“He changed all the furniture in the room, and we all have to sit in it.” — Tobias Wolff

“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” — “The Man Who Killed Liberty Valance”

My obsession with all things Hemingway began on my arrival in New York City in the spring of 1957.

The first book was Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” followed by “A Farewell To Arms,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “A Moveable Feast,” on and on and on.

That summer, I bought every book “Papa” Hemingway had written, including his work from his newspaper reporter’s beginning, his short stories and dispatches from the front in the Spanish Civil War and World War II.

Ernest Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary Welsh. Courtesy of A.E. Hotchner

By September I saw myself as an expert on “Papa” Hemingway. Boy, was I wrong.


This week, I eagerly began to watch and review Ken Burns and Lynn Novak’s PBS documentary “Hemingway” and this is what you’ll see:

1. A Writer (1899-1929)
Air date: April 5, 2021
Ernest Hemingway volunteers for the Red Cross during World War I and publishes his first two novels.

2. The Avatar (1929-1944)
Air date: April 6, 2021
Ernest Hemingway reports on the Spanish Civil War and begins a stormy romance with Martha Gellhorn.

3. The Blank Page (1944-1961)
Air date: April 7, 2021

Hemingway follows the Army as they advance through Europe. Afterward, he tries to start a life with Mary Welsh, but is beset with tragedies. He publishes “The Old Man and the Sea” to acclaim but is overcome by his declining mental condition.

And if you grew up, as I did, with the “Marvel Comic” Hemingway hero, you want to cry a little may at the end. Burns takes away the sword, the cape, the masks and the tired legends.


Secrets are revealed in this documentary that may make you gasp. The biggest, about his son Gregory, is the most shocking, but as told here, it unfolds gently and reveals a side of the burly, tough warrior and his secret dreams I never knew. I leave that section to you.

The wonderful thing about reviewing Ken Burns’ “Hemingway” is how easy it is, and how little I have to say. It’s entirely up to you, the reader and the viewer, to take it all in. It’s like trying to write a review of Francisco Goya’s painting “Saturn Devouring His Son” (featured in the film). You just have to sit and look at it if you can, and absorb the work.

“Hemingway” is splendidly narrated as usual by actor Peter Coyote, with Jeff Daniels as the voice of Hemingway. Other voices include Meryl Streep, Keri Russell, Mary-Louise Parker, Patricia Clarkson, Olivia Gilliatt, Arlo Hill, Josh Lucas, Joe Morton and Dave Quay.

“Hemingway” is streaming on the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel and an exclusive 4K UHD version is available only on the PBS Documentaries Prime Video Channel.

But for your information, I offer two interesting pieces of criticism of this Burns documentary.

“Ernest Hemingway was a lifelong anti-fascist persecuted by the FBI, his new miniseries erases that history entirely.” (By David Masciotra, author and critic, “Mellencamp: American Troubadour”)

And add a startling essay by film critic Tony Macklin at tonymacklin.net.

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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