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).

‘DiMag & Mick’ Reveals Mickey Mantle’s True Love

HollyMick copy1

Young lovers Holly Brooke and Mickey Mantle out on the town in Manhattan in 1951, his rookie season chronicled in DiMag & Mick. (Mickey Mantle Museum)

 

“Above Grand Central Station, there used to be this incredibly fabulously opulent apartment that looked like a palace that the original architect built as part of the original design, and in 1951 I knew someone — I knew a lot of people even then—who arranged for me, for us, to stay there one night that summer. And so Mickey and I spent one of the greatest nights of our lives there. It was a romantic, magical evening. We made love all night. We were both young and in love, and he wanted to marry me and spend the rest of our lives together.”

                                                                           — Holly Brooke in DiMag & Mick

MICKEY MANTLE FANS, memorize the name Holly Brooke.

In his new book DiMag & Mick, author Tony Castro reveals that the Yankees’ switch-hitting icon proposed to New York actress Holly Brooke during his 1951 rookie season and that they carried on a torrid love affair for years even after he married his high school sweetheart just to please his dying father.

Holly’s existence had been known since the 1950s and for decades, sportswriters and authors tried unsuccessfully to interview Brooke –but were never even able to track her down.

But Castro, the author of the critically acclaimed biography Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son, not only found the elusive Holly Brooke but interviewed her exhaustively about her relationship with Mick and her recollection of Mantle’s time in New York — including the friendship he shared with Joe DiMaggio but which few others knew about.

“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,” Castro said in an interview about writing the book.

“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.”

Holly 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.

In the book, Castro writes:

On August 22, 1951, the Yankees’ new prodigal son returned to New York, arriving with Holly on a Super Chief train at Grand Central Station and passing through what was then known as the “Kissing Room,” where travelers once embraced their sweethearts, friends, and family, and offering cozy access to the Biltmore Hotel above. That was where Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald had honeymooned, she whispered to Mickey as they snuggled arm and arm with the crowd.

“I don’t know if Mickey knew who F. Scott Fitzgerald was,” said Holly, smiling as she dreamily remembered that day. “I shouldn’t say that. He was a very smart man. He just didn’t like to show it, but his mind was like a steel trap. Once he heard or saw something, he knew it by heart. I suspect that’s what helped make him such a great hitter and ballplayer. But I think he enjoyed being seen as that good ol’ country boy.

“We had a drink at the Kissing Room. We had come in a day early, and Mickey didn’t have to report back to the team until the next day. He didn’t want to go to the Concourse Plaza where they had a room for him. That was all the way out in the Bronx, and we were in Manhattan and at Grand Central Station, and we had the day to ourselves, and I had come to think that we would have the rest of our lives together as well.

“‘Holly, I want you to marry me,’ Mickey said to me that night. He had said it earlier, but I think, returning to New York, he knew he now had it together. The Yankees wanted him back in the majors, and this time he knew he was going to stick with the team for good, and that he would live up to all they were expecting of him. We had talked about marriage. He had talked about marriage. He had talked about wanting to marry me and about adopting my son. But this time was different. He was so insistent. And when he asked me to marry him this time, it wasn’t like the other times. He knew the only person who could stand in our way was his father. But Mutt had seen us together in Kansas City, just as he had seen us together here in New York before Mickey was sent down. And in Kansas City, I think he saw in Mickey’s face his determination to be with me. There in front of me, Mickey said to his father, ‘Dad, so what if she’s older than me? She’s seven years older than me. Mom was ten years older than you when you married her, and she had been married before as well. If it can work out for you and Mom, why couldn’t it work out for Holly and me?’ I thought Mutt was going to cry. He left our room, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did shed a tear later. You could tell that Mickey had hit a soft spot. So that night back in New York, Mickey says to me, ‘Dad won’t like it. You saw what he’s like. He wants me to marry Merlyn, but I can’t. I’m not in love with her. I’m in love with you.’ So I’ll bring him around.’ And, of course, I said, ‘Yes, Mickey, I’ll marry you. I love you.’ And he told me he loved me, too. ‘You’re the love of my life, Holly.’ And that’s how we left it. Mickey was going to talk to his father—‘Come hell or high water,’ I think is how he said it—and we were going to get married as soon as the season ended. Mickey said the only thing that would be more perfect was if the Yankees won the World Series as well.”

Holly also had a toddler son that Mantle 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.

After the 1951 season, 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.

Adios, Lucy Casado: The End of an Era in L.A.

Lucy Casado, right, with Renee LaSalle, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Tony Castro at a presidential campaign fund-raising event at Lucy's El Adobe in Hollywood. Photo by Ryan LaSalle-Castro

Los Angeles restaurateur Lucy Casado, right, at a presidential campaign fund-raising event at her El Adobe Cafe in Hollywood with friend Renee LaSalle, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and author Tony Castro  (Photo by Ryan LaSalle-Castro)

ON A PICTURE POSTCARD California evening, a group of Tibetan monks in cardinal robes and gold undershirts traipsed across Melrose Avenue in Hollywood from the direction of Paramount Studios and then walked into Lucy’s El Adobe Cafe. A diner in the famous Tex-Mex restaurant took notice but assumed what many others might have in Hollywood.

