Saturday, June 6, 2009

that Hemingway quote

The quote goes something like:

"There are only three sports: mountain climbing, bull fighting and car racing. The rest are merely games."

Sounds good. But where the heck does it come from? An article? An interview? Or did he ever say it?

Others have looked for the source and come up empty so far.

Recently I picked up a collection of Hemingway newspaper articles which includes some 1920s stories about bull fighting which he did for the Toronto Daily Star. Bull fighting for Hemingway wasn't a sport, but a tragedy. Obviously for the bull. That got me wondering, again, about the quote.

On the internet a couple attempts to chase the quote down haven't sorted anything out yet.

From Timeless Hemingway the following is found:

Question What is Hemingway's "there are only three sports" quote?

Answer "There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games."

This is one in a long list of quotations mysteriously attributed to Ernest Hemingway. While the general public seem to agree that this is in fact a Hemingway quotation, scholars have some reservations and for good reason. The early Hemingway did not believe that bullfighting was a sport. For him it was a tragedy. See his October 20, 1923 article titled "Bullfighting A Tragedy" reprinted in By-Line: Ernest Hemingway Selected Articles and Dispatches of Four Decades edited by William White. Hemingway reiterates his beliefs regarding the tragedy of bullfighting in his 1932 book, Death in the Afternoon.

In July of 2006, Gerald Roush, a visitor to Timeless Hemingway, provided a possible source for the "three sports" quotation. He cited a story titled "Blood Sport" by Ken Purdy, which originally appeared in the July 27, 1957 edition of the Saturday Evening Post. The story is reprinted in Ken Purdy's Book of Automobiles (1972). Gerald provided a scan of where the quotation appeared and it reads as follows: " 'There are three sports,' she remembered Helmut Ovden saying. 'Bullfighting, motor racing, mountain climbing. All the rest are recreations.' " Gerald noted that the character of Helmut Ovden is modelled after Ernest Hemingway. This could explain why the quote has been so widely attributed to Hemingway over the years.

In May of 2007, Rocky Entriken wrote to Timeless Hemingway with another possible author of the "three sports" quotation:

"As I am told, the quote belongs to Barnaby Conrad, a writer of the same era as Hemingway and a San Francisco raconteur of some note. Mostly he did magazine articles but his books include The Death of Manolete. My source is Dan Gerber, yet another writer of the era."

So maybe Barnaby Conrad wrote it. My local university has a couple of his books: La Brava Fiesta: The Art of Bull Fighting (Houghton Mifflin, 1950, 1953) and How To Fight a Bull (Doubleday, 1968). A quick look through for anything remotely resembling the quote in question couldn't be found.

Conrad repeats Hemingway's thought that bull fighting is not a sport but a tragedy. From La Brava Fiesta:

And two pieces from How to Fight a Bull:

which continues on the next page:

That leaves us with Ken Purdy's short story, "Blood Sport", first published in the Saturday Evening Post back in 1957 and collected in his book Ken Purdy's Book of Automobiles (Playboy, 1972).

I don't know if anyone asked Purdy about the quote. Apparently he took his own life in 1972. Apparently, as with Hemingway, it was a self-inflicted gunshot.

Nothing being satisfactorily resolved here.

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