The ’92 Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD

The videotaped police beating of Rodney King following a high-speed car chase on March 3, 1991 ultimately triggered the 1992 riots when a jury acquitted four LAPD officers. A witness, George Holliday, videotaped much of the beating from his balcony, and sent the footage to local news station KTLA.

The videotaped police beating of Rodney King following a high-speed car chase on March 3, 1991 ultimately triggered the 1992 riots when a jury acquitted four LAPD officers of assault and using excessive force. A witness, George Holliday, videotaped much of the beating from his balcony, and sent the footage to local news station KTLA.

 

SATURDAY, APRIL 29TH MARKS the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, but perhaps the true genesis to the violence that would forever change the city and its controversial police department dates back to little more than a year earlier.

On the evening of March 3, 1991, what should have been a routine traffic stop on a San Fernando Valley freeway escalated into an altercation whose image would be as ingrained in America’s social and political conscience as anything ever produced by Hollywood.

Unaware they were being filmed by an amateur cameraman, four white LAPD officers beat an African-American motorist named Rodney King. The 12-minute video was aired that night by a local TV station, giving Angelenos and the rest of the world a glimpse of shocking behavior from those sworn to protect and serve.

“That day put in motion the forces that changed and dramatically transformed Los Angeles, the LAPD and many of our institutions,” says Bernard Kinsey, who helped lead Rebuild Los Angeles, the economic redevelopment agency formed after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

“The city would never be the same.”

Those riots erupted April 29, 1992, hours after the four officers charged with the use of excessive force were acquitted by a predominantly white jury in Simi Valley.

“Ultimately, the (minority) community felt that it needed to get justice and sadly, people took it into their own hands,” says Danny Bakewell Sr., a former civil rights activist who now is publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel.

“We don’t condone that, but we certainly do understand that. You can only suppress and oppress a people for so long.”

In three days of violence that spread from South Los Angeles to other parts of the city, 53 people were killed and nearly 2,400 were hurt. Looting, vandalism and arson resulted in an estimated $1 billion in damage.

In the midst of it, King made a public appearance and broadcast his now-famous plea: “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”

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When We All Wanted To Be Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, just days before turning 60, steps out of the swimming pool at the Davis family villa where he spent the summer o 1959. (From 'Looking for Hemingway' (Lyons Press)

Ernest Hemingway, just days before turning 60, steps out of the swimming pool at La Consula, the Davis family villa in Malaga, Spain, where the world’s most celebrated writer at the time spent the summer of 1959. (From Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and A Final Rite of Passage, Lyons Press)

A CHILD OF THE boomer generation, I grew up in the 1950s desperately wanting to be Ernest Hemingway. To run with the bulls in Pamplona. To hunt big game in Africa. To roam the streets of Paris with the Lost Generation. To live the adventurous life of Nick Adams. Years later, I would learn that I was hardly alone among young people of my age. We all wanted to be Ernest Hemingway.

Today, those of us who have survived can take great pride. We are Hemingway.

Sadly, though, we likely are the Ernest Hemingway that I’ve written about in my new book, Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights, and A Final Rite of Passage. It is the Hemingway at that age we all dread of being: Old, losing our train of thought, unable to do what once came so easily, too quick to show our frustration at our slowness but still holding on to the hope of one last glimmer of youth.

I recently read a quote – I can’t recall by whom (that thing about losing our train of thought perhaps) – that you can’t really face getting old without having the courage for it. And I thought that was such a Hemingwayesque thing to say: grace under pressure and that whole Hemingway credo about life.

Hemingway entertains two young women he added to his entourage traveling from bullfight to bullfight in Spain, 1959. (From 'Looking for Hemingway,' Lyons Press)

In Pamplona, Ernest Hemingway entertains two young women he added to his entourage that traveled with him from bullfight to bullfight in Spain, 1959. (From Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and A Final Rite of Passage, Lyons Press)

And there was another quote, this one from Dame Muriel Spark, the Scottish novelist, that “being over 70 is like being engaged in a war — all our friends are going or gone, and we survive amongst the dead and the dying as on a battlefield.”

