With Ernest Hemingway’s only play, The Fifth Column, scheduled to be staged in London for the first time in March of next year, I recall the time in 1984 when I met Margaux Hemingway, the twenty-eight-year-old granddaughter of Ernest.
She had a wonderful husky voice and revealed she was very keen to make a jazz record. I saw this as a golden opportunity and did not hesitate to do my best to make her ambition a reality.
The very next weekend I took her to have lunch at Maxim’s in Paris to meet Mike Zwerin, a trombonist who had played with Miles Davis in the 1950s. He was a writer on the Herald Tribune and the author of many jazz books, one of which Quartet had published – La Tristesse de Saint Louis: Swing under the Nazis, the curious story of the protection given by Nazi officers to Jewish jazz musicians in Paris during the Occupation. Mike had the best possible credentials to arrange and produce a disc from a newcomer.
Margaux’s voice impressed him as much as it had me. He proceeded to arrange with all the appropriate contacts a few sessions of voice coaching, with everything set for an early recording to follow. Margaux was ecstatic to think she was really about to make her singing debut. The combination of her famous name with terrific good looks and vocal talent seemed certain to guarantee for her a whole new future.
Unfortunately, Margaux was going through a phase where the spirit was ready to go but the body hung back in a lassitude that was impossible to break out of. She had a recurring drink and drug problem that was not severe in itself but was enough to drain her energies and sap her motivation.
For weeks I kept after her to pull herself together and seize her chance, but although she met my pleas with her habitual charm, she never managed to muster the willpower to shake herself free of her demons.
She died a few years later in tragic circumstances, having achieved so little. The gods blessed her with many gifts but failed to grant her the inner strength to put them to good use.
It had been a life wasted, with no element of fulfilment.