Ernest Hemingway

A Newspaper Life

Quotes, Anecdotes and Letters From Hemingway's Days at The Kansas City Star

Updated: 2007-07-29T09:33:08Z


A Cub Reporter

According to his sister Marcelline, Hemingway covered "fires, fights and funerals, and anything else not important enough for the other more experienced reporters....
``He met a movie star and he wrote me three pages of raves about her....''
-- At the Hemingways, Marcelline Hemingway Sanford

He learned at The Star that professional reporters stated the way things are. They did not ramble on about how things might be if this or that were true; they declared what was. The idea was to tell the readers what had happened, for first a man had to go out and find what was happening.
-- Ernest, Peter Buckley

Hemingway had been working the police beat from Monday, March 4, 1918, until Wednesday morning. The Star office at police headquarters, fourth and Main streets, was quiet.
On that Wednesday morning, Hemingway and (cop reporter Bill) Moorehead were in the police station when the call came in: ``Riot! A riot across from the Paseo Paradeway on Euclid!''
``I called (assistant city editor Pete) Wellington,'' Moorehead said. ``He wanted to know if Hemingway was with me. I said, `He's sitting here on the desk.' Pete said, `Take him along.' ''
They caught a cab, and went to Fourteenth and Euclid. There a mob of striking laundry workers was hollering and throwing stones. Few policemen were on the scene and only one patrol wagon.
The strikers were angry. They tipped and shook the wagon. Those arrested taunted police. But, for a while, it grew quiet, as if the police had things under control. Then someone threw a stone at a policeman.
``There he is! That's him!'' Hemingway shouted to police and pointed out the man. The mob turned and started after the young reporter.
``Let's get the hell out of here'' Moorehead shouted at Hemingway. ``The police can't protect themselves, much less us!''
The two of them ran to 15th Street (Truman Road) and caught a slow-moving street car, and the strikers followed on foot, threatening them with stones and fists.
Shortly, the mob began to lag and when it was safe, they got off to call the story into the The Star. Later, Wellington sent another team to cover the strike for fear the laundry workers might attack Moorehead and Hemingway. (``Laundry Car Over Cliff'')

* * *

Another Saturday night is remembered by James Jackson, a reporter at the time, but now retired. Hemingway and George B. Longan, city editor and later president of The Star, were in a serious conversation about a fight that occurred at a cafe-bar, the staff hangout at seventeenth and Grand, involving Hemingway and a cook.
Longan asked him what happened. Hemingway said he went in to order some milk toast, but the cook came out from the kitchen and wanted to know ``what kind of a S.O.B. would order milk toast at midnight.'' The two fought.
The city editor recommended that Hemingway have one of the older men go home with him because ``those kinds of guys carry knives.''
``That won't be necessary,'' Hemingway said. ``When I hit him, he went through a plate-glass window. An ambulance came and got him.''
-- ``Remembering Hemingway's Kansas City Days,'' Mel Foor, July 21, 1968, The Star.

In Ernest Hemingway, Cub Reporter, Ted Brumback, another rookie reporter for The Star, gives this account of the Union Station incident behind ``Throng at Small Pox Case:''
On the stone floor lay a man on a stretcher. He was bundled in blankets. The crowd had formed a circle around him at a respectful distance, for his face was broken out in ugly sores. There seemed to be no one attending him. He was moaning a little.
``What's the trouble here?'' Hemingway demanded.
``He's got a contagious disease,'' someone in the crowd replied. ``No one dares touch him. Some one sent for an ambulance.''
``Why is he left alone like this? Isn't anyone in charge of him?''
``Two men took him off the train and brought him here. Then they went back on the train. I suppose the man's a pauper and couldn't afford to pay anyone to take care of him.''
``How long since they sent for an ambulance?''
``About half an hour.''
Hemingway swore. ``Why, I wouldn't treat a dog like that. What's the matter with you people? Why didn't some of you carry him out on the stretcher and put him in a taxi and send him to the General Hospital? The man's got smallpox and will die if not given care immediately. I know what smallpox is because I'm a doctor's son and recognize the symptoms. Who'll help me get him out of here?''
At the word of smallpox, the crowd retreated. No one offered to help. Hemingway became angry. ``What's the matter with you yellow bunch anyway? Are you going to stand there and let a man die?''
When still no one made a move, he himself picked up the man in strong arms and carried him out of the station. Then he ordered a taxicab and took him personally to the General Hospital, charging the expense to The Star.
-- Ernest Hemingway, Cub Reporter, Matthew Bruccoli

