Published: 12:00 AM, Thu January, 31 2019
By KRISTEN DE GROOT
When the 1958 film adaptation of “The Old Man and the Sea” hit theaters, Ernest Hemingway happened to be in New York City to watch the World Series and invited his close friend A.E. Hotchner to go see the movie with him.
“About 12 or 13 minutes after we sat down, he turns to me and says, ‘Ready to go?”’ Hotchner said in a recent interview at his Connecticut home. The 101-year-old author and playwright recalls them walking out and taking off down the sidewalk, Hemingway ranting the whole time that the star Spencer Tracy was totally miscast, that he looked like a fat, rich actor trying to play a fisherman.
“He said, ‘You know, you write a book that you really like and then they do something like that to it,” Hotchner said.
Later that night, sitting at a restaurant, Hemingway urged Hotchner to do his own adaptation someday. Hotchner said he promised he would try.
More than 60 years later, Hotchner has kept his word. His stage adaptation of “The Old Man and the Sea,” a brief novel published in 1952 and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, premieres Friday at the new Point Park University Playhouse in downtown Pittsburgh and runs through Feb. 17.
“It wasn’t until I became an old man myself that I really got to a version that could transport itself beyond the book,” he said.
Hotchner should be the perfect candidate to take the novel to the stage: he fished with Hemingway in Cuba, went to bullfights with him in Spain, hunted with him in Idaho and wrote the 1966 best-selling biography “Papa Hemingway.”
He also helped edit Hemingway’s bullfighting classic “The Dangerous Summer.” He often served as his agent and adapted several stories for television, including “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “The Killers” and “The Battler.” Hotchner tried maybe 10 times over the years to adapt “Old Man” to the stage, starting drafts only to scrap them, until his latest effort.
The play stars Tony Award-winning actor Anthony Crivello as Santiago, the aging fisherman, David Cabot as Hemingway and Gabriel Florentino as the boy, Manolin.