“Hey, Lucy,” the diner said to restaurateur Lucy Casado, who was nearby. “It looks like you’ve got some more extras from Paramount.”

Lucy rushed over and embraced each monk as if they had just won an Oscar. They were that convincing, possibly because they were real-life Tibetan monks — and friends of Casado and her  husband Frank, who had invited them to dinner to celebrate a new kinship that had developed over near tragedy and apparent fate.

Only weeks earlier, Lucy Casado had found herself frantically praying over the injured body of her oldest son, James, who had been badly hurt in a traffic accident — hurtled from his pickup near the top of Laurel Canyon as he drove home from the San Fernando Valley.

As she meditated before a makeshift altar covered with candles and religious icons in one of the bedrooms of her home, Casado had had a vision.

“I saw monks praying and chanting for my son,” she later recalled.

James recovered to full health, and the vision stayed with Casado, who soon sought out and befriended a group of monks who came to Los Angeles accompanying the Dalai Lama later that year.

That began a relationship between Casado and the Buddhist monks that spanned decades and  became a symbol of the role she came to play in the pop culture and political salon that often played out nightly for almost half a century at Lucy’s El Adobe.

Sadly, that era has ended. Lucy Casado, the Doña of Los Angeles, died Tuesday at Good Samaritan Hospital where she had been battling cancer. She was 91.

Jerry Brown during his first term as governor with restaurateur Lucy Casado, his beloved friend who died Tuesday.

Jerry Brown during his first term as governor with restaurateur Lucy Casado, his beloved friend who died Tuesday.

Born in El Paso, Tex., Casado and her husband opened their restaurant in the 1960s and in 1968 played host to Senator Robert F. Kennedy during the California Primary of his presidential campaign, just 24 hours before he was assassinated. She would go on develop a close friendship with future governor Jerry Brown in the 1970s when he was on the Los Angeles Community College District board of trustees and then California Secretary of State.

During his first two terms as governor, Brown could often be found at Lucy’s El Adobe. It became a California political-cultural footnote that the Casados played matchmakers in the famous Jerry Brown-Linda Ronstadt romance of the late 1970s — a much-ballyhooed relationship in the news media which some political experts at the time blamed in part for derailing Brown’s 1980 presidential campaign.

Brown regularly used the restaurant’s west room for his virtual Los Angeles office as well as his rendezvous with Ronstadt, who once cruised in on roller skates to give Brown a loving kiss while he met with two suits who looked on enviously.

“Magic happens at El Adobe,” Casado would say of her restaurant. “I don’t make it or control it. It just happens.”

“Lucy is an original,” Brown said in one interview. “She is Mrs. California.”

Now governor for a second time, Brown told reporters this week that he is “deeply saddened by the passing of Lucy Casado.”

Lucy Casado surrounded by Mayor Eric Garrett, actor Robert Patrick, former City Councilman Tom LaBonge and a few Buddhist monks at the dedication of Lucy El Adobe Plaza on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.

Lucy Casado surrounded by Mayor Eric Garrett, actor Robert Patrick, former City Councilman Tom LaBonge and a few Buddhist monks at the dedication of Lucy El Adobe Plaza on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.

“She was friends to the famous and to those who lived nearby and to politicians of both parties,” he said. “I spent many wonderful and memorable evenings at Lucy’s El Adobe.”

The restaurant also became a Hollywood destination for liberal Democratic politicians, while mining for political contributions in California. A wall in the restaurant is covered in photographs of some of the most prominent names in American politics and pop culture — from the late Hubert Humphrey to Ronald Reagan, from Dolly Parton to Drew Barrymore, from Cesar Chavez to Steven Spielberg.

“Eating at Lucy’s and getting her blessing,” wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez.” is almost a rite of passage in L.A. politics.”

Over the years, Casado and her restaurant have also been credited for their role in nurturing and feeding promising young musicians, including Ronstadt, Glenn Frey and Don Henley of The Eagles, Jimmy Webb and Jackson Browne.

One of the musicians on Lucy’s Wall of Fame is jazz saxophonist Mindy Abair who hit No. 1 on the jazz charts with a track titled “Lucy’s.” The night the song topped the charts, Lucy was dining with her friend Tom Selleck, who, upon hearing the news walked over and surprised Abair with his personal congratulations.

Abair, like many others in the music and entertainment industry, suggests that there was something mystical about Lucy’s El Adobe, some nourishing nectar beyond the margaritas and arroz con pollo that always brought success to most who make regular pilgrimages there.

