A. E. Hotchner, 1917-2020

A. E. Hotchner, circa 1938 – from the A. E. Hotchner Papers

It is hard to know where to begin and how to end a blog post summarizing the long and storied life of novelist, playwright, memorialist, biographer and philanthropist A. E. Hotchner, who passed away at age 102 last Saturday at his home at Westport, Connecticut. For a man who accomplished so much, with so many influential people, there is always the danger of leaving something out.

The obituaries that have been published so far, such as in the New York Times (who included “literary bon vivant” in their description of Hotchner), have done a good job hitting the high points. The Los Angeles Times also ran an obit (using the adjective “gadabout”), and many other outlets from around the world carried the AP obit, such as Korea JoongAng Daily and The Scotsman. On Wednesday, National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” re-ran their 1999 interview with Hotchner, which was done on the occasion of Hemingway’s centenary year and the new edition of Hotchner’s memoir/biography, Papa Hemingway.

Hemingway and Hotchner, Gran du Roi, 1949 – from the A. E. Hotchner Papers

Certainly more on Hotchner will be written in the weeks and months and years to come. He may be one of the few biographers whose own life demands its own biography! For now, this sad occasion is a chance to revisit our own tributes to his life and accomplishments, done not too long ago with Mr. Hotchner’s generous involvement.

In 2017, as Hotchner (or, “Hotch,” as he was commonly known) was nearing his 100th birthday, and we were preparing to greatly increase the size and scope of the A. E. Hotchner Papers, Steven Rosenblum, from Washington University, made arrangements to interview Hotch about his life and work.

The video footage from this session came to Special Collections—along with the scripts, scrapbooks, photographs, and other manuscript material we acquired from Hotch that year—with the expectation we would not only archive it but turn it into something we could use then to promote the man and his legacy. Readers of this blog may remember the ensuing series of posts that William Youngblood and I put together, called “Hotch at 100,” which are compiled here.

The posts are in chronological order, for the most part, and include his memories growing up in St. Louis, attending Washington University (with Tennessee Williams), service in the Army Air Corps during World War II (and firing Alan Ladd from a film project for them), meeting and befriending Ernest Hemingway, adapting “The Battler” for television (also For Whom the Bell Tolls and Adventures of a Young Man), Hotchner’s own work for early television, working with Paul Newman and starting Newman’s Own with him, and reflections on the writer’s life.

A. E. Hotchner and Paul Newman celebrating the publication of their second cookbook – from the A. E. Hotchner Papers

Hotch held a lifelong affinity for Wash U, returning numerous times for readings and other events. He began depositing his literary papers in 1967, steadily sent more through the years. On the occasion of his novel, The Amazing Adventures of Aaron Broom, as well as to celebrate his 101st birthday, we hosted an event in June 2018 featuring Hotch speaking remotely to the audience about his life’s adventures. You can listen to that conversation in our “Hotch 101” blog post and learn more about King of the Hill in our “Filmed in St. Louis” blog post from the same time. Also in 2018, we featured Hotch in Olin Library’s grand reopening exhibitions and accompanying “Lasting Legacies” blog series.

Grand Marshall A. E. Hotchner with Chancellor William Danforth and Washington University cheerleaders, Homecoming 1987

Needless to say, we are honored to be so closely tied to A. E. Hotchner, and to be able to help preserve his legacy. We will miss him greatly. Our hearts go out to his surviving family and friends in this difficult time.

About the author

Joel is the curator of the Modern Literature Collection at Washington University in St. Louis. He also curates rare books and manuscripts at WUSTL.