In recent days, you’ve likely seen the letter that Scott Fitzgerald purportedly wrote in 1920, describing his days of quarantine in the South of France during the Spanish Influenza pandemic. The letter, which is actually a parody, was written by Nick Farriella for the humor web site McSweeney’s. More on the letter can be found here:
In the letter, Fitzgerald complained that his friend Ernest Hemingway was something of a “denier” about the flu, and that Hemingway refused to stop visiting his favorite bars during the crisis. When Scot chided him about his selfishness, Hemingway punched him in the stomach – and he didn’t even have the decency to wash his hands!
The letter, of course, is fiction, but sometimes truth is even more interesting than fiction. You see, there actually was a situation involving Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the South of France, but it happened six years later, in 1926.
You see, both Hemingway and Fitzgerald were good friends with an amazing couple by the name of Sara and Gerald Murphy. To say that they were merely wealthy American socialites would sell them far short. Gerald decided to step away from his position with luxury goods manufacturer Mark Cross, and devoted his time to the study of art, and produced a number of acclaimed paintings throughout the 1920s. Sara was an amazing hostess, and their dinner parties, both in Paris and at their summer home, Villa America in Cap d’Antibes, were legendary. They were perhaps best known for the company they kept, as they surrounded themselves with some of the most compelling figures of the day, from Hemingway to Scott and Zelda, John Dos Passos, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Archibald and Ada MacLeish, the list goes on.
Shown above are Gerald and Sara Murphy, Pauline Pfieffer, Hadley and Ernest Hemingway, July, 1926, during the Fiesta of San Fermin in Pamplona
In the summer of 1926, Ernest and Hadley Hemingway and their toddler son Jack were invited to join the Murphys for an extended visit at Villa America. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Archibald and Ada MacLeish had rented nearby villas. Ernest had was actually in Madrid, finishing the final draft of what would become his first true novel, The Sun Also Rises. He arranged to travel by train to meet Hadley and Jack, aka Bumby, in Cap d’Antibes. Unfortunately, Jack came down with whooping cough, and had to be quarantined. In the words of Hadley:
“I remember once we went down to visit Gerald and Sara Murphy at Antibes – they had just discovered Ernest and were crazy about him and asked us down with our son, Jack, to play with their children. We stayed in an awfully cute little guest house they had, but Jack got the whooping cough. He was very small and very cute, but the whooping cough scared the Murphys, who had three children, and they were very, very particular about the least germ. So, though perfectly wonderful hosts, they said they couldn’t let us stay, because we wouldn’t be able to keep the children apart. At that point Scott Fitzgerald came forward. He had a villa at Juan-les-Pins, just down the beach, and Scott, just out of the goodness of his heart, gave us his villa. He said that he had another villa that he was going to move into shortly when the rental of the one we took was over. So he moved ahead of time and gave us this place.”
A typical day in the South of France with the Murphys
As an aside, in recent days I’m sure we all have our stories to tell about how we’ve managed to socialize with our friends, while still keeping a safe distance. It was no different for the folks in Cap d’Antibes that summer. I mean, can you imagine the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald letting something like a quarantine keep them from enjoying happy hour? No, indeed. Again, back to Hadley, who recalled how they managed:
“And all of them would come over (at) yardarm time and sit in their cars outside an iron grille fence and we would be up on this little, tiny porch, and we’d all have drinks together, at a respectable distance, of course. And each empty bottle was put on a spike on the fence, and we really decorated the place in the course of a couple of weeks.”[i]
But while the Murphys were intent on keeping their distance from the Hemingways, one other member of the party had different intentions. That would be a young Vogue magazine editor named Pauline Pfeiffer. She met Ernest and Hadley at a small gathering at the Paris apartment of Harold Loeb and Kitty Cannell in March of 1925 to celebrate the fact that both Hemingway’s short story collection In Our Time and Loeb’s novel Doodab were to be published by New York based Boni & Liveright. As an aside, the following year, Hemingway would publish The Sun Also Rises, and would base two rather unflattering characters on Loeb and Cannell, much to their chagrin. But that’s another story.
Shown above, some of the people on whom Hemingway based his characters in The Sun Also Rises, that’s Harold Loeb in the background with the glasses. Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
In the weeks that followed that fateful meeting at Loeb’s apartment, Pauline appeared to Hemingway’s friend Bill Smith “to be working hard to capture Ernest’s attention.”[ii] She accompanied Ernest and Hadley to Schruns, Austria on a ski holiday the following Christmas, and joined the Hemingways and Murphys at the Fiesta of San Fermin in Pamplona in July of 1926. By that time Ernest and Pauline’s friendship had developed into a full-blown affair. By May of 1927, Ernest and Hadley would be divorced, and Pauline would be the new Mrs. Ernest Hemingway. But let’s get back to Cap d’Antibes and that happy hour, shall we?