In 1917 (Kansas City) was a growing town whose tough frontier status was still a living memory, full of sin and crime and a cynical attitude to the law even among the magistrates, and its Twelfth Street had so many prostitutes that it was nicknamed Woodrow Wilson Avenue (a piece at any price). Ernest did not engage in either brawls or bough dalliance; he was a mere observer of the world of tough action.
-- Ernest Hemingway and His World, Anthony Burgess

The new cub, assigned to the General Hospital run, was an elusive one for the city editor to find. He seemed to be riding the ambulance most of the time. But in a few weeks he had discovered some lax methods in accident cases and written a series of stories for the paper. Hemingway's pride soared until he saw his pieces in print. A copyreader had edited out all his favorite touches. Hemingway blamed Wilson Hicks, the same Wilson Hicks who later became managing editor of Life magazine but who then was a struggling employee of The Star trying to keep clothed on his $85 a month salary. Hemingway, smarting under the sting of having his copy cut, noted Wilson's threadbare trousers, and at once named him ``Lackpants Hicks.''
-- Dale Wilson, letter to The Kansas City Star, June 29, 1966

(NOTE: By 1952, Wilson Hicks was executive editor of Life magazine. He bought magazine rights to The Old Man and the Sea for $40,000.)

Ernie wrote that he had decided not to go to college; he liked newspaper work. Then, early in 1918, came a letter from Ernest addressed to the whole family. It was full of jubilation. Ernest told us that he had been assigned to interview a group of Italian Red Cross officers who came to the United States to recruit volunteers for the American Red Cross ambulance corps in Italy. When he interviewed them for The Star, he learned that the Red Cross was only accepting men who were not eligible for the United States Services and the draft. They took men in general good health who were unable to fulfill the physical requirements of our own country's armed services.
``Could a man with poor vision in one eye get in?'' he asked them, he told us later. The Italians answered in the affirmative.
-- At the Hemingways, Marcelline Hemingway Sanford

(NOTE: On Feb. 22, page 13 of The Star carried this headline: ``Red Cross Calls Men.'' Also needed, listed in fine print: ``Four ambulance drivers for Italy.'' Some Hemingway histories maintain that Hemingway and Ted Brumback, also a Star reporter, intercepted a news story calling for American Red Cross volunteers in France and Italy, and applied before the story ran. If so, they were smart to do so; a follow-up story two days later reported that 205 men and women answered the Red Cross call.)

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A Cub Reporter: Hemingway's Own Words

``Lionel Moise was a great rewrite man. He could carry four stories in his head and go to the telephone and take a fifth and then write all five at full speed to catch an edition. There would be something alive about each one. He was always the highest paid man on every paper he worked on. If any other man was getting more money he quit or had his pay raised. He never spoke to the other reporters unless he had been drinking. He was tall and thick and had long arms and big hands.

He was the fastest man on a typewriter I ever saw. He drove a motor car and it was understood in the office that a woman had given it to him. One night she stabbed him in it out on the Lincoln Highway halfway to Jefferson City. He took the knife away from her and threw it out of the car. Then he did something awful to her. She was lying in the back of the car when they found them. Moise drove the car all the way into Kansas City with her fixed that way.''
-- From Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, Carlos Baker