Ernest Hemingway undoubtedly would have loved all that talk about war, the dead and those dying on a battlefield.

So you get what I’m driving at. Getting old was no more kind to the author of The Sun Also Rises, For Whom The Bell Tolls and The Old Man and The Sea than it is to most of us. And most of us still here are now older than Hemingway when he was found dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound in the head at his home in 1961, just 19 days shy of his 62nd birthday.

51huzvrohyl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Looking for Hemingway is about the Nobel Prize laureate two birthdays earlier, set in Spain where he celebrated his 60th birthday in a magnificent celebration attended by actress Lauren Bacall and many of his other famous friends. He was, after all, the most celebrated literary figure of his time and few saw him as being in the twilight of his life. Hell, he was Ernest frigging Hemingway.

Hemingway was there on a quixotic quest to recapture the sentimental Spain of his youth in the 1920s when he had written The Sun Also Rises, his breakthrough novel that made him fabulously famous. His plans were to write an epilogue for a reissue of his bullfighting nonfiction classic Death in the Afternoon. But it turned into a summer-long extravaganza following the two greatest matadors in the world — the young, dashing Antonio Ordoñez and his much older brother-in-law Luis Miguel Dominguín — who were facing off in a mano a mano, a bullfighting World Series and Super Bowl rolled into one.

The adventure would be Ernest Hemingway’s last hurrah. And it would almost kill him — and possibly contributed to his end.

At 59 years of age, Hemingway had the stamina if not the strength of his youth. He and his entourage criss-crossed mountainous Spain numerous times traveling from one corrida to another, partying and drinking themselves to exhaustion each night, as he tried to pick up every pretty girl he met.

Hemingway was traveling with his fourth wife Mary, but you can sense he might have been looking for wife No. 5. He treated Mary cruelly in front of his friends who allowed it. Traveling across Spain, he forced her to ride in a following second automobile while he gave a seat in his car to the attractive young women who had joined his cuadrilla. By the end of the trip, Mary returned to America alone, seriously thinking of leaving him.

But she sensed what no one else did. That while Hemingway sought to catch an inspiring last taste of the past, he had a tragic short life ahead. And that is the unexpected twist of Looking for Hemingway as it became a portrait of a prismatic vision of the dying artist, a complex and profoundly dramatic story of a man’s extraordinary effort to stay alive.

For me, there has always been in the story of Hemingway and Spain an allure so sharp and fresh that there was never any question of writing this book. There was, from the start, the joy of rediscovering the world in which he walked and traveled, both in the 1920s and again in 1959. Here was a canvas as generous, colorful, and grand as any in Hemingway’s life. As the story pushed forth, there was at every turn the excitement of history never told, of connections hidden for decades, of old mysteries answered.

My friend Teo Davis chats with Ernest Hemingway pool side at the Davis family villa in Spain, La Consula, where the author lived for months in 1959.

My friend Teo Davis chats with Ernest Hemingway pool side at La Consula, the Davis family villa in Spain, where the author lived for months in 1959.

The story of Hemingway the icon was well known. The story of Hemingway the man on this last romantic journey had been largely buried. Getting that story was slow work. After a good while, I felt I had become the crypt of Hemingwayolé en España. As my patient wife Renee used to say (but seldom aloud – for which I thank her) about this project, great effort went in but nothing came out until now.

For me, too, as a child of the 1950s who read The Old Man and The Sea thinking I was the boy Manolin in the story, I suppose I have been looking for Hemingway all my life, and perhaps it seems fitting that I found him at an age when I now see myself in the novel’s old man Santiago. For some this is not an easy age to face, publishers in particular. More than a few just flat out said they didn’t think any readers, especially Hemingway fans, wanted to read about him as an old man, pathetic at times, feeble and paranoid.

Being a life-long Hemingway lover, I found that hard to believe, unless it’s just simply old age some of us don’t want to face, whether Hemingway’s or our own. For those who fear this life stage, I can only say that I found it inspiring in the research to learn that Pablo Picasso in his sixties was having affairs with gorgeous youthful women more than forty years younger – young enough to be his granddaughters.

