MARK BURNETT (creator, E.P.): Rita had read some of Ernest’s work and mentioned how authentic she thought it was. Of course, I’m like, yeah, let’s reach out.
RITA DOMENICO (Mr. Burnett’s assistant): I was skimming some of his stuff for a book club I was thinking of joining and it struck me as being just super authentic. Exactly the kind of fresh voice Mark is always looking for.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY (host): Max [Perkins, Hemingway’s agent] was on the line long distance. He was excited. I recalled my boyhood. There was a strong wind and soon the mist would be gone from the valley.
CHERYL WASHINGTON (network executive): Burnett came in and worked the room that way he does. We were sold… bought ten episodes right there. Told him, “Go make it, Mark.”
RITA DOMENICO: He came back from the pitch firing on all cylinders. We were crewing up before lunch and scheduled to shoot the first episode in two weeks.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: I woke at dawn and left Mary in bed. We’d had a row the night before. I dressed quickly and breakfasted on hard bread and a mug of bitter coffee. I walked to the river thinking that things could be different.
MARK BURNETT: The first week was fantastic. Ernest really took to it — a total natural in front of the camera. Charming. I’m already thinking season two, but then…[trails off].
AMANDA WILKE (production assistant): We’re shooting [episode] 104 and Mr. Hemingway’s telling people to punch him in the stomach, you know, to show how strong he is? He smelled like my dad. You know that dad smell?
JERRY QUINN (camera operator): I didn’t want to hit him, he was just making everyone really uncomfortable. Yelling stuff like “Isn’t there a real man among you?” He’s got his pants hiked up to his nipples and he’s down to a tank top, which for him was like end-stage drunk for the day. I’m all, okay, let’s get it over with. I thought he could take it.
MARY HEMINGWAY (former spouse): What did I feel when that cameraman hit Ernest? I’ll tell you — it was pure elation. Go ahead and print that. I want you to. Pure elation.
CHERYL WASHINGTON: I was talking with Mark about potential co-hosts. Someone to lighten things up. Maybe a RuPaul type? Ernest was drinking, being abusive to the crew. Mark had the P.A.s bring him some coffee. Then the camera guy just hauls off and hits him in the gut. He’s screaming all high-pitched like a small animal.
AMANDA WILKE: Later, when we’re ready to shoot, he’s still clutching his stomach, moaning, but insisting he’s fine. As soon as we’re rolling he falls in the water, which is just, where they’re shooting, like three feet deep tops. He’s flailing around and we’re trying to get him out, but it’s not happening. Mark’s yelling at him to stand up. Jerry never cuts or anything. Have you seen the footage? Oh, my god. You have to. It’s on YouTube.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: The water was cool and good. I showed those bastards what I was made of. I was only sore because I had a cheese sandwich wrapped in paper in the pocket of my vest and it was ruined. Geese flew small white scars across the sky.
MARK BURNETT: Another thing? He was always bringing his drinking buddies around, insisting we have them on as “guest stars.” Like the whole production apparatus, like it’s his private entertaining thing. Parlor. Entertaining parlor.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: One day Roberto came down from the village. He is one of the only good men I’ve ever met. He’d been a boxer and had that air to him still. We were drinking and waiting for fish and he called me a bastard. But I couldn’t blame him for his temper. His penis had been shot off in the war.
ISABEL MUÑOZ (editor): Oh, that one. Let me uhh [refers to transcript], yeah, here it is. This is Jerry: “Jesus! Mark! He’s got a gun!” Mark replies: “Cut! Shut it down. Fucking cut, CUT! NO!”
CHERYL WASHINGTON: We were getting worried after the first six episodes aired. The numbers just weren’t there and Ernest was off the rails.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: I kept a jug of beer in the boat and in between takes I would refresh myself from it. I’d offer some to the girls who were working. I don’t suppose you’ve interviewed Mary, have you? Well, she’s a lying bitch.
MARY HEMINGWAY: I knew he was smooth-talking those girls. Not that he could do much about it, but a woman has to have self-respect. God dammit, do you bastards understand that? I’ve still got my self-respect.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: I don’t know why she stayed as long as she did. There was always something of the masochist in her. But for all our quarreling, she’d been a good woman when we met.
MARK BURNETT: God, the one with that Harry guy was a fiasco. Mary was on set, drunk and laughing her ass off at everything. Ernest can’t get through a single take. He’s just glaring at her from the boat. Total shit show.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: Harry’s penis had also been shot off. We were holding our fishing poles and he began to weep. I told him to shut his mouth but then I wept too. My reel had belonged to my father and the brass was worn to a fine luster. It was all a damn shame. But we had cold beer and we drank it. I told myself that fishing was good. Trout is a good fish. It brings its own sport to the act but his stakes are always higher than yours.
HARRY B. (guest star): That Burnett had the soft hands of a boy untested by war. What did he know about how real men drank and fished and loved? He was hollering some nonsense, red in the face like a true son of a bitch. Didn’t he feel any shame, behaving that way in front of women?
JERRY QUINN: Mrs. Hemingway came up and asked me to go to Spain with her. Said this was no kind of life for a real woman. I’m like, Are you serious, lady? With your husband right there crying? She said she was going to get drunk. Walked right out.
MARY HEMINGWAY: I left him before they wrapped the season.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: That night I sat alone drinking. When the oil in the lamp ran out I drank in the dark.
MARK BURNETT: Look, sometimes it’s just not in the stars. You go into things with the best of intentions, but you can’t control everything. It was no surprise when the call came. But for a little while there… [trails off]
MAXWELL PERKINS: Would I call it a disaster? Let me put it this way: Bill [Faulkner] is out there writing Hollywood scripts. Are they all good? Are they all art? Well, for every The Big Sleep there are 8 or 9 Submarine Patrols. That answer your question?
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: I came back to the river a few years later. It was winter this time. There was a crew filming a cooking show where we skated on the sloughs when they froze, and where we hunted snipe in the spring was all podcasters with their damn microphones, and in the town, our favorite bar had been turned into a set for a program about bars. So, I was glad they canceled us when they did. Because when you like to fish you have to move often and always farther out and it doesn’t make any difference what they do when you are gone.