Ernest Hemingway’s Letters to Actress Marlene Dietrich to be Made Available for the First Time by JFK Library

For Immediate Release: March 29, 2007
Further information: Brent R. Carney (617) 514-1662,

Boston, MA– The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum today announced that thirty letters written by Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich – the world renowned actress of early film and stage – will be made available to scholars for the first time on Monday, April 2, 2007.  The letters were written between 1949 and 1959, and were donated to the Kennedy Presidential Library in 2003 by Marlene Dietrich’s daughter Maria Riva, under the condition that the letters remain closed until 2007.

The Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library spans Hemingway’s entire career, and contains ninety percent of existing Hemingway manuscript materials, making the Kennedy Library the world’s principal center for research on the life and work of Ernest Hemingway.

“These extraordinary letters reveal Hemingway as a loyal and caring friend,” said Tom Putnam, Director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. “When combined with the Library’s collection of correspondences from Dietrich to Hemingway, these new letters help to complete the story of a remarkable friendship between two exceptional individuals which has never been made available to the public before in such depth.”

Spanning from 1949 until 1959, the thirty correspondences written by Ernest Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich include seven hand signed letters, eighteen type signed letters, four telegrams, and a Christmas card.   Hemingway wrote to the German-born actress from: San Francisco de Paula, Cuba; Ketchum, Idaho; Paris, France; Venezia, Italy; Madrid and Malaga, Spain; and Nairobi, Kenya.  These new letters add to the Hemingway Collection which already includes thirty-one letters and telegrams from Marlene Dietrich to Hemingway written between 1950 and 1961 as well as two photographs Dietrich sent to Hemingway and an article on Hemingway written by Dietrich titled: The Most Fascinating Man I Know.

In addition to the Hemingway letters, Mrs. Riva also donated drafts of three Hemingway manuscripts – Across the River and into the TreesThe Good Lion, and The Story of the Faithful Bull – as well as two Hemingway poems, First Poem to Mary in London and Poem to Mary.  The draft of Across the River and into the Trees is a carbon typescript, 234 pages in length, in ink with pencil corrections.  The draft includes deleted passages that do not appear in the published version, making this early draft significantly different from the published version.

Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) was discovered in Germany in 1929 by director Josef von Sternberg, who promptly cast her in The Blue Angel, Germany’s first talking film.  Dietrich headed to Hollywood with her unique sung-spoken singing style and developed her femme-fatale film persona.  At the same time, Hollywood producers were knocking on the door of Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), eager for the movie rights to his novels and short stories.  The two met in 1934 aboard the S.S. Ile de France and remained friends for life.  After becoming an American citizen, Dietrich made more than 500 personal appearances before allied troops during the Second World War.  After the war Dietrich continued to make successful films and perform in nightclubs.

Writing about Dietrich, Hemingway said, “If she had nothing more than her voice she could break your heart with it.   But she has that beautiful body and the timeless loveliness of her face.  It makes no difference how she breaks your heart if she is there to mend it.” – September 26, 1951 from an unpublished article for “Life”.

On Sunday, April 1, 2007, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum will formally announce the opening of the papers during the annual Hemingway Foundation/PEN New England Awards Ceremony at the Kennedy Library.   Patrick Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s son, will present the prestigious literary award for a distinguished first book of fiction to Ben Fountain for Brief Encounters with Che Guevara(HarperCollins).

The Ernest Hemingway Collection was the generous gift of Mary Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s widow, to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. While Ernest Hemingway and John F. Kennedy never met, President Kennedy admired Hemingway's work. In the opening sentence of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, Kennedy cited Hemingway's description of courage, writing that, "This is a book about the most admirable of human virtues: courage.  'Grace under pressure,' as Ernest Hemingway defined it." President Kennedy invited Hemingway to his 1961 inauguration, but the author declined as he was too ill to travel.

Mary Hemingway saw the Kennedy Library as a fitting place for her late husband’s papers due to the role President Kennedy played in helping her collect them after Hemingway’s death. In 1961, despite a U.S. ban on travel to Cuba (the result of high tensions between the two countries following the Bay of Pigs invasion), President Kennedy made arrangements for her to enter Cuba to claim family documents and belongings. While in Cuba, Mrs. Hemingway met with Fidel Castro who allowed her to take her husband’s papers and the artwork he collected in exchange for the donation of their Finca Vigia home and its remaining belongings to the Cuban people.

A 1968 exchange of letters between Mary Hemingway and Jacqueline Kennedy confirmed that the Hemingway papers would be archived at the Kennedy Library. In 1972, Mrs. Hemingway began depositing papers in the Kennedy Library, and in 1980, Patrick Hemingway and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis dedicated the Hemingway Room in the Kennedy Library.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization.  To learn more about the Hemingway Collection, or to find out how to make an appointment to conduct research call (866) JFK-1960.