The Hemingway Look-Alike-Contest in Key West.  An article at the Hemingway Resource Center.



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Hemingway Resource Center>Exclusives>Feature Articles>Karsh Darn It! by Bob Orlin

An Inside Look at the Hemingway Look-Alike-Contest in Key West:  

Did you pack my heavy cable knit wool turtle knit sweater? How about my 50 SPF sun block and bathing suit? Sun block and wool turtle neck can only mean one thing, it�s the third week in July in Key West, and time for the annual Hemingway Day�s Festival and look-alike contest. 

Interestingly, not only did Hemingway leave Key West every year in the summer months to escape the heat, he also wouldn�t have been caught dead in a turtle neck sweater there in July. But every year you�ll see white-bearded, heavy men strutting around in the oppressive heat sporting one while trying to look like the Sloppy Joe�s logo, taken from the famous Yosuf Karsh photo.  Now lets set things straight, Mr. Karsh is innocent of any wrong doing here.  I�m sure he had no idea perfectly intelligent men would ever do such a silly thing.  So there must be, most definitely, a sadistic, diabolical madman loose at Sloppy Joe�s ranking right up there with the Marquee De Sade.   Who else could have thought up such a thing?

The other ironic thing is that Hemingway was neither heavy, nor white-bearded when he lived in Key West. Rather, he was a slender, dark haired man sporting just a mustache, yet whenever a contestant tries for that look, seldom have they impressed the contest judges enough to make the finals.

Hemingway Day�s has been going on for 20 years and I can�t even imagine how many sheep have given up their wool in that time.  In there defense, in the last few years the owners at Sloppy Joe�s finally added air-conditioning. 

And now for my confession: I have been part of this madness for the past eight years, and though I�ve never worn a wool turtle neck, I did purchase one, one year.   During those eight years I�ve tried every look Hemingway ever had.  The first year I was one of those foolish contestants who went for the young Hemingway look, although at the time I had no intention of even entering the contest. My wife and I were in Key West on our honeymoon.  I had always wanted to see the goings on, so we scheduled our wedding around it.   We were sitting in Capt. Tony�s Saloon and had gotten in an argument and she left me there.   At the bar I met a guy from the news media covering the event (his name escapes me now, but he looks like Chevy Chase).  He asked if I was in the contest and I said no, and he said I should be, telling me I looked like a young Hemingway.

After that, I was hooked. In one of my speeches (as part of the contest, you have to say a few words), I said something to the effect that it�s an addiction; each year you want it more, and there is no twelve step program, no halfway house, and it�s impossible to kick it cold turkey, as evidenced by the fact that each year the same people keep coming back.

In the years, since, I've gone for the Africa look, the Pamplona look, the fishermen look and even the fringe vested look Papa adapted in Ketchum Idaho. I�ve parted my hair on the left, the right, and down the center, trimmed my beard and let it grow longer for the woollier look. The different guises, plus the graying of my hair and beard, have gotten me into the finals six years in a row,  but as yet the big prize has eluded me. I did tie one year however, only to lose in the run off.

During this time I�ve made great friends of the other participants, contestants and judges. We share our love for Hemingway, and his love for fun and camaraderie.
And it has also opened up opportunities for me. In my second year of competing I had a one man show of my artwork at the Hemingway House, which lead to my designing the Festival T-shirt (something I�ve done three times since).  I�ve also played Hemingway for the Thomasville furniture people, portrayed Papa and sketched the running of the bulls for ESPN2 on TV last year, hung out with Michael Palin in Pamplona and Key West, made it in his Hemingway Adventure book and PBS series and so much more.  All in all, it�s been a great experience and I can�t wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

I hope after reading this you�ll want to come to Key West next year for Hemingway Day�s and maybe even enter the contest (but not if you make a better Hemingway than I do).  Either way, make sure you look me up and say Hi.





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