The last black days of writer Ernest Hemingway's turbulent life is the subject of a one-man show being performed by Ed Metzger at 8 p.m. Friday in Shriver Hall on the Johns Hopkins University campus.
In "Hemingway: On the Edge" Metzger portrays the hard-drinking, womanizing, blood sportsman who seemed to embody the all-American macho male both in his own life and in his works.
One of the greatest literary figures America has ever produced, Hemingway wrote such priceless works as "The Sun Also Rises," "A Farewell To Arms," "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "The Old Man and the Sea." The author was also a World War II hero, proud father of three sons, and winner of Nobel and Pulitzer prizes.
"Hemingway had it all. Yet, in 1961 at age 61, just as his grandfather and father had done before him, he raised a shotgun to his head and blew himself away," said Metzger in a recent telephone interview.
"He was in poor health, an alcoholic, and in a severe mental depression," said Metzger, who spent two years researching his project and two years writing the script. "He had these dark urges . . . the fear of passing along what he felt were suicide genes to his sons."
Metzger's interpretation reveals a lot of little-known facts about the writer. In the first act, Hemingway is preparing to leave his beloved Havana where the Cuban revolution is fermenting. In the second act, the failing author is depicted in his Ketchum, Idaho, home.
TC His mind wrestles with suicidal tendencies and the painful memory of a sick, sadistic mother who kept him in dresses and curls until he was 8 years old.
"He hated his mother," said Metzger. "In later years he became incensed when someone would suggest he was a latent homosexual because of that miserable experience."
But, according to Metzger, Hemingway was really a tragic figure underneath all the hate. "He never had love as a child and that warped him," he said. "He certainly flirted with death.
"He lived on the edge . . . the adventurer shooting animals for trophies, the bull fights, the heavy drinking, the women (he had four wives). Swaggering with bravado and braggadocio he thrived in the celebrity limelight.
"Then it all slipped away. He couldn't write anymore. The shock therapy he underwent for treatment of his alcoholism destroyed his memories, the only thing he had left going for him."
A wild, undisciplined man in personal lifestyle, Hemingway drank a fifth of whiskey every morning and wrote in longhand from 5 a.m. to noon standing at a podium. "Then he would go fishing, come back and drink another fifth," said Metzger. "He produced 450 words a day despite all the booze.
"His system was professional and methodical, but when he put down the pen he was a holy terror."
Metzger, 52, a noted character actor who has his roots in New York but who now conducts a bi-coastal acting career from Los Angeles, is usually cast on television and in movies as a heavy or bad guy.
He has appeared in episodes of "Hill Street Blues," "St. Elsewhere," "Kojak" and "Moonlighting" and made a number of guest appearances on the "Merv Griffin" and "Today" shows.
Film credits include "Car Wash," "Reflections in a Golden Eye" and "Dog Day Afternoon." On Broadway, Metzger was featured in "Arturo UI" with Al Pacino, in "Uncle Vanya," "Brecht on Brecht," "The Bear" and other notable productions.
Currently Metzger has a major supporting role in a pilot for a new cop series for NBC. "If 'Cop Rock' doesn't make it, I think we have a good chance as a replacement," said Metzger.
For 10 years the actor has been touring with his other one-man play, "Albert Einstein: The Practical Bohemian," which he also wrote.
He is now alternating that piece with the Hemingway show, performing one-night stands across the country from September May.
"Einstein was a brilliant, noble, gentle person even though his scientific discoveries led to the development of the nuclear bomb," said Metzger. "But I wanted to do a more flamboyant type of character. Hemingway seemed perfect . . . the more I learned about him the more I wanted to expose the man, the mystique.
"Every word he wrote is a picture," said the admiring actor who has reread the writer's entire works. "He lived life and wrote about it and left a wonderful legacy."
Tickets are $12 for orchestra seats and $10 for balcony seats. Student and senior citizen rates available. For reservations and further information, call the Johns Hopkins University Office of Special Events at 338-7157.