Ernest Hemingway’s “Love Letter” to His “Dearest Kraut,” Marlene Dietrich (1955)


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We think today of Ernest Hem­ing­way as that most styl­is­ti­cal­ly dis­ci­plined of writ­ers, but it seems that, out­side his pub­lished work and espe­cial­ly in his per­son­al cor­re­spon­dence, he could cut pret­ty loose. One par­tic­u­lar­ly vivid exam­ple has returned to pub­lic atten­tion recent­ly by appear­ing for sale on a site called a let­ter from Hem­ing­way to leg­endary singer-actress Mar­lene Diet­rich, dat­ed August 28, 1955. “In the inti­mate, ram­bling and reveal­ing let­ter,” writes the Wall Street Jour­nal’s Jonathan Welsh, “Hem­ing­way pro­fess­es his love for Diet­rich a num­ber of times, though the two are said to have nev­er con­sum­mat­ed the rela­tion­ship.” He also, Welsh notes, “talks about stag­ing one of her per­for­mances, in which he imag­ines her ‘drunk and naked.’ ” The full let­ter, which spares no detail of this elab­o­rate fan­ta­sy, runs as fol­lows:

Dear­est Kraut :

Thanks very much for the good long let­ter with the gen on what you found wrong. I don’t know any­thing about the the­ater but I don’t think it would occur to me, even, to have you intro­duced even to me with strains of La Vie En Rose. Poor peo­ples.

If I were stag­ing it would prob­a­bly have some­thing nov­el like hav­ing you shot onto the stage, drunk, from a self-pro­pelled min­nen­wer­fer which would advance in from the street rolling over the cus­tomers. We would be play­ing “Land of Hope and Glo­ry.” As you land­ed on the stage drunk and naked I would advance from the rear, or from your rear wear­ing evening clothes and would hur­ried­ly strip off my evening clothes to cov­er you reveal­ing the physique of Burt Lan­cast­er Strong­fort and announce that we were sor­ry that we did not know the lady was loaded. All this time the Thir­ty ton S/P/ Mor­tar would be bull­doz­ing the cus­tomers as we break into the Abor­tion Scene from “Lakme.” This is a scene which is real­ly Spine Tin­gling and I have just the spine for it. I play it with a Giant Rub­ber Whale called Cap­tain Ahab and all the time we are work­ing on you with pul­mo­tors and raversed (sic) clean­ers which blow my evening clothes off you. You are foam­ing at the mouth of course to show that we are real­ly act­ing and we bot­tle the foam and sell it to any sur­viv­ing cus­tomers. You are referred to in the con­tract as The Artist and I am just Cap­tain Ahab. For­tu­nate­ly I am crazed and I keep shout­ing “Fire One. Fire Two. Fire Three.” And don’t think we do not fire them. It is then that the Germ of the Mutiny is born in your disheveled brain.

But why should a great Artist-Cap­tain like me invent so many for so few for only air-mail love on Sun­day morn­ing when I should be in church. Only for fun, I guess. Gen­tle­men, crank up your hears­es.

Mar­lene, dar­ling, I write sto­ries but I have no grace for fuck­ing them up for oth­er medi­ums. It was hard enough for me to learn to write to be read by the human eye. I do not know how, nor do I care to know how to write to be read by par­rots, mon­keys, apes, baboons, nor actors.

I love you very much and I nev­er want­ed to get mixed in any busi­ness with you as I wrote you when this thing first was brought up. Nei­ther of us has enough whore blood for that. Not but what I num­ber many splen­did whores amongst my best friends and cer­tain­ly nev­er, I hope, could be accused of anti-whor­eism. Not only that but I was cir­cum­cised as a very ear­ly age.

Hope you have it good in Cal­i­for­nia and Las Vegas. What I hear from the boys is that many peo­ple in La Vegas (sic) or three or four any­way of the mains are over-extend­ed. This is very straight­gen but every­body knows it if I know it although I have not told any­one what I’ve heard and don’t tell you. But watch all mon­ey ends. Some peo­ple would as soon have the pub­lic­i­ty of mak­ing you look bad as of your expect­ed and legit­i­mate suc­cess. But that is the way every­thing is every­where and no crit­i­cism of Neva­da or any­one there. Cut this para­graph out of this let­ter and burn it if you want to keep the rest of the let­ter in case you thought any of it fun­ny. I rely on you as a Kraut offi­cer and gen­tle­men do this.

New Para­graph. I love you very much and wish you luck. Wish me some too. Book is on page 592. This week Thurs­day we start pho­tog­ra­phy on fish­ing. Am in charge of fish­ing etc. and it is going to be dif­fi­cult enough. With a bad back a lit­tle worse. The Artist is not here nat­u­ral­ly. I only wrote the book but must do the work as well and have no stand-in. Up at 0450 knock off at I930. This goes on for I5 days.

I think you could say you and I have earned what­ev­er dough the peo­ple let us keep.

So what. So Mer­dre. I love you as always.


“To him she was ‘my lit­tle Kraut,’ or ‘daugh­ter,’ to her he was sim­ply ‘Papa’ — and it was love at first sight when they met aboard a French ocean lin­er in 1934,” writes The Guardian’s Kate Con­nol­ly of the two icons’ unusu­al rela­tion­ship. “Hem­ing­way and Diet­rich start­ed writ­ing to each oth­er when he was 50 and she was 47, remain­ing in close con­tact until the writer’s sui­cide in 1961. But they nev­er con­sum­mat­ed their love, because of what Hem­ing­way referred to as ‘unsyn­chro­nised pas­sion.’ ” A fan of both Hem­ing­way and Diet­rich could pre­sum­ably desire noth­ing more than one of the orig­i­nal pieces of their cor­re­spon­dence, but this par­tic­u­lar let­ter, with a start­ing price of $35,000, drew not a sin­gle bid — per­haps a sale, like the phys­i­cal expres­sion of the Old Man and the Sea author and “Lili Mar­leen” singer’s love, fat­ed nev­er to hap­pen.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mar­lene Dietrich’s Tem­per­me­n­tal Screen Test for The Blue Angel (and the Com­plete 1930 Film)

Ernest Hem­ing­way to F. Scott Fitzger­ald: “Kiss My Ass”

Ernest Hemingway’s Delu­sion­al Adven­tures in Box­ing: “My Writ­ing is Noth­ing, My Box­ing is Every­thing.”

Ernest Hemingway’s Favorite Ham­burg­er Recipe

Clive Owen & Nicole Kid­man Star in HBO’s Hem­ing­way & Gell­horn: Two Writ­ers, A Mar­riage and a Civ­il War

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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