Ernest Hemingway's death significantly improved his relationship with the FBI

Ernest Hemingway’s death significantly improved his relationship with the FBI

Despite a history of mutual disdain, J. Edgar Hoover’s personal note on the author’s posthumous reputation was surprisingly respectful

Written by
Edited by Beryl Lipton

As we’ve written about before, Ernest Hemingway’s relationship with the Federal Bureau of Investigation would charitably be described as “strained.” Hemingway would tell anybody who’d listen that he thought the Bureau were a bunch of Nazi mediocrities …

and the FBI in turn dismissed Hemingway as a drunken phony.

As his file shows, however, all of that changed when Hemingway finally did something the Bureau agreed with: he died.

In January of 1964, three years after Hemingway’s suicide, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover received a letter from the journalist Quentin Reynolds, a member of the FBI’s special contacts list and personal friend of Hoover’s. Reynolds had been in contact with Hemingway’s widow, Mary, who was upset that Cuba had recently begun issuing a commemorative stamp bearing the author’s likeness.

Reynolds, echoing Mary’s concerns that the stamp would be seen as a sign of Hemingway’s posthumous support for the revolutionary Cuban government …

wanted to get ahead of some “jerk columnist” and let Hoover know that Hemingway was no Red.

Reynolds apologized to Hoover for involving him in such a “trivial” issue and even included the stamps for reference (though Mary would really like them back if possible).

In a handwritten note intended only for the Bureau’s eyes, Hoover, known for his brusqueness, penned a surprisingly thoughtful response:

Which, if you have trouble with Hoover’s trademark scrawl, reads:

“Knowing Hemingway as I did, I doubt he had any Communist leanings. He was a rough, tough, guy always for the underdog.”

Surprisingly kind, considering that the Hemingway had repeatedly called Hoover the head of “the American Gestapo.”

Hoover wrote back to Reynolds, assuring him that a note will be placed in Hemingway’s file and returning the stamps. Continuing a streak of uncharacteristic warmth, he even redacted the ‘J.’ and ‘Hoover’ from his sign-off, opting for the more personal ‘Edgar.’

Read the full file embedded below, or on the request page.

Image via Wikimedia Commons