We all know the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials.
What you may not know is that fellow Jewish guy, Jonathan Goldsmith, who portrayed this most interesting man was mostly basing the character on the real most interesting man, Ernest Hemingway.
According to an NPR article about Goldsmith, his then-agent now-wife Barbara suggested he try out for a commercial, playing a “Hemingway-ish character.” It would be improvised and he’d have to end with the sentence, “And that’s how I arm wrestled Fidel Castro.”
An Advertising Age article describes Goldsmith’s character as directly leading to a surge in Dos Equis sales and attributes the surge to the James Bond-meets-Ernest Hemingway character Mr. Goldsmith plays, who is so revered that, as one ad says, “if he were to pat you on your back, you would list it on your resume.”
Largely attributable to my love of reading and borderline hoarding tendency when it comes to books, I purchased and read By-Line: Ernest Hemingway edited by William White last year. As the cover indicates, the book is comprised of selected articles and dispatches spanning four decades of Hemingway’s career, dating all the way back from February 1920, when the Most Interesting Man was a young reporter for The Toronto Star Weekly to September 1956 as a writer for Look magazine, writing from Havana.
In the thirty-six years in between, Hemingway absolutely lived the most interesting life, reporting on wars throughout the world, living in Kansas City, Chicago, Toronto, Wyoming, Paris, the Near East, throughout most of Europe, in Africa, Hong Kong, Rangoon, Manila, Cuba, Key West and points in between.
As Goldsmith depicts in the commercials, Hemingway often spent his time consorting with interesting people and beautiful women throughout finer and not-so-fine establishments throughout the world. His love of boxing and bull fighting is well documented, including throughout many of the dispatches in this collection of his writings.
Suffice it to say, his life was far more interesting than could possibly be depicted by an actor in a series of sanitized 30-second beer commercials, although those Dos Equis commercials were probably the only ones that I actually liked over the past ten years.
By the way, in case you did not know or forgot like I did, Hemingway blew his brains out fifty-five years ago in July 1962 in Ketchum, Idaho, while he suffered from extreme anxiety, constantly worrying about money and his safety. Much of his anxiety stemmed from his notion that the FBI was tailing him in Ketchum. Files later revealed that the FBI actually had a file on him and had previously monitored him in Cuba, where he often sailed the waters off of the coast.
My First Hemingway
I was assigned to read The Old Man and the Sea in freshman year of high school, way back in the old days, circa 1984.
I did not particularly like the book at the time, but years later began referring to my late father as “The Old Man.” Kind of a running joke, I would call him that when addressing him or referring to him to others, mainly my brother and sister. My brother never really took to that nickname, but my sister would greet him as “The Old Man” many times.
On many occasions, I would call him “The Old Man and the Sea,” partly because he always loved Hemingway’s writing, and partly because I liked the nickname. I still miss my father every day, nearly five years after his death.
I never read any more Hemingway for thirty-two years until spotting White’s collection of articles and dispatches a year ago.
A Literary Genius
There is no doubt that Hemingway was a literary genius. Even for an avid reader like me, who does not wish to read any of his famous novels, reading these articles and dispatches written from parts of the world that I will never see take me to those times and places as if I was there, myself.
The way he describes the scenes and the people he meets and consorts with make you feel like you were there with him, whether it was in prewar Germany or wartime Spain, the fanciest hotel in Switzerland, hunting wild game in Africa or fishing for marlin off the coast of Cuba, or meeting two Russian beauties at a party in Genoa, Italy.
I could not possibly share all of the most interesting points penned by the most interesting man in this nearly 500-page book, or that would be its own hundred page book.
Trust me on this. I have read thousands of books at a pace of one or sometimes more per week; let’s say six to eight per month for the past ten years or so.
There are other contemporary authors who I consider masterful, Anne Rice and Peter Straub being two that come to mind immediately, but each masterful author has his or her own particular way of writing, and I have never read anybody who described a scene or a person quite as well as Hemingway.
If He Could See Today’s Debt
- $61,365 for every person living in the U.S.
- $158,326 for every household in the U.S.
- 106 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product
- 560 percent of annual federal revenues
Much of the debt is bought and held by individuals, institutional investment companies and foreign governments. The debt is managed by the U.S. Treasury through its Bureau of the Public Debt.
In 1935, Hemingway wrote “Notes on the Next War: A Serious Topical Letter” for the September issue of Esquire magazine.
Eighty-two years ago, these were his words:
No nations, anymore, pay their debts. There is no longer even a pretense of honesty between nations or of the nation toward the individual. Finland pays us still; but she is a new country and will learn better. We were a new country once and we learned better. Now when a country does not pay its debts you cannot take its word on anything.
The rest of this article describes Italy’s desire for colonial expansion in North Africa and describes Mussolini and the hysteria he was raising in Italy.
If you are a history buff with interest in World II, you really must get ahold of this book to read his reports from Germany, Italy and Japan leading up to it. He very presciently predicted many of the things that later happened as he saw the way things were going in the Evil Axis countries back in the thirties.