Today, the aging, dying Hemingway is one I have come to love and appreciate as much as the young romantic Hemingway, for in his mortality lie the same fears, regrets and self-recriminations that all of us face in our own way as we reach that stage in our lives.

Hemingway’s final adventure would produce his posthumously published book The Dangerous Summer, and that mano a mano bullfighting circus proved to be a story made to order for the dying man’s need not to die.

Not surprisingly, Hemingway would end up creating the two brave matadors – and, by extension, himself — as more than just heroic. He portrayed them as immortals, of course, for isn’t that the way famous people avoid the reality of old age and death?

Tony Castro, a former political reporter and columnist, is the author of five books, the most recent being Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and A Final Rite of Passage (Lyons Press).

Five Things You Didn’t Know About DiMaggio & Mantle

Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle as rookies on the 1951 New York Yankees team.

Baseball legends Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle as teammates on the 1951 New York Yankees World Series championship team.

From DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivals, Yankee Blood Brothers (Lyons Press) available at Amazon.com.

1. Both Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle were golfers who enjoyed being on the links — so long as someone else was picking up the green fees, such as sponsors of celebrity tournaments who often sought them out, paid then well and stocked them with apparel and equipment, including expensive sets of golf clubs. DiMaggio’s garage in San Francisco was full of top name sets of clubs given to him but which he had never played with and sometimes gave to friends as birthday and Christmas presents.

2.While playing with the Yankees, both Joe and Mickey regularly ate at the Stage Delicatessen on 54th Street in Version 2Manhattan where they became good friends of owners Max and Hymie Asnas and their families. The Asnas brothers often made them special meals that were not on their menu. In Mick’s rookie season, they even housed Mantle and some teammates in an apartment above the deli.

3.Both Joe and Mickey were cheap when it came to spending money on the women they married. The four and one-half carat, emerald cut diamond engagement ring that Joe gave to his first wife Dorothy Arnold, the actress he married at San Francisco’s St. Peter and Paul Church on Nov. 19, 1939, was paid for by Newark crime boss Ruggiero “Richie the Boot” Bojardo. Merlyn Mantle’s wedding ring for her 1951 marriage to Mick was bought by Theodore Mantle, Mickey’s half-brother, who had used most of his army discharge pay to help pay for it.

4.Both Joe and Mickey had their names carried on by sons who led tragic lives. Joe DiMaggio Jr., died Aug. 6, 1999, at the age of 57,  apparently of natural causes — five months after his father’s own death. He was estranged from his father. When his father died, Joe Jr. was living in a trailer and working in a junkyard. Mickey Mantle Jr., struggled against the alcoholism that engulfed his father and other family members and died Dec. 20, 2000, at age 47, from complications of cancer.

5.Both DiMaggio and Mantle turn up in files of the FBI. According to one FBI document: “Our microphone surveillance covering Rhode Island hoodlum, Raymond Patriarca has revealed that Patriarca has unidentified connections in the Rhode Island State Police; that he is considering putting  Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio on the Board of Directors of Hancock Race Track, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, to lend ‘class’ to the race track.” In Mantle’s dossier, on document links Mickey to illegal prostitution and gambling operations and reports that” in the course of an interstate gambling investigation — which originated in Oklahoma, Mantle’s birthplace — the athlete’s Dallas phone number surfaced.” An FBI redaction mark hides what Mantle supposedly bet.

 

 

A Conversation With Tony Castro on ‘DiMag & Mick’

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Tony Castro is the author of the new book DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivals, Yankee Blood Brothers. He also has written Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal SonThe Prince of South Waco, and Chicano Power. He is a former staff writer for Sports Illustrated, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.  

Q: Why did you decide to write a book looking at both Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle?

A: Dating back to my childhood, I’ve long had an undying interest in both Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.

My father was a New York Yankee fan and returned home from World War II with a huge poster — off an old New York market calendar, I believe – of DiMaggio in that classic swing of his. A few years later, the DiMaggio poster in my bedroom was joined by one of Mantle finishing off his own powerful swing.