``I hit it lucky, because the people there liked to see young guys get out and deliver. Things broke my way quickly, like in a ball game. I used to go out with the ambulances, covering the big hospital. It was just police reporting. But it gave me a chance to learn what the help thought, as well as how they did their jobs. My luck was a big fire. Even the firemen were being careful. And I got inside the fire lines where I could see what was going on. It was a swell story. Sparks fell over everything. I had on a new brown suit that got burnt full of holes. After I got my information phoned in, I put down $15 on the expense account for that suit I'd ruined. But the item was turned down. It taught me a hell of a lesson. Never risk anything unless you're prepared to lose it completely -- remember that.''
-- From My Brother, Ernest Hemingway, Leicester Hemingway

``I covered the short-stop run, which includedthe 15th Street police station, the Union Station, and the General Hospital. At the 15th Street station you covered crime, usually small, but you never knew when you might hit something larger. Union Station was everybody going in and out of town... Some shady characters I got to know and interviews with celebrities going through. The General Hospital was up a long hill from Union Station and there you got accidents and a double check on crimes of violence.''
-- From Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, Carlos Baker

``When I joined the ambulance corps, in the first World War, I couldn't see well enough to pass the examination. Halley Dickey was on the staff and he went to headquarters and read the placard until he memorized it. He came back and I learned it from him. Then I went to Italy and drove an ambulance.''
-- From ``Back to his first field,'' Nov. 26, 1940, The Kansas City Times

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Letters Home

To his family
From Kansas City, Mo.
Nov. 19, 1917

Dear Folks:

This is about the third letter that I have started and had to stop all the others so am writing this right after work about 6:20 and so will try to finish. The last two weeks have been awfully busy with me, doing something every minute. Last Tuesday we all were called out and had drill and maneuvers all day. Yesterday I was up to Uncle Ty's for dinner, in the morning there was a big fire right next door to their house, a large barn burned and I got there about the same time as the fire dept. and helped chop in the door and carried the hose up on the roof and had a good time generally. Probably I will stay at Miss Haines two weeks longer, I have been there a month today and by two weeks I will be able to get away all right. Glad the Bayley was up last Sunday, I had a good letter from him and from Al Walker, Al sent you all his love. He is at Olivet and they can't get any coal and unless some comes soon they are going to have to close the college. There is no danger of the Star running out of coal. Much obliged for the stamps, they come in handy for mailing letters. This last week I have been handling a murder story, a lot of Police dope and the Y.W.C.A. fund stuff a couple of times so am mixing em up....
Ernie
-- Ernest Hemingway, Selected Letters, Carlos Baker

To Grace Hall Hemingway
From Kansas City
Jan. 16, 1918

Dear Mother:

I just got your letter today. I was beginning to wonder why I didn't hear from the folks but the trains have all been tied up in bad shape. It was 20 degrees below here too tho not so much snow. In Kansas they had two or three feet in most all the country. No trains got thru at all from the West or East. We were sure cut off for a while. The coal shortage is still pretty bad here. However we should cogitate for it will soon be spring. Now dry those tears Mother and cheer up. You will have to find something better than that to worry about. Don't worry or cry or fret about my not being a good Christian. I am just as much as ever and pray every night and believe just as hard so cheer up! Just because I'm a cheerful Christian ought not to bother you.
The reason I don't go to church on Sunday is because always I have to work till 1 a.m. getting out The Sunday Star and every once in a while till 3 and 4 a.m. And I never open my eyes Sunday morning until 12:30 noon anyway. So you see it isn't because I don't want to. You know I don't rave about religion but am as sincere a Christian as I can be. Sunday is the one day in the week that I can get my sleep out. Also Aunt Arabell's church is a very well dressed stylish one with a not to be loved preacher and I feel out of place....
With love, Ernie
-- Ernest Hemingway, Selected Letters, Carlos Baker

To Grace Hall Hemingway
From Kansas City
March 2, 1918

Dear Mither:
The box came tonight and we just opened it at the Press room the cake sure was great. There were about four of the fellows here and we opened the box and ate the cake. It was a peach, I am going to take the rest of the grub home and Carl and I will finish it up. The fellows all agreed that Mother Hemingstein must be some cook. Your praises were sung in loud and stentorian tones. The cake sure fed a multitude of starving and broke newspaper men tonight. There is not much doing here now except my hospital fight. Things are going great in that. I was officially barred from entering the institution by the Manager yesterday and the Boss and the big political men are sure raising the merry deuce. We are panning the hide offn them for fair. but the boss said to disregard the fact that I am barred and sent me out there any way to get the dope on them. And so we are having all sorts of rows. I have about five conferences with the Managing Ed. per day and am getting along swell. We sure are making them hunt cover.