Describing the rise of Mussolini and Hitler in the same article, he writes:
A country never wants war until a man through the power of propaganda convinces it. Propaganda is stronger now than it has ever been before. Its agencies have been mechanized, multiplied and controlled until in a state ruled by any one man truth can never be presented.
War is no longer made by simply analyzed economic forces if it ever was. War is made or planned now by individual men, demagogues and dictators who play on the patriotism of their people to mislead them into a belief in the great fallacy of war when all their vanuted reforms have failed to satisfy the people they misrule. And we in America should see that no man is ever given, no matter how gradually or how noble and excellent the man, the power to put this country into a war which is now being prepared and brought closer each day with all the premeditation of a long-planned murder.
What a genius! Does any of that sound familiar to you here in America or wherever you may happen to read this today?
The Most Interesting Man on Writing
In the next month’s issue of Esquire magazine in October of 1935, Hemingway writes of what he told to a young writer from Minnesota who sought him out and hung out with him and his brethren in Key West for several months in an effort to learn from the Most Interesting Man.
Because the young aspiring writer who had been brought up on a farm, graduated in journalism from the University of Minnesota, worked as a reporter and many other side jobs could play the violin, Hemingway and his pals called him the Maestro, or “Mice” for short.
In “Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter” Hemingway shares what he told this young man, and it is as close as you’ll get to a “Hemingway on Writing” article.
Early in the piece, he identifies the two absolute necessities for being a writer – real seriousness in regard to writing being one and the other being talent. The Most Interesting Man wrote that his young admirer the Maestro was extremely serious but, unfortunately, lacked talent.
Your correspondent takes the practice of letters, as distinct from the writing of these monthly letters, very seriously; but dislikes intensely talking about it with almost anyone alive…
He hereby presents some of these mouthings written down. If they can deter anyone from writing he should be deterred. If they can be of use to anyone your correspondent is pleased.
Did the Most Interesting Man, in his wildest dreams, imagine that these written down “mouthings” would motivate a Middle Class Guy eighty-two years after he wrote them, and then be read again by you? I seriously doubt it.
Good writing is true writing. If a man is making a story up it will be true in proportion to the amount of knowledge of life that he has and how conscientious he is…
If he doesn’t know how many people work in their minds and actions his luck may save him for a while, or he may write fantasy. But if he continues to write about what he does not know about he will find himself faking. After he fakes a few times he cannot write honestly any more.
One thing I promise you is that I will not fake it. I have many years of experience with criminals, in courtrooms and doing home visits as an Adult Probation Officer in Crook County (some call it Cook County) and seventeen years working with developers and businesses as an economic development official.
In addition to that, I am a diligent saver of money, a hard-working home owner, a dedicated family man and a compulsive reader of books, magazines, blog posts, trade publications and nearly anything with words that I can get my fingers on.
You can be sure that if I am writing something, it is something that I have experienced and/or read a lot about.
The more he learns from experience the more truly he can imagine. If he gets so he can imagine truly enough people will think that the things he relates all really happened and that he is just reporting.
That begs the question, did everything that Hemingway report really happen, or was he getting to the point where he could imagine truly enough? I would like to think that everything he reported truly happened, but he may have embellished a few things here and there.
Writing long before PCs or laptops like I am typing this on now at my dining room table in a northwest suburb of Chicago in June of 2017, the Most Interesting Man advocated using a typewriter because it is much easier and you will enjoy it that much more.
After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader. Writing it first in pencil gives you one-third more chance to improve it. That is .333 which is a damned good average for a hitter. It also keeps it fluid longer so that you can better it easier.
My favorite quote of his on writing as he lectures “Mice” after the young man tells him that his writing technique is not the way they teach you to write in college.
I don’t know about that. I never went to college. If any sonofabitch could write he wouldn’t have to teach writing in college.
Amen to that!
The Most Interesting Man Listens
As I have read in nearly all of the self-help type books that I have read in the past year and a half, the Most Interesting Man advocates listening to others.
When people talk listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe. You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling.
Little did the Most Interesting Man know that he was dispensing advice that would be often repeated by self-help gurus for decades to come.
Great advice that he gave to Mice, and good advice for the Middle Class Guy and you, too.
There’s Always Danger
In another Esquire article, this one titled “On the Blue Water: A Gulf Stream Letter” from the April 1936 issue, the Most Interesting Man describes hunting. He begins by writing of hearing about hunting for fellow men.
You can learn about this matter of the tongue by coming into the kitchen of a villa on the Riviera late at night and taking a drink from what should be a bottle of Evian water and which turns out to be Eau de Javel, a concentrated lye product used for cleaning sinks.
He then describes a good friend to whom all hunting is dull except elephant hunting.
The article goes on to describe fishing for the big one in the Gulf Stream with Carlos, a fifty-three-year-old Cuban mate who has been fishing for marlin since he was seven.
This particular piece later led to my freshman year of high school required reading. He describes how Carlos described how an old man fishing alone in a skiff out of Cabanas hooked a great marlin and battled it for two days, at which time he was picked up by fishermen sixty miles to the eastwars, the head and forward part of the marlin lashed along side. What was left of the fish, less than half, weighed eight hundred pounds.