Gerald Murphy was about as serious a home bartender as they came. According to son-in-law William Donnelly:
“The Murphy cocktail hour was a unique production. As the hour approached, Sara would place on the bar small Steuben pitchers containing orange, lemon, and lime juice, always fresh. There would be mint, orange slices, lemon twists, onions, olives, and so on. Gerald would take the orders. This man didn’t mix drinks, he performed an office. He looked like a chemist or magician, measuring, mixing, holding up to the light, garnishing, and, finally, serving with a flourish. He was absolutely delighted when someone ordered a complicated drink that called for several ingredients. His opinion of drinking was that he loved drinking but disliked drunks. He had mixed a batch of drinks one evening for our friend Max N. Edwards, then an assistant secretary of the interior. As they watched the sunset from my terrace, Gerald remarked that ‘this drink has gone right to my head, which is just what I intended it to do.’”[iii]
Now, as for that quarantine situation, it seems that Pauline had had whooping cough as a child, so she wasn’t afraid of catching it again. So, it seemed natural for her to “share the Hemingways’ quarantine until it was time to go to Pamplona”[iv] in early July. Soon enough, the Fitzgeralds’ lease on the Villa Paquita had ended, so Ernest, Hadley and Pauline rented two rooms at the Hôtel de la Pinède in Juan-les-Pins.
“It was near the beach and had a small garden where the ménage a trois took most of their meals. Each morning they spent on the beach, swimming and taking the sun. After lunch in the garden and a long siesta, they took long bicycle rides along the Golfe de Juan, returning at yardarm time with the Murphys, the MacLeishes, and the Fitzgeralds. Bumby and Madame Rohrbach (his nanny) lived in a small bungalow nearby, walking among the pines and playing on the rocks. But at the hotel there were three of everything: breakfast trays, bicycles, bathing suits drying on the line – and worst of all two women in love with the same man. Hadley was at some pains to pretend that nothing was amiss.”[v]
Scott, Zelda and Scottie in their Paris apartment, circa mid-1920s
So what might the Murphys have been serving at happy hour during those days of quarantine? One possibility was a Murphy concoction named the Villa America Special, which was more or less a variation on the Sidecar, with some unidentified liqueur used as the sweetener. Perhaps the ever-witty Murphy might have been clever enough to call it the “Stay the F*** Inside Car,” to encourage the Hemingways to stay within the quarantine boundary fence. But the drink might have been another Murphy invention known as the “Juice of a Few Flowers,” which in later years became known as the Murphys’ “House Cocktail.”
Murphy was often secretive about what went into his cocktails; if asked, he was likely to reply, “just the juice of a few flowers.[i]” Among Murphy’s friends was the playwright Philip Barry, author of The Philadelphia Story, the 1939 Broadway sensation that was immortalized on screen in 1940 by Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart. Barry saw fit to work Murphy’s trademark expression into the plot. In one scene, after a night of over-imbibing with Stewart, Hepburn awakened with a massive hangover. Grant fixed her a Stinger (white crème de menthe and brandy) as a hangover remedy. When she asked what’s in it, Grant suavely replied, “Just the juice of a few flowers. It’s a type of stinger. Removes the sting.[ii]”
I’m reading in recent days that some hospitals are giving coronavirus patients megadoses of Vitamin C. With that in mind, I heartily recommend the Juice of a Few Flowers, as it’s packed with not one but four citrus juices. Without further ado I offer you the recipe for The Juice of a Few Flowers. Here’s how:
Juice of a Few Flowers
1 oz London dry gin
1 oz orange juice
1 oz grapefruit juice
½ oz lime juice
½ oz lemon juice
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass that has been rimmed with coarse sugar.
Cheers, and stay safe! To your health!
[i] Amanda Vaill Stewart, Everybody Was So Young (New York: Broadway Books, 1998), 162
[i] Alfred G. Aronowitz and Peter Hamill, Ernest Hemingway – The Life and Death of a Man (New York: Lancer Books, Inc., 1961), p 164
[ii] Carlos Baker, Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1969), 144.
[iii] William M. Donnelly, foreword to Sarah and Gerald – Villa America and After, Honoria Murphy Donnelly with Richard Billings (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982), xv
[iv] Id, at 171.
[v] Carlos Baker, Ernest Hemingway – A Life Story (New York: Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1969), 171