My Father,the Hemingway Boy Who Became a Woman; When a Drunken Woman Died in Jail Last Week Police Were Stunned to Find 'She' Had Been a 'He' - Son of Literature's Most Red-Blooded Womaniser. So Was His Sexual Torment Caused by Living with the Unbearable Legend of Ernest Hemingway? Guns, Boats, Drink . . . and Nail Varnish 'I'm Glad He Died a Woman'
Wigmore, Barry, The Mail on Sunday (London, England)
Byline: BARRY WIGMORE
The night of September 27 was just another routine shift for policewoman Nelia Real.
Patrolling the streets of Key Biscayne, Florida, she dealt with the usual petty crime of small-town America: a couple of domestic disturbances, a reported break-in, a traffic accident - nothing out of the ordinary.
But then, towards the end of her shift, the car radio directed Officer Real to a street where there was reported to be a pedestrian with no clothes on. A middle-aged woman was stumbling along the pavement stark naked. When Officer Real stopped her car and approached the woman, she slumped to the kerb and began trying to put on a flower patterned thong. She had a pink summer dress draped over her shoulder, was carrying a pair of high-heeled shoes and was very drunk.
Officer Real could get little sense from the woman, so she arrested her for indecent exposure. The woman appeared confused about her identity: when asked for her name, she first said it was Greg, and then that it was Gloria. But if the woman was confused about her first name, she had no hesitation at all over her surname: it was Hemingway.
So began the last days of the extraordinary, troubled and desperately sad life of Gregory Hemingway, son of Ernest, the Nobel prize-winning author and most notorious figure of 20th Century American literature.
Following his arrest, Gregory was given a standard medical examination at the police station - the police had no doubts that 'he' was most definitely a 'she' - formally charged and then remanded to the Miami-Dade women's prison to await a court appearance. Five days later, when officers went to his cell to collect him and take him to court, they found Gregory dead from organ failure brought on by a lifetime of alcoholism. He was 69 years old.
Only then did the authorities realise who 'Gloria' really was.
In America - and in Florida in particular - Gregory Hemingway's father was as renowned for his hunting, drinking and womanising as he was for writing novels such as For Whom The Bell Tolls and A Farewell To Arms. Even the manner of 'Papa' Hemingway's death - he shot himself shortly before his 62nd birthday in 1961, tormented by fears that he was going blind and, worse still, becoming impotent - somehow fulfilled everyone's expectations.
But what he left behind, his human rather than literary legacy, was a hugely dysfunctional family plagued by alcoholism, feuding, drug-addiction and suicides.
All of Papa's flaws were carried on and magnified by his family, and in Gregory, his youngest son, those traits produced the most disturbing problems of all. He claimed to have had electric-shock treatment 98 times for manic depression, he suffered seven nervous breakdowns and he could never escape his alcoholism.
But it was the confusion over his sexual identity which was the most disturbing aspect of his character. He was a transvestite for his entire adult life, and in his declining years - no one knows exactly when - he underwent a sex-change operation.
His bizarre sexual orientation would have been shocking to anyone, but for the daughter from his first marriage, Lorian, the discovery of the truth about her father was devastating.
Born in 1952, she now lives in Seattle, as far away as she can get from the Hemingway family in Florida, and is now estranged from most of them.
'I was in my early 20s when I learned the truth about my father,' she says.
'I was deeply shocked and I couldn't understand it at all. When you are just a child there are signs, but you don't really understand what they might mean. Adult sexuality is a mystery to children. And who would ever think their father enjoyed dressing as a woman and wanted to be one?
'I remember once going fishing with my father when I was just a child. I loved being with him, although he was always pretty remote. …