In J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield fumes over his older brother D.B. selling out in Hollywood, “prostituting” himself by shilling scripts—like Barton Fink making wrestling pictures—and buying a Jaguar with the profits instead of sticking to his literary-minded fiction.
Today, if Holden got word of the signature lifestyle bling that the foundations of authors such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Hunter S. Thompson are shilling, he might have torched Pencey Prep and murdered “old Stradlater.” Or, like “Papa” Hemingway, simply blown his brains out.
A would-be “Talented Mr. Hemingway” could virtually become a doppelgänger of the author with the trove of merchandise the eight-year-old Ernest Hemingway Collection offers on its e-commerce site. It includes a bounty of products in all sorts of categories—“culinary,” “eyewear,” “spirits,” “fishing,” “skin care,” and fragrances.
Like many other product captions on the shopping site, a descriptor for a Hemingway-inspired cologne could use the Maxwell Perkins touch: “While the grapefruit note persist throughout it quickly gives way to a fusion of deep bourbon, cedar wood, and rich Corinthian Leather.… You can’t help but believe this must have been the aroma that permeated the air and furniture of Hemingway’s study.”
To some, it reeks of profiteering during a lull in creative content. The waters have been dry for more than a decade on any Hemingway fiction-to-film adaptations; the most recent attempt was 2010’s abysmally reviewed The Garden of Eden. Director Paula Ortiz’s version of one of the author’s most critically scoured books, Across the River and into the Trees, wrapped filming in early 2021, but the project is still stuck in the editing suite.
In 2020, the Gersh Agency signed a content deal with the author’s estate, suggesting that more Hemingway-related digital, TV, and film content will be developed in the near future. But until those checks come in, at least people are still buying perfume.
Runner-up to Hemingway’s memorabilia is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s line of lifestyle products, courtesy of scottandzelda.com. Though Fitzgerald barely stayed in one home long enough to clean the sheets, the site sells “luxurious bedding collections inspired by the Roaring ’20s with a spritz of modernist deco design.”
“You can’t help but believe this must have been the aroma that permeated the air and furniture of Hemingway’s study.”
Fitzgerald fans can also book Scotty-themed rooms at the Ritz-Carlton in Paris and the Plaza Hotel in New York, where he frequented the bar and hotel rooftop. (For overnight stays, he favored the Biltmore, by Grand Central Terminal.)
In either setup, a Gatsby fan can scroll their ramblings on a Montblanc Writers Edition pen. Note that “the shimmering white barrel forms a striking contrast to the black precious resin cap, which is decorated by the signature of F. Scott Fitzgerald.”
Then there is the Gonzo Store, Hunter S. Thompson’s memorabilia site, based in his hometown of Woody Creek, Colorado, and established in 2003. The late Thompson, who killed himself in 2005, set up the shop with wife Anita, who oversees it today.
Besides the products, Thompson’s actual writing cabin can be rented if applicants are recommended by previous lodgers, presumably to avoid “gonzo” room trashing. The focal point of the woody two-bedroom space is a portrait of the author glaring at the master bed.
For guests with writer’s block, a 55-inch large-screen TV has been placed near a peacock pen adjacent to the cabin for a “constant view of the birds in their own habitat.” Flannery O’Connor would be envious. (Peruvian pink not included.)
On the shopping site, there are still some black “hot pants” available, the word GONZO emblazoned on the butt cheeks.
Meanwhile, at Faulkner House Books in the French Quarter of New Orleans, such blatant commercialism is comparatively discreet. “You have to physically come to our shop—not buy [merchandise] online,” says co-owner Garner Robinson. Faulkner House Books is located in the namesake author’s former home, where he wrote the novel Soldiers’ Pay.
Accordingly, Robinson sells a Faulkner-emblem tote and a Soldiers’ Pay key chain as well as rare and new editions of his books. “This is a tiny postage stamp of a bookstore, old-school, only about books. We aren’t changing anything,” says Robinson.
Faulkner wrote scripts in Hollywood from 1932 to 1954, most notably The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not, and was disparaged by some as a sellout.
“I struggle to think what Faulkner merchandise we might dream up,” says Robinson. “His persona, unlike Hemingway and Fitzgerald, never usurped his body of work. Yoknapatawpha Pipe Tobacco? A DNA test for incest and miscegenation?”
At least one estate is resisting the temptation to cash in. Although Holden Caulfield was a purposefully unreliable narrator—no D.B., he—J. D. Salinger stuck to his word. There is not much coming out of New Hampshire, and to this day there’s never even been a movie made of any of his major works. But that’s O.K. There are plenty of things to remember him by.
Steve Garbarino, the former editor in chief of BlackBook magazine, began his career as a staff writer for The Times-Picayune. Once again based in New Orleans, he now contributes to The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, and The New York Times, and is the author of A Fitzgerald Companion