemingway addressed this photograph – originally pasted into the new edition of The Old Man and the Sea
– to the Frenchman Adolphe Lévêque, bartender on the liner Île-de-France. This employee of the General Transatlantic Company was unknown to the biographers of the writer, however this proof of friendship, sent from Cabo Blanco, reveals a real bond between the great American writer who had recently won the Nobel Prize and the humble French bartender three years his junior. This “old and dear friend” as he called Hemingway, worked all his life on the Île-de-France. He was a privileged interlocutor of the great whisky enthusiast during the seven voyages which he made, beginning in 1930, aboard this giant of the sea where the writer took an immediate liking to him.
Built in 1926, the Île-de-France was in fact the first modern ocean liner, showcasing the Art Deco style and the luxury and prowess of Parisian know-how in the interwar period. It made its first crossing between Le Havre and New York asthe author of A Moveable Feast
left France and the Latin quarter, where his career as a writer began.
On the Île-de-France, Hemingway rediscovered the Paris of his youth and he could continue therefore to enjoy all the pleasures of the Roaring Twenties. Till the end of his life, he continued to praise his favorite ship and life aboard it: “The same old big and fat, wide, strong boat with wonderful food (better than in Paris although it is all so good). And a wonderful wine list...” Very enfeebled on his last crossing in 1957, he received treatment aboard and decided to stay on all the way to the West Indies. It was on this liner that he seduced Marlene Dietrich, rubbed shoulders with Humphrey Bogart (who tried in vain to buy from him the rights to the Old Man and the Sea
) and many other artists and stars who, like him, regularly crossed the Atlantic aboard the luxury ship: Rita Hayworth, Raoul Dufy, Judy Garland, Cary Grant...
But the strongest link that tied Hemingway to the liner was its crew, because of the taste for the “French touch” which he shared with many of his contemporaries.
During the thirty years it spent on the ocean, the destiny of this surprising ship – with its famous seaplane launched from the deck to ensure that the mail arrived a day sooner – and of this daring writer seemed continually to echo each other.
Following the example of its illustrious passenger, the Île-de-France also had an exemplary career. In 1937, they were both engaged in the liberation struggle in Spain: one reporting on the war, the other transporting Canadian, Cuban and North American volunteers. Then in 1940, the Île-de-France – refusing to recognize the armistice – returned to New York, before being armed and joining French Liberation Force, Hemingway for his part prepared the Pilar to patrol the Caribbean in search of U-boats. After the war, the Resistance ship received the highest military honour: the Croix de Guerre and the title “Chevalier du Mérite Maritime.” Several years later, the writer in his turn was awarded in turn the highest of honors: the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize. The “Saint Bernard of the sea” as he was called for his numerous and spectacular rescues received several triumphant welcomes worthy of those reserved for his alter ego, also known as the protector, “Papa,” as he entered the harbor in New York.
Among the sailors active during this exciting time, some, like our bartender, had contributed from the beginning to writing the history of this legendary ship.
Adolphe Marie-Lévêque, originally from a small fishing village close to Saint-Nazaire, began working on the Île-de-France when he was 25. He took part in its every, including the Resistance, which was particularly dangerous for the larger ships, targeted by submarines.
From the beginning, Adolphe Lévêque had a privileged role aboard the French ship which the Americans nicknamed affectionately “The longest gangplank.” In fact, during prohibition, alcohol flowed freely on the boat, because even in port, the Île-de-France (literally the “Island of France”) was French territory, the country of “the good life.” Thus, during the stopover, Adolphe Lévêque's bar was transformed into of one the most popular pleasure spots in New York.
More than his countrymen, the alcohol and the bar assumed a particular importance for Hemingway, and his myth, carefully maintained by the writer, is largely associated with his drunken pleasures. During the Liberation he notably claimed to have liberated the bar at the Ritz. For the inventor of the Bloody Mary and of the Daiquiri Sour, alcohol was equally an essential element of writing: “when one has something difficult for a character to say, above all make them drink.”
In Islands in the Stream
, a posthumous work, but written around the time of this inscription, Hemingway pays vibrant homage to his favorite boat: “During the crossing towards the east on the Île-de-France, Thomas Hudson learnt that hell did not necessarily look the way Dante or the great painters described it, but that it could be a comfortable boat, pleasant and much appreciated, taking you towards a country which you are always approaching with impatience.”
The dominating role of alcohol in the novel is accentuated aboard the ship: “He understood that whisky was good for him [...] listen as the whisky speaks, he said. What an anesthetic for our problems.” Once more, the figure of the bartender presents an eminently positive character, because it is a bartender, Bobby, who will divert the hero from his suicidal impulse after his misfortune with... a swordfish: “We all called him ‘Suicide' by then so I said to him. ‘Suicide, you better lay off or you'll never live to reach oblivion'.”In life, as in his novels, alcohol – and its incarnation the bartender – are not, for Hemingway, the mediums of self-destruction but the secret ingredient that supports the character and deepens the thoughts of the author.
Without doubt Adolphe Lévêque, this obscure friend, represented for him also a companion during his time of solitude, indispensable for the writer: on board the Île-de-France, Irving Stone had already remarked that Ernest drank a lot – “What do you want me to do? Mary asked Miss Stone. He did not marry a watchdog. It is better that I leave him alone.” [op. cit.
At the bar in the Art Deco salon sailing along in the heart of the Atlantic, as the other passengers slept, one can imagine Ernest Hemingway and his friend Adolphe Lévêque sharing a solitary partnership. Outside the realm of social class and fame, one can picture the two fifty-year-olds, happy to see each other again, inventing new cocktails, reminiscing about the Roaring Twenties of their youth, and especially boasting of their exploits in their common passion: fishing.