HEMINGWAY & KNAPP
THE NEVER ENDING
and forever changing
STORY & SONG
THE BIG FAT SLOB
The fight lasted probably for half a minute, what led up to it probably took half a day, and for well over a half a century (69 years) the story of it and it's variations have hung around in literary circles and now with the growth of the internet seems to have taken on new life. I've been aware of the story for 3 or 4 years, studied both sides and probably know as much as anyone who was actually standing on the dock in Alice Town, Bimini that spring night of 1935. I've even watched Nat Saunders who did see the fight and wrote the song about it, change his tune over the years (actually the lyrics ) but Nat probably can't even remember his original lyric even though he probably sang it every night for two thirds of his life.
And so as we head into the 52nd anniversary of Joseph F. Knapp's death (October 23, 1952) aka Dodi or Doty Knapp and are 43 years past the death (July 2,1961) of Pappa Ernest Hemingway, the man that is keeping it alive, I have recently become aware of yet "another version" of The Big Fat Slob caper.
But what sets this one apart from most of the others that are full of errors, and why I feel I have to single it out for some fact checking is ...it comes from a Hemingway. Hilary Hemingway , Ernest's niece. And so unlike the mini-paragraphs that are mostly used to sell tourism in Bimini, this one could be construed to be fairly factual. I haven't discussed it with Hilary as to how she came upon it, ( It reads like it was passed on through her family) nor do I use it here to dispute the facts of any other stories she has written in her nicely produced book "Hemingway In Cuba" by Hilary Hemingway and Carlene Brennen published by Rugged Land 2003,
I came to this story only because I was researching the other side of it. When I first called Ashley Saunders (Nat Saunders nephew) and author of the definitive History of Bimini book in 2001 , he was surprised that anyone was interested in Joseph Knapp! After all it's Hemingway that sells the tickets ..... and where the mystique is. I also surprised the curator of the Bimini Museum Sir Michael Checkley that I was inquiring into the Knapp side. Sir Michael promised me an early recording of Big Fat Slob several years ago but I guess he couldn't find it. The version on my website was recorded in 2002 and Nat was either in his late 80's or early 90's...no one seems to know how old he really is.
Not that I'm taking any sides here, I just wanted to know what really happened. Between reading Hemingway's letter to his editor about it in the Carlos Baker book, speaking at length with Ashley Saunders, studying Nat Saunders lyrics as they changed over the years, and probably most definitively reading Ben Finney's eyewitness account of the fight (he was aboard the Pilar with Ernest that night) and that he put in his no agenda book "Feet First" 33 years ago, I think I have most of my facts straight and from studying the life of Knapp for four years I believe my theory is credible. And so with that allow me to lay out a few of the indisputable facts before you read this latest version. For more about what I have found over the years it you can click on the links that will follow Hilary's version.
1: Joseph F. Knapp was NOT a "wealthy publisher"....He was the VERY WEALTHY son of one. He had no control over what his father Joseph P. Knapp would or would not do to Hemingway's writing career when and if he ever heard about what happened between his son and Hemingway.
2: Joseph F. Knapp had retired in 1929 at age 37 from his fathers lithograph company. He was in the printing end of the business and never published ANYTHING.
3: Joseph F. Knapp was probably very drunk when he got into the fight with Ernest, but so was Ernest... and the point is?....
4: Keep this in mind when you read Hilary's version. On the night of the fight, Knapp's yacht The Storm King was tied up Stern to Stern with Hemingway's boat The Pilar. That afternoon both were involved in a fishing tournament. Many of the comments that Ms, Hemingway has worked into her "dockside dialogue" were probably passed on much earlier that day. Ben Finney's account and my phone conversation with Ashley Saunders support my theory.
5: McCall's magazine is the most cited magazine that was supposedly owned by Knapp...They never owned McCall's. They did own Colliers, American, Farm & Fireside, Mentor, and Womans Home Companion. About 10 million Knapp magazines were in monthly circulation when the fight happened, but their name was not on any of them.
6: Hemingway was hired by Colliers to be a war correspondent. Joseph P. Knapp ALWAYS was a hands off owner of his magazine empire when it came to editorial matters.