"I'd known him four years when I realized he was a liar. It was shocking. Mr. Josie, who'd run the bar in Key West, came to see him in Havana. He saw Ernest only once because Ernest was writing and then Josie got so drunk he was arrested and put in a straitjacket and he died. Ernest said: 'I couldn't see him because Marty wanted to spend the day on the boat.' It was a lie. I never wanted to go on the boat. Anything uncomfortable he off-loaded with a lie. He lied about everything.”--Martha Gellhorn on ex-husband Ernest Hemingway, quoted in Nicholas Shakespeare, “Martha Gellhorn,” Granta, Summer 1998
It’s hard to say what annoyed her more about Ernest Hemingway—his lying or the fact that his literary career left her own very solid and honorable one dimmed by comparison. After the end of her marriage, when she correctly predicted that the Nobel Prize laureate’s behavior had become so extreme that he would commit suicide, Martha Gellhorn probably could not imagine that she would share a similar fate.
But on this date in 1998, nearly totally blind, her body cancer-ridden, the longtime war correspondent—having braved traveling in combat zones, even surviving rape nearly 10 years before—found that, like her ex-husband, she could no longer go on living, and killed herself.
The ending of her life deserved better, as well as her reputation. She was best remembered for her war reports, from the Spanish Civil War to Vietnam, while her fiction and the play she tried (Love Goes to Press, with friend and fellow reporter Virginia Cowles) has been regarded as largely an interesting curiosity. It was the exact reverse of the husband whose name she could hardly dare to say in later years.
But, like him, she was larger than life—and, in her combination of tomboy and glamor queen, she might have matched him as a larger-than-life figure. I don’t think she would have taken kindly to the order of the billing of the HBO film that came out last year—Hemingway and Gellhorn—but she would have certainly enjoyed the fact that the formidable male actor playing her ex (Clive Owen) was exceeded in star wattage by the actress playing herself (Nicole Kidman).