Hemingway's lost beer ads.

All about fiction.
Oct. 13 2006 12:59 PM

For Whom the Shill Toils

Hemingway's lost work for Ringling Bros. and Ballantine Ale.

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Whatever Bruccoli and Baughman may argue, Hemingway never saw his publicity stunts as degrading. In an angry 1948 letter scolding his publisher Charles Scribner for letting a book of his that sold "340,000 copies in Denmark" go out of print, he writes, "I have turned down all sorts of propositions, deals, etc. and have kept the product pure. Whatever it is it is as good as I can make it and I have not corrupted it by working for the coast nor doing things I thought were shitty and would hurt me as a writer no matter how much money they brought in."

Is such marketing shrewdness and good sense really symptomatic of manic-depression? Perhaps. (It certainly takes a lot of devoted energy.) But let's not be so hasty here. As Hemingway wrote in his piece in the Ringling Bros. circus program, "In your dreams you watch Unus standing on one finger and you think, 'Look at such a fine, intelligent and excellent man making his living standing on one finger when most of us can't even stand on our feet.' " Indeed, let's not belittle a writer who was able to (and could probably still) sell beer, when many cannot even sell books.