Ernest Hemingway, the FBI, and the aborted duel

Bureau files on the author’s twilight years in Cuba document his feud with a New Zealand journalist over “lion steaks”

Written by JPat Brown
Edited by Beryl Lipton

FBI files on Ernest Hemingway document the author’s late-life feud with a New Zealand journalist in Cuba that apparently came close to causing an international incident - and led to the 55-year old Hemingway being challenged to a duel.

The 122-page file, released by the FBI via their FOIA reading room, shows that the Bureau first became interested in Hemingway’s potential as their man in Havana in the early ’40s. However, Hemingway appears to have dampened any initial enthusiasm the Bureau might have had with his tendency for self-promoting grandiosity …

a habit of referring to U.S. government officials as Nazis …

and of course, his complete contempt for the “mediocrities” at the FBI.

For the Bureau, the feeling was mutual, and on several occasions they toyed with exposing Hemingway as outright liar.

Nothing came of it, however, and for the next decade the relationship cooled - the FBI kept an eye on Hemingway as a rather dubious intelligence source of doings in Cuba, and Hemingway got drunk, crashed some planes, and played Jai alai.

And then came the lion steaks.

In 1954 Hemingway’s wife Mary got into a disagreement with Edward “Ted” Scott, a journalist from New Zealand who wrote for an English-language Havana newspaper over lion steaks. Mary had insisted they were “delectable,” Scott expressed his disapproval, and Mary had responded with some choice words for him and his stupid empire.

Scott responded by writing a series of columns chastising Mary’s behavior in particular, and wives who take after the husband in general.

Hemingway’s response to this was … enough to get the FBI’s attention, and is still redacted, sixty years later.

The Bureau, apparently hoping to avoid an international incident, ordered a tight lid be kept on the story, whatever it was, and to be informed immediately of any developments.

Which, a few days later, turned out to be Scott challenging Hemingway to a duel.

Despite Hemingway’s reputation as the avatar of toxic masculinity, he wisely decided to sit this one out, citing ill health and “a lot of writing to do.”

Scott, speaking directly to the Bureau, expressed his dissatisfaction but accepted that you can’t really force someone to duel if they’re not into it.

The Bureau, breathing a sigh of relief that reverberates through the decades, considered this particular manner closed. Requests have been filed for the files of both Hemingway and Scott, in the hopes that it might lead to the release of some previously-unreleased material that’ll help shed light on just exactly what Hemingway did to get Scott mad enough to break out the pistols. In the meantime, you can read the full file embedded below:


Image via Wikimedia Commons