History & Culture

5 Facts About Ernest Hemingway: Gender Bending, A Hollywood Dis, Near-Death Experience & More

To celebrate what would have been Ernest Hemingway’s 115th birthday, here are 5 fascinating facts about the literary legend’s life.

Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway‘s life reads like a good book − it’s filled with exotic travel, dangerous adventures, dramatic romances, a love of polydactyl cats, and painful tragedy. To celebrate what would have been Hemingway’s 115th birthday today, we dug up 5 fascinating facts about his larger-than-life story.

Ernest Hemingway

Author Ernest Hemingway on an African adventure in September 1952. (Photo: Earl Theisen/Getty Images)

On Hollywood: Take the Money and Run

Hollywood loves good stories, but the problem is that sometimes good stories don’t like Hollywood. Ernest Hemingway wasn’t a fan of how some books were translated onto celluloid including his own. He once said that the best way to deal with Hollywood is: “You throw them your book, they throw you the money, then you jump in your car and drive like hell back the way you came.”

A Childhood Worthy of a Lifetime Movie

Ernest Hemingway

A high school yearbook portrait of author Ernest Hemingway at 18 years of age. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899 in Cicero (now Oak Park), Illinois, the second child of Grace, a fiercely ambitious and independent mother, and Clarence, a stern, deeply religious father. For reasons known only to her, Grace Hemingway decided to raise Ernest and his sister Marcelline, less than two years older, as twins. She dressed both children in frilly frocks and floppy little girl hats, or, on other occasions, dressed them both in boys’ overalls. She gave each of her “twins” dolls and china sets — and air rifles — to play with. She even held Marcelline back in school so she and Ernest could be in the same class together. It was a grand experiment in androgyny.

His Rules for Writing

Clarence wanted his son to become a doctor, but Hemingway refused to even entertain the thought of college. Instead, he became a reporter for the Kansas City Star, earning $15 a week. On his first day there, his editor gave him a style sheet that read: “Use short sentences. Use a short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.” Much later in his life, Hemingway referred to that brief list as “the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I’ve never forgotten them.”

A Near-Death Experience

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway during his convalescence at the American Red Cross Hospital in Milan in 1918 (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

World War I called millions of men to enlist. In 1918, Hemingway was unable to pass the military physical because of poor eyesight, but that didn’t stop him from serving. He enlisted as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. He was sent to Italy, just four miles from the Austrian front where he spent his days driving a boxy ambulance and nights drinking in a cafe. On July 8, he was caught in an assault and was hit by 28 pieces of shrapnel. He saw a blinding light and, as he later described it: “I died then… I felt my soul or something coming right out of my body, [the way] you’d pull a handkerchief out of the pocket by its corner.”

“Papa” Don’t Preach Even When His Stories Are Stolen

When he was 21, Hemingway met and married (Elizabeth) Hadley Richardson, an adventurous woman with a sizable inheritance. (It was after the birth of their first child that Hemingway got his nickname “Papa.”) The writer was well on his way to completing his first novel when disaster struck. In December 1922, he was sent to Lausanne, Switzerland to cover the peace conference. Hadley stayed behind in Paris preparing to join him later. She packed all his manuscripts (and carbon copies) and set off only to have the suitcase stolen at the train station. Hemingway comforted his wife over the loss, yet decades later he recalled the pain and utter heartbreak of losing his early writings. It was so severe, he said, that he had to “put it out of mind almost with surgery.”