Ernest Hemingway Taught One of His Many, Many Cats to Drink Whisky

Ernest Hemingway: author, journalist, crazy cat guy

Hemingway’s 1943 letter to his first wife, Hadley Mowrer
Hemingway’s 1943 letter to his first wife, Hadley Mowrer via LettersOfNote

Ernest Hemingway cultivated a tough guy image. He also loved cats. In 1943, while living in Cuba, he wrote a letter to his first wife, Hadley Mowrer, describing the nearly dozen cats that lived with him and how he taught one, Friendless, “to drink with me (Whisky and milk).” The letter is reproduced above, and can be seen in a collection of Hemingway’s letters from the time.

This wasn’t the only letter that showed Hemingway’s love of his cats, and at his old house in Key West, Florida, the cats have taken over—dozens of them, a draw for tourists and a headache for federal regulators trying to keep them in check. Many of Hemingway’s cats were polydactyl—they had extra toes on a paw. (Cats with extra toes are often called “Hemingway cats.”)

A year before he sent the letter above, Hemingway was writing again to Hadley Mowrer and again, he brought up cats. He wrote “that he had not been able to sleep the night before and had recalled a song they had composed for their cat, F. Puss, so many years earlier in Paris,” says Hilary Hemingway in a foreward to the book Hemingway’s Cats. “It went like this,”

A feather kitty’s talent lies / In scratching out the other’s eyes. A feather kitty never dies / Oh immortality.

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