The reason they are trying to keep me out of the joint is because I have enough on them to send them all to the pen pretty near. Any way they sure hate the great Hemingstein and will do anything they can to frame on him.
But we fight them High wide and handsome....
Good luck, Ernie
Love to everyone, Ernie
-- Ernest Hemingway, Selected Letters, Carlos Baker

To his parents
From Kansas City
April 19, 1918

Dear Folks:

I sure was glad to hear from you both Dad and mother. Everything is going fine down here. It is raining now and has been all day. I put my old mackinaw on and turn the collar up and let it rain. All this week I have been handling recruiting. Writing the stories about the Army, Navy, Marines, British-Canadian and lately the new Tank Service. I'm enclosing a couple of Tank stories. Some of them go pretty good....
Good night, Ernie
(``Six Men Become Tankers,'' ``Recruits for the Tanks,'' and ``Dare Devil Joins Tanks'')
-- Ernest Hemingway, Selected Letters, Carlos Baker

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Hemingway on: the Craft of Reporting

``And almost all reporters are inaccurate. Have you ever noticed when you read about something in the papers you truly know about that ninety percent of it is inaccurate? A lot of mistakes have to do with early deadlines, of course, the need to get something down in a hurry for the afternoon or morning editions. Often there's just no time to check the accuracy of your sources. I know -- I started out as a reporter on The Kansas City Star. But some of it comes form the reporter's conceit, and the contempt for a reader's intelligence that only a truly conceited reporter can have. And a lot comes from laziness, or, to be more accurate, from fatigue.''
-- Papa: A Personal Memoir, Gregory Hemingway

``I always wanted to write. I worked on the school paper, and my first jobs were writing. After I finished high school I went to Kansas City and worked on The Star. It was regular newspaper work: Who shot whom? Who broke into what? Where? When? How? But never why. Not really why.''
-- Papa Hemingway, A.E. Hotchner

``In newspaper work you have to learn to forget every day what happened the day before. Everything was wonderful to me in Kansas City (that sounds like a line from a song) but I was working on a newspaper and so I cannot remember as I should. You might note for your book that newspaper work is valuable up until the point that is forcibly begins to destroy your memory. A writer must leave it before that point. But he will always have the scars from it. Just as any experience of war is invaluable to a writer. But it is destructive if he has too much....''
-- Ernest Hemingway, Selected Letters, Carlos Baker

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Hemingway on: What I Learned at The Star

``On The Star you were forced to learn to write a simple declarative sentence. That's useful to anyone.''
-- The Paris Review, Spring 1958

``Those (the Star's Copy Style Sheet) were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I've never forgotten them. No man with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the thing he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides by them.''
-- ``Back to his first field,'' Nov. 26, 1940, The Kansas City Times

``They gave you this to study when you went to work, and after that you were just as responsible for having learned it as after you've had the articles of war read to you.''
-- The Apprenticeship of Ernest Hemingway, Charles Fenton

``You were never to say a man was seriously injured. All injuries are serious. He was, as I recall, slightly injured or dangerously injured. There were many other things like this that made extremely good sense.''
-- The Apprenticeship of Ernest Hemingway, Charles Fenton

``Then, gentlemen, we have Kansas City. Contrary to the professors' published reports, my first job on The Kansas City Star was to find the labor reporter in one of several drinking haunts, get him sobered in a turkish bath, and get him to typewriter. So if the professors really want to know what I learned on The Star, that's what I learned. How to sober up rummies.''
-- Papa Hemingway, A.E. Hotchner

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