Ernest Hemingway Look-Alikes Descend on the Hemingway Days Festival

Jordan Riefe

The event's Ernest Hemingway look-alike competition drew roughly 130 white-bearded male contestants.

Roughly 130 white-bearded men descended on Key West, Fla., earlier this month for Hemingway Days, the annual festival honoring Ernest Hemingway, who made the charming tropic enclave his winter home in the 1930s. He wrote some of his most famous novels there, including To Have and Have Not, A Farewell to Arms, and Death in the Afternoon.  

After three rounds of voting by former Hemingway look-alike winners, Wally Collins of Phoenix took the top prize after his sixth attempt, beating out about 20 finalists, including Michael Groover of Savannah, Ga., husband of disgraced celebrity chef Paula Deen. Mounting the stage at Sloppy Joe's (founded by Hemingway’s old drinking buddy Joe Russell), he claimed the prize as his son, Matt Collins, also an entrant, proudly looked on.

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The Hemingway Look-alike Society has given more than $150,000 in scholarship money to students in the Florida Keys, but winners come away with a Sloppy Joe’s gift card, a four-night stay at the Hyatt and the honor of joining the judging panel for next year’s event.

“That’s what this is all about,” finalist James Teele of Melbourne, Fla., told The Hollywood Reporter. “It doesn’t matter if you fish like Hemingway, it doesn’t matter if you sail like Hemingway or anything else, or what you look like. It’s your opinion of the scholarship.”

Other events during the week included a “Running of the Bulls" (with look-alikes pushing man-made bulls through the streets of Key West), a marlin fishing tournament, poetry readings, as well as a short-story competition directed by author and Hemingway granddaughter Lorian Hemingway. The winner, British scholar Lizzy Welby, whose The Breakers” was read aloud Friday night at Casa Antigua, earned $1500 for her efforts.

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Formerly an auto dealer, Antigua House became one of four temporary residences for Hemingway and his second of four wives, Pauline Pfeiffer, when they stopped there in 1928 on their way from Cuba. He purchased a car on order, which hadn’t arrived yet, so the two moved into an upstairs apartment while they waited and gradually fell in love with Key West. They soon moved into a more permanent home at 907 Whitehead Street, a belated wedding present from Augustus Pfeiffer, Pauline’s uncle.

Just a short walk from Sloppy Joe’s are the Green Parrot and Blue Heaven, where Hemingway used to host and referee amateur boxing matches. The 1851 Spanish Colonial is a tourist attraction and home to 50 six-toed felines tracing their lineage back to Hemingway’s original house cat, Snowball. The loft in the carriage house out back was converted to an office where, under the watchful guise of a stuffed antelope head mounted on the wall, Hemingway banged out some of the greatest American novels of the century.

While he seemed to be everywhere in Key West last week, the hell-raising spirit of Hemingway was a little too conspicuous for Destiny, a Mila Kunis look-alike who waits tables at Sloppy Joe’s. She complained that some of the contestants need to keep their hands to themselves. “They think we think it’s cute,” she said, when asked about the groping.

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During the contest’s final round, when look-alikes made their appeals to the judges, one contestant did a parody of a country song and another one in the audience just shook his head when asked his favorite Hemingway quote. But not Teele, who, when asked the same question, grinned from ear to ear and said, “Don’t do what you can do sober when you can do it drunk.”

No doubt Hemingway would have approved of the fraternal carousing, drinking and other festivities, and he might not have minded being misquoted. If he did, he might have responded with an admonishment, “Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”