For the week of August 4, 1999  thru August 10, 1999  

Hemingway’s memory now in furniture

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

This has been an exceptional year for the late Ernest Hemingway’s memory, his literary works and his family.

It’s about to get even better for his heirs.

The bright tomorrows will not be just because July events celebrating the 100th anniversary of Papa’s birthday stirred sales of his works, which spin off an estimated $1 million a year to the Hemingway estate, according to the family.

But, as startled Hemingway devotees discovered, the Hemingway family will cash in on a new arrangement – licensing Hemingway’s name and unmistakable face to a new upscale line of home furniture.

The furniture maker Thomasville has made an inspired deal with Papa’s family agents: his photo image and names from his novels are brandished in advertisements for a line of furnishings, "Ernest Hemingway: The Collection of a Lifetime, by Thomasville."

It’s not an outright endorsement: Hemingway has been dead 38 years. Instead, it’s an oblique, implied endorsement through name association.

Purists will grumble acidly about the family cheapening Papa’s memory with rank commercial exploitation.

Being the glass-half-full rather than glass-half-empty philosopher of which I’m capable on occasion, I see another side that might console naysayers.

Obviously, it’s the Hemingway family’s business what it does with their patriarch’s name. To the family’s credit, it chose to lend the name to a tasteful, elegant product.

And promoting the Hemingway name as Thomasville does, Hemingway’s literary works are apt to get more of a boost among a new generation of readers.

The most elegant of the ads is in Travel & Leisure magazine’s August issue, six pages that include two George Leavens photos of the younger, beardless, virile Hemingway.

The opening page is a single photo of a middle-aged Papa

leaning on a desk, in a short-sleeve shirt, unbuttoned to reveal his manly hairy chest.

Tastefully overprinted on the photo is the ad series’ ongoing theme – "Bold. Romantic. Adventurous" – the essence of Hemingway’s enduring persona as the derring-do author and raconteur even 38 years after his death.

Over the next three pages are color photos of furniture, each page with a word from the theme, and in small type, descriptions that include key words from Hemingway novels Serengeti sofa (although Thomasville spells Serengeti with two t’s), African Queen table, Pilar chairside table, Mombassa arm chair, Kilimanjaro bedside chest, etc.

"An eclectic mix of home furnishings designed to evoke a place, a time and a man the world won’t soon forget," one copy block reads.

And macho instincts of potential male buyers are sure to be aroused by this:

"Every piece as individualistic as Hemingway himself. And as individualistic as the one who brings them home."

In time, throughout America, thousands will probably claim they’ve slept in a Hemingway bed, and let their friends wonder.

Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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