Hemingway Double Hanging Out in Havana

Por Maya Quiroga

Dogle de HemingwayHAVANA TIMES — Wally Collins, winner of the 2014 “Papa” Hemingway Look-Alike Contest at Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, is once again in Havana.

His presence at El Floridita bar causes a great stir among the patrons. Many people noticed he was there when he posed next to the Hemingway sculpture, a tribute to the American novelist authored by Jose Villa Soberon.

Collins explains that that Hemingway look-alike contest, which has been held in Florida for 35 years now, gathers 150 participants for a three-day event.

“I’ve taken part in six contests. You need at least 5 years of preparation. The competition goes beyond one’s physical appearance. Though some wear safari outfits and khaki pants, it’s not a performance or a show.

“The members of this club are part of a fellowship program that began in 1999. Since then, we’ve donated more than US $150,000 in scholarships for Key West students.”

Hemingway’s Life and Work

Wally Collins, who lives in Arizona, attends the Ernest Hemingway Colloquium held every two years in Cuba for the second time. This time around, he delivered a highly interesting lecture on the novelist’s experiences as a social drinker.

“I feel very well here. I now know why Papa chose Cuba as his home for so many years. I’ve had a very intense life. I’ve gone around the world twice on my plane.”

“For 43 years, I was the owner of several restaurants. I consider myself an adventurer, just like Hemingway. I was in the Vietnam War, as an air force pilot. I am also a visual artist who works with ceramics.”

“I couldn’t miss this opportunity to come to Cuba and learn about Hemingway. When they find out I’m the look-alike contest winner, many people want to take pictures next to me,” he says, smiling.

Sponsoring a Local Kids Baseball Team

Since 2012, the members of the Hemingway Look Alike Society have become the sponsors of Las Estrellas de Guigui (“Gigi All-Stars”), a baseball team created seventy years ago by Hemingway to give poor children the opportunity to play the sport with his younger son Gregory.

The team was brought back to life on the 80th birthday of Oscar Blas Fernandez, one of the first players, who “Papa” affectionately referred to as Cayuco Jonronero. The former field at Hemingway’s residence was also totally restored. On it, around twenty children played baseball.

An exhibition game with the newly-revived children’s team is scheduled for next December 5th. The day will also celebrate Hemingway’s Christmas tradition, complete with sweets, gifts for the children and a book reading.

“We’re trying to bring over sporting implements and baseball uniforms for the team. We also want to build a baseball field for children in San Francisco de Paula, in San Miguel del Padron, Havana.”

“Now that the Cuban and US governments are holding talks, everything is a bit simpler. The process is still very slow but there are good relations between the Hemingway Museum in Cuba and similar institutions in the US,” Collins points out.

11 thoughts on “Hemingway Double Hanging Out in Havana

  • He preferred to lie back and fish rather than serve his country. Understandable!

  • What a difficult life when your greatest achievement is to look like a deceased person.

  • One of his lessor works, Islands in the Stream, which was publish posthumously in the early 70’s, was the novel that got me hooked. His clear, sparse, flowing prose using few adjectives created what has come to be known as the “Hemingway style of writing”. To this day that novel (actually two separate stories, Bimini and Cuba) remains, along with “The Sun Also Rises”, as my favorite.

  • Although I have made pilgrimages to both the Finca Vigia in Habana, and also to his house a hundred miles to the north, in Key West, it is his writings which will endure. Curiously, my two closest friends where inspired by very different writers: My best friend, who passed over to the other side in 1999, was inspired by Faulkner (a fellow Southerner) and Henry James, while my surviving friend was inspired by Hemingway. I appreciate the styles of all three, although I credit Hemingway with inspiring one of my students to become a reader. He was a champion skiier, but who didn’t like to read. As soon as I assigned some of Hemingway’s “skiing stories” he was hooked, and became a regular reader. Many years later I ran into this student, and he related to me how Hemingway turned him on to reading.

  • Thank you for sharing. What serendipity! …..its actually a very interesting story!

  • If you ever get a chance, see a performance of Brian Gordon Sinclair as Hemingway. I caught a performance of his “Hot in Havana” in Washington, D.C. a few years back. His performance included the audience’s participation in making, then downing, Hemingway’s favorite cocktail, (Not good for those attempting to stay on the wagon!) By the end, most of the audience–including myself–were more than a bit tipsy! His performance was memorable–and utterly convincing (for those who have seen film clips from the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s of his inspiration).

  • There’s no son like a prodigal son! Why belabor mistakes from the past?! (Furthermore, most draftees, and even enlistees, didn’t know what they were signing on for; they bought the prevailing propaganda, or sought to escape the boredom and limited horizons of small-town American life).
    As a member of the first Venceremos Brigade back in Nov.’69 to Feb.’70, my best friend on the Brigade was a Viet-Nam vet who, a couple of years before, had been fighting with the Marines. About mid-way through our four months in Cuba, we cut cane with another international brigade composed of members both from the National Liberation Front of South Viet-Nam and the regular (North) Viet-Namese Army. After a day in the cane fields, we would sit around the camp fire exchanging stories (via a rather tortured round of translating interchanges of Viet-Namese to Spanish and Spanish to English and vice versa). During these exchanges, my friend “John” discovered that he had been fighting in the same region of South Viet-Nam at the same time, but on different sides, from several of the “Viet-Namitas!” Just a couple of years before (i.e. in 1967-68) they could have killed one other! Now they were exchanging war stories. I am grateful that I was able to witness this break-through in human consciousness.

  • I hope some of those funds go towards the restoration of the Pilar . I saw her many years ago and she was suffering from severe wood rot and riddled with termite damage. She should be kept in a climate controlled environment but I realize that is beyond the Cuban governments capabilities.

  • Being a fan, and a bit of an amature Hemingway scholar, I can say that he would most probably have found himself right there in the thick of it! ….although your statement is more of an opinion, I can honestly say that you obviously have no idea what you are talking about.

    On a personal note I find it very interesting that I am responding to this post while on a fishing holiday to Bimini. It’s to bad the original “The Complete Angler” burned down. Very sad. Lots of Hemingway memorabilia was lost.

  • The time and effort it takes to continue to raise funds for good works of the Hemingway Look a Like Contest Society is commendable. As far as the off-the-cuff ignorant comment of the Anti-imperialist, well, assumptions is all these negative people work off of. You know nothing about this man and yet that was all you could come up with. What an idiot!!!

  • Hemingway wouldn’t have gone on bombing raids to kill Vietnamese, which is what I imagine the double was doing during the US war against Vietnam..

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