Those two posters covered most of an entire wall in my bedroom, and it used to upset my mom because they dwarfed the crucifix that hung between them.

Our parish priest used to come over for dinner once a month or so, and my mom once tried to shame me by showing him the signs of what she saw as my sacrilege.

I don’t think she realized that our parish priest was the coach of our CYO baseball team because he looked at the juxtaposition of the posters and the crucifix, and he said, “Señora Castro, I think these are all just innocent representations of the role models close to Tony’s heart, each with their symbolic pieces of wood on which their great stories have lived and died.”

b10411_e2281795fe9e4f0ebcbba977693c73f2My mom never brought this up again. I suppose there’s Roman Catholicism and then there’s Baseball Catholicism.

Years later, I had the good fortune to meet and befriend Mickey Mantle. It was 1970. I was a young newspaper reporter, a few months out of college, working in Dallas; and Mickey was a couple of years into his retirement, virtually an exile in Dallas, a retired baseball legend in what was then and still is a big pro football city.

He was also a pariah among sportswriters because of his horrendous behavior among them, which had worsened toward the end of his career.

As I go into in the book, Mickey and I hit it off that first afternoon getting drunk over hamburgers and golf. Perhaps he was longing for the attention he’d had at the top of his career, and I was someone who could play golf any afternoon and could drive him home because he was usually too drunk to drive and then help [his wife] Merlyn retrieve his car. I was a decent golfer and, working on an afternoon newspaper, I could usually sneak off to play 18 holes early in the day.

And DiMaggio I met in 1978 in San Francisco through his longtime friend Reno Barsocchini.

But I never thought about writing a book about either of them or any book, for that matter. I’d written a book early in my career, a civil rights history about Cesar Chavez and Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s – Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican America (Dutton, 1974) – that basically killed my first marriage, and I’d sworn not to do that again.

But when Mantle was dying in 1995, I wanted to read my sons a book about Mickey — and that’s when I discovered that all those books I’d read about him years ago were not very good.

That’s when I decided to write my Mantle biography, Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son (Brassey’s, 2002).  I had hoped to follow that with a biography of Joe DiMaggio, but the Richard Ben Cramer book of 2000 pretty much saturated the market and with its brutal one-sidedness killed for the time what was left of the DiMaggio image.

What led to this book, DiMag & Mick, was an e-mail I received a few years ago from a man thanking me for having written so favorably in my Mantle biography about his aunt, an actress named Holly Brooke, who has been described in most books about Mickey as a showgirl who had been his girlfriend in 1951.

Mickey Mantle with actress Holly Brooke, his girlfriend in New York during his 1951 season.

Mickey Mantle with actress Holly Brooke, his girlfriend in New York during his 1951 season.

However, no biographer had been able to interview her or even locate her. I think most of us had assumed she was dead. Holly’s nephew, though, said not only was she still alive and well but that she was also willing to talk to me.

That began a series of almost daily visits and conversations that proved to be incredible. She convinced me with her stories and some strong documentation that her love affair with Mickey lasted beyond his marriage in 1951 and carried on well into the 1960s.

She had lived with Mantle much of his rookie year, even when he was sent down to the minors to play in Kansas City, which had a Yankees’ minor league team at that time. She was also the reason Mickey asked to have his uniform number changed from 6 to 7 when he returned to the majors, a number that was her date of birth.

Holly was older than Mickey, had a toddler son that he wanted to adopt as his own, and Mickey proposed to her and likely would have married her if it hadn’t been for his father.

In 1951, Mickey’s father learned he was dying, and he demanded that Mickey marry his hometown sweetheart as his dying wish. Of course, it was just part of the unusual hold that Mickey’s father held over him.

With this material, especially since Holly had also known DiMaggio, it just seemed tailor-made for a book centered around Mickey and Joe, set around 1951, the only season they played together and using all that as a backdrop to destroy that longstanding myth that DiMaggio and Mantle had been bitter enemies. It just wasn’t true.

