The ferocious journalist who gave as good she got: How Martha Gellhorn was Hemingway's toughest contender
20:38 GMT, 29 May 2012
To many, especially those captivated by Nicole Kidman's performance in HBO's two hour epic last night, Martha Gellhorn is best known as Ernest Hemingway's third wife.
But Kidman's effervescent portrayal of the gutsy journalist in Hemingway & Gellhorn did more than provide a worthy counterpart to Clive Owen's Hemingway.
It has thrown a well-deserved spotlight onto the woman who gave the oafish, ego-maniacal Nobel Prize winner a run for his money when it came to brains and bravery.
Cut from the same cloth: Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman as the self-destructive duo Ernest Hemmingway and third wife, Martha Gellhorn, in an HBO movie
A ferociously ambitious blonde with big ideas about people, politics and polemics, Martha Gellhorn was one of the first ever women to work as a war correspondent while also authoring five novels, 14 novellas and two collections of short stories.
She traveled the world extensively to more than 50 countries and was known to go to extreme lengths to get a story even if it involved stowing away on a boat or smuggling herself into enemy territory.
She was also the only wife to leave Hemingway after their stormy and competitive five year marriage came to an explosive end.
The fiery duo both met their match in Sloppy Joe's bar in Key West, Florida in 1936 while Gellhorn was on a Christmas break in the States.
Though at the time Hemingway was still married to Pauline Pfeiffer, it was 27-year-old Gellhorn who went with him to Spain that same year to cover the Civil War for Collier's Weekly and she who spent Christmas with him in Barcelona in 1937.
The two embarked on a heated and self-destructive on-off love affair interrupted as much by her toing and froing from one war zone to another as it was by the fact that Hemingway did not divorce Pfeiffer until 1939.
Happier days: After four years of an erratic on-off love affair Hemmingway and Gellhorn were married but he was always frustrated by her travels abroad to cover the front lines
But though HBO made much of the sexual chemistry between the pair, Gellhorn was not only unfaithful during their relationship with Hemingway, she famously wrote in a letter in 1972 that sex was never of any particular interest to her.
In the missive she confessed: 'I didn't like sex at all … all my life idiotically, I thought sex seemed to matter so desperately to the man who wanted it that to withhold was like withholding bread, an act of selfishness … what has always really absorbed me in life is what is happening outside.
'I accompanied men and was accompanied in action, in the extrovert part of life; I plunged into that; that was something altogether to be shared.
'But not sex; that seemed to be their
delight and all I got was a pleasure of being wanted, I suppose, and
the sort of tenderness (not nearly enough) that a man gives when he is
satisfied. I daresay I was the worst bed partner in five continents.'
The couple were eventually married in 1940 and lived together in Cuba at the famous La Finca Vigia estate but
before long, the unrest in Europe called the passionate journalist back
and she left to report from the Italian front.
relationship had already become a battle of wills and clash of
personalities as Gellhorn continued to disappoint her husband by leaving
their marital bed for the challenges of war reportage.
Whose is bigger The pair made a competitive couple as Gellhorn's own literary and journalistic pursuits often came before her relationship with Hemmingway
Hemingway's frustration with Gellhorn's constant absence was showcased in a mocking pre-wedding contract penned by the whip smart journalist.
In it Gellhorn stated: '[Hemingway] and his business are what matter to me in this life, and that also I recognize that a very fine and sensitive writer cannot be left alone for two months and sixteen days.'
Their marriage, however, reached its breaking point during World War II when after years of bitter arguments, Gellhorn left Hemingway for good.
Ten years later, after reading Hemingway's Across the River and Into the Trees, Gellhorn wrote a letter to a friend in which she angrily lamented the time wasted trying to appease her childish, tantrum-throwing husband.
'I feel quite sick, I cannot describe this to you. Shivering sick. I watch him adoring his image, with such care and such tolerance and such accuracy in detail … I weep for the eight years I spent … worshipping his image with him, and I weep for whatever else I was cheated of due to that time-serving.'
Though this resentment and anger did eventually subside, with age, her famed tough-cookie character continued to permeate future relationships as well as her political writing, often getting her into trouble.
During a string of affairs with high profile men and before a third marriage, Gellhorn adopted an orphan from Italy, but motherhood did not come naturally and later the two would become estranged.
Ruthlessly dedicated to her work to the very end, she put it before everyone and everything else until in 1998, after a long battle against cancer, the journalist took her own life. She was 89.