What jumped out at me from this article, beyond the tale of the Most Interesting Man fishing for marlin with Carlos, was what he wrote about the dynamic of being responsible for providing for your family.
When you have a family and children, your family, or my family, or the family of Carlos, you do not have to look for danger. There is always plenty of danger when you have a family. And after a while the danger of others is the only danger and there is no end to it nor any pleasure in it nor does it help to think about it.
He goes on to write about the great pleasure in being on the sea, the amount of money that Carlos made for reeling in a good fish (thirty dollars), that a fisherman never starves because the sea is very rich, and other pearls of wisdom.
The Most Interesting Man was right. As the father of two, there is always danger and there is no end to it nor any pleasure or help in thinking about it, which leads to never-ending anxiety in Yours Truly. Something that I am working on improving upon, per my last post.
The Most Median Interesting Man in the World
Reading Hemingway’s writing and pondering the Most Interesting Man, it got me wondering where I fit in on the interesting scale.
I came up with the notion of being the most median interesting man in the world – half of the men are more interesting and the other half are less so.
Truthfully, I am closer to the more interesting side than the less interesting side. There are millions of very uninteresting men.
What makes me interesting? Good question.
What tips the scales a little more toward the interesting side may include that I am widely read on a very large variety of topics, I know a lot about baseball and basketball, having grown up playing both for many years, and having coached baseball for about eight years.
I attended many concerts that you may be interested in, and not just all rock bands. I have attended many jazz concerts with my son over the past five or so years. Some of the groups that I have seen include the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, the Who, the Cure, Depeche Mode, Morrissey, the Violent Femmes, New Order and many others of that ilk. Some people find that interesting.
I worked for about eight years in the criminal court system, which some people find interesting. I served as an Adult Probation Officer for six of those years and have many stories about criminals that I had to monitor, including visiting them at their homes in some of the most God forsaken neighborhoods in the Good Old U.S. of A.
Yes, I threatened to and did get a lot of criminals locked up. Too many to remember. But I also encountered the full catastrophes of their lives including all forms of disease, destitution and death.
I hated the job, but some people find it interesting.
I have now spent the last seventeen years employed full-time in the field of economic development. Over those years, I have met with just about every type of business that you could think of from Trader Joe’s to Whole Foods to Kohl’s to Wal-Mart to hundreds of industrial businesses and mom-and-pop businesses.
Over those years, I have made many friends in the industry, including about two dozen small business owners who I maintain contact with on a regular basis. I have not written about it very much (yet), but I am well-versed in the obstacles and challenges that the small business owners in our nation face. Take it from me, for every success story that you read or hear about, there are dozens or hundreds of others where the owners bust their tails in an effort to make ends meet.
My knowledge and experience with them is something that may push me toward the 60% bracket in terms of most interesting.
I have invested for over twenty years now, which would probably be the most interesting thing that many people would think about me. I have purchased individual stocks, savings accounts, mutual funds, ETFs, gold, covered call options, money market accounts, CDs, savings bonds and have begun saving cold, hard cash.
Inching my way up to over a $100,000 salary about three years ago, I have managed to save nearly $200,000 in my children’s combined college accounts, something that I think many people would find interesting.
How did I do it? Simply put, I automatically contributed to their 529 accounts come Hell or high water for many years. Meanwhile, I also sent money to their Vanguard Wellington accounts while they were both young, and the value of the account has grown through price appreciation and the magic of dividends.
My 21-year wedding anniversary is coming up in a few weeks and some people may find it interesting in terms of what works if you, too, want to remain married for the full duration. My own parents were married for over forty years at the time of my father’s death, and my wife’s parents for nearly as long at the time of my mother-in-law’s death. We believe in staying married.
Also, I have two great kids. They are both smart, high-achieving kids with impeccable morals. Sometimes my wife and I wonder how we achieved this, with both of them being more clean-cut than either of us were (well, more in comparison with me), both get great grades including our son making Dean’s list both semesters of his freshman year and our daughter pulling straight A’s through three years of middle school, and they are very compassionate.
I cannot say that it is all due to our great parenting skills, but my wife and I make a great team together when it comes to raising our children. Ironically, although I was a probation officer for nearly eight years, she has always been the rule enforcer between the two of us.
Finally, although only my wife and two children know it, I write the Middle Class Guy blog. It is moving toward the self-help type of blog, but not in an in-your-face do as I say, not as I do sort of way.
It is as much my own self-improvement blog as it is for others, and I use it to decrease my book hoarding tendencies since I am better able to let a well-loved book go after I have shared the most important points of it in my view here with you. I loved By Line: Ernest Hemingway so much, I do not think that I will be able to part with it in the near future.
There are a few more interesting things about me, like some of the people who I grew up with. Some are multi-millionaires and others have been deceased for several years already, although that may be fairly typical for a thoroughly Middle Class Guy going on forty-seven years of age.
My three friends, besides the business owners who I met through my job, are a computer analyst for
the Evil Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Illinois, a school principal and an engineer/executive with an aerospace company.
My family members are my real best friends, as is my faithful hairy companion.
Altogether, I am probably a higher than median interesting man, but still not at the two-thirds mark. I will keep working at that.
The more interesting than average Middle Class Guy