Q: Why were they portrayed as bitter enemies, and how would you characterize the dynamic between them?

A: In spring training of 1951 – Mantle’s rookie year and DiMaggio’s final season – sportswriters made Mickey out to be the next coming of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio rolled into one.

The Yankees’ manager, Casey Stengel, largely championed this, talking openly to writers about it in a way that was ridiculous because of the pressure that talk like this can place on an unproven rookie – a 19-year-old rookie, at that. Still, Mantle had a spring training performance for the ages.

DiMaggio, who had already announced he was retiring at the end of the season, was preparing to play with tremendous daily pain from heel spurs that continued to bother him even after a couple of operations.

DiMaggio also wasn’t a very open person or teammate. Sometimes people forget or don’t know that he was the son of Italian immigrants who didn’t speak English and didn’t become citizens until after World War II.

Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle as rookies on the 1951 New York Yankees team.

Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle as rookies on the 1951 New York Yankees team.

Joe was also a high school dropout who, until his death, was insecure about his education and his background. When he came up to the Yankees in the mid-1930s and being Italian, about the only way he might have otherwise gotten into Yankee Stadium was as a hot dog vendor, if he hadn’t been able to hit incredibly well. We sometimes forget about the anti-Italian discrimination that was rampant in America in the first half of the 20th century.

There was tragedy from that for DiMaggio even after his crowning moment. In 1941, he hit safely in 56 consecutive games, perhaps the most remarkable record in baseball. He was the prince of New York and a hero in America.

But in December, Pearl Harbor was bombed, and soon America was at war with Japan, Germany AND Italy. And what does the country do? It sends Japanese Americans into internment camps, and there were even plans to do the same with Italians.

Fortunately, for DiMaggio’s immigrant parents, the U.S. does not do this, but it does place strict restrictions on their mobility. His parents have a fishing boat and a restaurant in Northern California that they’re not allowed to travel to, and they eventually wind up losing their means of income.

This is all happening just months after Joe DiMaggio’s greatest season. Lesser men might have begun rioting. Even in 1951, the bias and discrimination was there. Consider how Casey Stengel referred to DiMaggio behind his back: He regularly called him “Dago.”

A big deal has been made about the racial slurs some ballplayers and managers used against Jackie Robinson, and some lost their livelihoods because of that. But Stengel calling DiMaggio “Dago” was hardly a term of endearment, and little has ever been made about the discrimination that DiMaggio had to endure. And Joe, like Jackie, was just too classy and turned the other cheek.

But it was part of the climate in 1951, as was just the resentment among some of the Yankee teammates as well as some in the press.

DiMaggio was the highest paid Yankee of the era before free agency. He made more money as a rookie in 1935 than Mantle did in his rookie season in 1951.

And unlike Mickey, who was known as a “great teammate” – which is even written on his Yankee Memorial Park plaque at the Stadium – DiMaggio was a loner whose close friends were non-Yankees. In fact, none of his teammates from that 1951 team had been around when he broke into baseball or even in 1941, DiMaggio’s greatest year.

That spring training of 1951 sportswriters were extolling the virtues and talent of Mickey Mantle and how he was being groomed to succeed Joe in center field and as the star of the Yankees, especially since DiMaggio had been slowed by his injuries and age.

And there was intense competition among those writers covering the Yankees. Remember that at the time there were about a dozen daily newspapers in New York, and you’ll find in old newspaper clippings the seeds of a feud between DiMaggio and Mantle in 1951, making it seem that Joe’s usual aloofness was caused by some kind of resentment of Mantle for being there to replace him in center field and stealing his thunder in what was to be his farewell season.

After 1951, after DiMaggio’s retirement and absence from the Yankee clubhouse, this imaginary feud took on a life of its own, fueled in part by some of Mickey’s Yankee teammates and their loyalty to Mantle.

And there was no one to challenge this, except, of course, for DiMaggio and Mantle who went to their graves denying there was any animosity between them, as well as the two women most prominent in Mickey’s life –his wife Merlyn, and Greer Johnson, who was Mickey’s companion the last 10 years of his life.