In remembering Casado, Eagles founding member Don Henley recalled her as a fellow Texan and a source of inspiration.

Lucy Casado with songwriter and longtime friend Jimmy Webb at the restaurant. (From Philip Bailey's Facebook page)

Lucy Casado with songwriter and longtime friend Jimmy Webb at the restaurant. (From Philip Bailey’s Facebook page)

“Lucy Casado was a mother figure to much of the L.A. singer-songwriter community,” he said in a statement. “Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she and her husband, Frank, along with their children, welcomed our rag-tag band of troubadours into their little restaurant on Melrose Avenue.

“It was a cozy, candlelit watering hole, where politics, food and music were often the topics of discussion, over a savory plate of mole poblano, washed down with the best margaritas in town. Lucy was as passionate as she was compassionate — a tough-but-tender little ball of fire from El Paso, Texas, who, like so many of us, made the pilgrimage to the City of Angels.

“She encouraged us in our struggling days and she delighted in our successes. We were all her children and we will miss her.”

Lucy was preceded in death by her Frank Casado, whom Republican political strategist Stuart Spencer called “a Mexican Toots Shor.” Frank Casado, who along with Lucy helped found the Mexican American Political Association, died in 1990. Lucy is survived by her daughter Patricia Casado and two sons, James and Darryl.

A memorial mass for Casado will be celebrated at Saint Victor Catholic Church in West Hollywood May 20.

Meanwhile, her tributes have only begun. Undoubtedly, some will be given at the El Adobe Cafe which now includes a piano room, with a baby grand whose keys have been played by the numerous artists Casado has befriended over the years. There is also a room adorned by statues of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony as well as likenesses of the Virgen de Guadalupe and the Dalai Lama.

The piano was a gift from songwriter Jimmy Webb.

“He needed a piano when he’s in town, so be bought one to go here,” Lucy loved to tell visitors. “Every time he’s in town, he comes and plays and eats too, of course.”

Webb even immortalized the restaurant in music, including in the song, “Adios,” recorded by Ronstadt with Brian Wilson, and featuring the line, “Drinking margaritas all night in the old cantina.”

Lucy Casado watches Buddhist monks creating a sand mandala at her restaurant.

Lucy Casado watches Buddhist monks creating a sand mandala at her restaurant.

It is in this old cantina that Casado set aside two weeks each fall for the monks and their making of a colorful sand mandala, which always attracted a steady trek of visitors, much like any other Hollywood roadside attraction.

“The mandala is beautiful,” Casado said in talking about the ritual, “but the tradition is that sand will be returned to sand — to symbolize the impermanence of life.

“Life is like that. We can celebrate it, and we can be celebrated, but we all have a time that is measured, so we should treasure those each grain of sand we have given to us.”

 

Tony Castro books include the 2016 releases DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivals, Yankee Blood Brothers (Lyons Press) and Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and a Final Rite of Passage (Lyons Press).

New Book Renews Debate: Who Was Greater, DiMag or Mick?

Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle at spring training camp in 1951.

Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle at spring training, 1951, DiMag’s last season, Mick’s rookie year.

 

Since 1951, Joe DiMaggio‘s last season and Mickey Mantle‘s rookie year, fans have been debating which of the two New York Yankee icons was the greater ballplayer.

Until his death in 1999, four years after Mantle’s passing, DiMaggio had a contractual deal at every appearance that he would be introduced as “the greatest living ballplayer,” even in the presence of Mick, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and others.

But a new book, DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivals, Yankee Blood Brothers, has produced a retrospective on baseball’s legends, in particular DiMaggio and Mantle.

“If you could magically teleport him to today’s game,’’ says John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, about DiMaggio, “he would not be the same player. In 1969 he was voted baseball’s greatest living player. Today we would find that hilarious, considering that Ted Williams and Willie Mays were alive at the time.”

What makes this re-assessment possible, says author Tony Castro, is the evolution of analytics in baseball, particularly defensive metrics in this case.

“There is this image of the Yankee Clipper sailing so gracefully in the outfield that he never had to dive for a ball,” says Thorn. “But the reality is that his contemporaries recorded more putouts.

“There is a trend toward baseball analytics now and the more you apply them, the more you chip away at the DiMaggio myth,” continued Thorn, elaborating on DiMaggio who would have turned 100 last year. “On his 100th birthday you can still call him an all-time great but he was not the peerless center fielder he was made out to be.”

On the other hand, says Thorn, under sabermetrics, Mickey Mantle “looks great” and possibly closer to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in a different era.

“Their reality is closer to the myth,” says Thorn. “They were all greater players than DiMaggio in my estimation.”

How The Mick Became #7

Remembering Dynasty, Bums, and More with Peter Golenbock and Ralph Tyko who welcome author Tony Castro to the Zone for the first time. Tony wrote DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivalry, Yankee Blood Brothers.

Listen to the interview here.