Their denials were always reported, but I suspect no one took them seriously. Especially after Billy Crystal’s 2001 HBO film 61, about Mickey and Roger Maris’ chase in 1961 of Babe Ruth’s home run record.

The irony or paradox in the film is that while it is about the friendship between Mantle and Maris, it also bursts the myth of the alleged rift between them that writers had effectively made up – while it still promotes the equally false myth of a feud between Mantle and DiMaggio.

There’s even a scene of Mantle becoming physically sick and being driven to a drunken binge because of an appearance by DiMaggio in the Yankee clubhouse. It was absolute fiction, perhaps typical juvenile fan behavior believing that you can somehow enhance your childhood hero by tearing down some competitor to his legacy.

Well, Mickey Mantle doesn’t need that kind of help. The newer analytics used in baseball today seem to indicate that Mickey was far the greater ballplayer, as if you can truly compare different eras.

As for the “feud,” Richard Ben Cramer’s biography of DiMaggio, nasty as it was toward Joe, bolstered the idea of its existence, as did one major biography of Mickey Mantle, which claimed that the first time DiMaggio and Mantle ever spoke was Oct. 5, 1951, the second game of that season’s World Series.

That was the game in which Mickey suffered a terrible knee injury when he slipped on a sprinkler cover in right center field as he tried to avoid running into DiMaggio as he caught a fly ball.

Mantle went down “as if he’d been shot,” according to some of his teammates and in horrible pain. DiMaggio, after catching the fly ball, ran over to check on Mickey, supposedly initiating the so-called first conversation between the prize rookie and the old pro.

Of course, that’s pure fiction, too. In researching the book, I found an audio tape recording that proved that claim to be an utter lie.

On the morning of April 16, 1951, DiMaggio and Mantle were with their New York Yankees teammates about to board a train to Washington for the season’s Opening Day against the Senators.

They were being detained for a few minutes for recorded interviews for CBS Radio’s famous news program Hear It Now when a remote microphone picked up DiMaggio and Mantle’s unrehearsed conversation, a conversation that unfortunately would soon be overlooked and forgotten.

On the recording, the veteran DiMaggio — who only weeks earlier had announced he would retire at the end of the 1951 season — sounds enthusiastic and supportive, engaging Mantle in a genuine manner that is both refreshing and surprising. It’s a wonderful exchange, and it may not even have been the first conversation they had.

And they had many more long friendly exchanges during that season, according to Holly Brooke who was present several times when Mickey and Joe spoke at restaurants or had dinner together. So much for that so-called authoritative story that they didn’t speak until Mickey’s injury in the World Series.

Q: How did you research the book, and what surprised you most in the course of your research?

A: In recent years I spent countless hours talking to Holly Brooke, getting her to recall the details and dialog of anecdotes she remembered. I revisited sources from my Mantle biography and rechecked clippings from numerous magazines and newspapers.

I also had folders full of notes from my conversations with Mantle in the early 1970s in Dallas and in the 1980s when we reconnected while he was traveling for memorabilia shows, and my conversations with DiMaggio and his friend Reno Barsocchini in the late 1970s and 1980s.

The most surprising thing that I found had to have been the CBS radio audio tape because it leaves no doubt that right after spring training where their animosity supposedly bloomed they were, in fact, talking like friendly teammates, and Joe was giving Mickey advice and Mickey was talking as if he were awe-struck of Joe DiMaggio.

Q: What do you see as each player’s legacy today?

A: They were if not the greatest players of their era, then certainly among the top two or three during their time.

Of course, they went about it differently. DiMaggio never left anything on the field. He had a passion for always being at his best. Mantle, unfortunately, didn’t always take all his talents on to the field.

DiMaggio retired almost at the right time. He may have wished he had left at the end of 1950. As it was, he still left having been part of a World Series championship team in 1951.

Mickey went to his grave second-guessing his decision to play as long as he did, long past when he could run well and when it hurt his fans just to watch him swing the bat. Not to mention that the Yankee teams near the end of his career were mediocre at best.

At their prime, DiMaggio and Mantle were as good as any ballplayer has ever been, with the possible exception of Babe Ruth. But at their time, DiMaggio and Mantle were the greatest players on the greatest baseball team during arguably the greatest era of the game.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have a biography of Ernest Hemingway scheduled to be published in September by Lyons Press. I’m currently working on books about Joe DiMaggio and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I wouldn’t be surprised if some time in the future — based on the evolution of analytics in baseball, on his incredible statistics during the golden age of the game, his injuries notwithstanding, and because of his ability to do this as a switch-hitter – that Mickey Mantle doesn’t become widely acclaimed as having fulfilled those great expectations once placed of him: being recognized as the greatest player of all-time, greater than Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and all the rest.

A Conversation With Tony Castro on Hemingway

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Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and A Final Rite of Passage by Tony Castro is now available at Amazon.com.

 

What brought you to this subject and then what compelled you to write an entire book on it?

 I think my lifelong fascination with Ernest Hemingway had its genesis in my youth when an English teacher who had taken a special interest in my insatiable appetite for reading introduced me to The Old Man and The Sea. I quickly found myself devouring that book and in rapid succession every Hemingway short story and novel that I could find – and eventually earned me the reputation of having read every book in my hometown public library in Waco, Texas.

The obsession with Hemingway eventually led to an unauthorized visit to Cuba in the 1960s along with a group of Chicano movement activists and members of the Students for a Democratic Society. The revolutionary romance of Fidel Castro’s Cuba had made it a popular destination for the New Left, but I was hardly the political sort. I was an undergraduate at Baylor University, a conservative Baptist college in the heart of the South’s Bible Belt, and through a Latin American studies professor at the University of Texas made the connection of a lifetime. He had known Fidel Castro in Mexico in the 1950s, and he arranged for me a special tour of La Finca Vigía, the Hemingway home in San Francisco de Paula, Cuba.

So I guess I was a romantic with a destiny of which I wasn’t even aware. A few years after college, I moved into a writer friend’s house in Houston, which had an unexpected connection to Hemingway. Was it simply an incredible coincidence that my friend’s previous housemate had been Teo Davis, the son of the wealthy American expatriates who had hosted Hemingway in his last two visits to Spain before his suicide?

A couple of years later, while on a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, I shared this story with the two professors with whom I was studying literature – the Mexican writer and future Nobel laureate Octavio Paz and Homeric scholar Robert Fitzgerald. Both urged me to also spend time during my fellowship studying the newly opened collection of Hemingway papers at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Both Paz and Fitzgerald joined me the first time I visited the collection. Fitzgerald bailed on us afterward, but Paz and I closed down the Faculty Club at Harvard that night toasting Hemingway with shots of tequila.

Then in the 1980s, in yet one more twist of coincidence, I finally met Teo Davis in Los Angeles where we began a friendship that has spanned over three decades. It was Teo who introduced me to Mike Hamilburg, a literary agent who represented me until his illness and death. Mike had known Teo for several years, and he tried for well over twenty years to convince Teo to write a book about his experience as a child with Hemingway when he had stayed in Spain at the Davis villa La Consula in 1959. Mike said he didn’t think Teo had ever written a single word, and if he did, I never read a word of it either. Teo didn’t want to write that book or couldn’t. Finally, after years of trying to coax the story out of him, I gave up. It was then that Teo, somewhat relieved that I was going to stop pestering him about his story, said that I should write the story and that he would help as best he could. This book, though, isn’t the book Mike had envisioned Teo writing, nor is it the book I tried to get him to write. That book Teo took with him to the grave.

So what is this book about?

For me, there has always been in the story of Hemingway and Spain an allure so sharp and fresh that there was never any question of writing this book. There has been, from the start, the joy of rediscovering the world in which he walked and traveled, both in the 1920s and again in 1959. Here was a canvas as generous, colorful, and grand as any in Hemingway’s life. As the story pushed forth, there was at every turn the excitement of history never told, of connections hidden for decades, of old mysteries answered.

The story of Hemingway the icon was well known. The story of Hemingway the man and his friendship with Bill and Anne Davis at their magnificent home had been buried. Getting that story was slow work. After a good while, I felt I had become the crypt of Hemingwayolé en La Consula. As my patient wife Renee used to say (but seldom aloud – for which I thank her) about this project, great effort went in but nothing came out until now.

For me, too, as a child of the 1950s who read The Old Man and The Sea thinking I was the boy Manolin, I suppose I have been looking for Hemingway all my life, and perhaps it seems fitting that I think I have found him at an age when I now see myself in the old man Santiago. Looking for Hemingway about Hemingway at that age we all dread of being: Old, losing our train of thought, unable to do what once came so easily, too quick to show our frustration at our slowness but still holding on to the hope of one last glimmer of youth. And it is not an easy age to face, especially for publishers. More than a few just flat out said they didn’t think any readers, especially Hemingway fans, wanted to read about him as an old man, pathetic at times, feeble and paranoid.

Being a life-long Hemingway lover, I found that hard to believe, unless it’s just simply old age some of us don’t want to face, whether Hemingway’s or our own. For those who fear this life stage, I can only say that I found it inspiring in the research to learn that Pablo Picasso in his sixties was having affairs with gorgeous youthful women more than forty years younger – young enough to be his granddaughters. A dirty old man? Maybe not so dirty if you’re Picasso.

Today, the aging, dying Hemingway is one I have come to love and appreciate as much as the young romantic Hemingway, for in his mortality lie the same fears, regrets and self-recriminations that all of us face in our own way as we reach that stage in our lives.

 

A theme in the book is the Lost Generation. Explain why.

Hemingway made famous the Lost Generation of post-World War I in Europe —

American expatriates thought by many to have been drunkenly decadent, wildly self-indulgent, and irretrievably ruined. It was the cultural backdrop for his breakthrough novel The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926. And it’s a theme not that dissimilar from what emerged in the months of Hemingway’s 1959 visit to Spain. Ernest chased young women as unashamedly in 1959 as he had pursued the beautiful and recently divorced British socialite Lady Duff Twysden in 1925, being as insensitive to Mary as he had been his first wife Hadley back in the mid-1920s. And Hemingway in 1959 behaved almost as badly as he and his entourage did back in 1925. But there were other similarities. A writer who visited the Davis villa in Spain in 1959 said Bill and Annie Davis were “the Gerald Murphys of the fifties, transferred to the new high bohemian playground of the Gold Coast of Spain.” The Gerald Murphys were a wealthy American expatriate couple known for their own lavish soirees on the French Riviera where they entertained writers and artists of The Lost Generation in the 1920s. And this was the exact kind of setting surrounding Hemingway in Spain in 1959.

 

You did a lot of research. Tell us about it.

Of course, there were countless interviews with my friend Teo Davis, son of Bill and Anne. But there was a matter also tracking down memoirs, unpublished and published, letters, journals and books, particularly some in Spain. This period of Hemingway’s life was never written about in any depth by anyone but instead it was finding bits and pieces in various sources, mostly in Spain and Paris where the Davises had homes. I was also incredibly fortunate while I was a columnist at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner of being a desk mate to the late Jim Bacon, who was perhaps the most famous print journalist who ever covered Hollywood. He knew a number of people in Hollywood who had known Hemingway and the Davises, people like Lauren Bacall and Orson Welles. Even in the 1980s, I was playing around with the idea of a book about Hemingway in Spain, the Ms Bacall and Mr. Welles were gracious in providing me with their insights.

In addition to Hemingway, who was the most compelling figure in the book to you?

Without a doubt Bill Davis. It seems that almost everyone who knew him came away feeling that he remained a mysterious stranger to them, no matter how much time they spent with him. To many of them he was Rick Blaine, the Humphrey Bogart character from Casablanca. It took me a long while to understand that even his children Teo and his sister had deeply-seeded personal issues with their father that were never resolved. It is one of the tragedies in their lives that the children never felt as loved by their father, nor their mother, as Hemingway had been. As Teo sadly put it: “We weren’t Hemingway.”