Obituaries

A.E. Hotchner, author with a gift for famous friendships, dies at 102

WASHINGTON — In December 1980, writer A.E. Hotchner mixed up a batch of salad dressing with his Connecticut neighbor — actor Paul Newman — to give away to friends at Christmas. When it proved to be a hit, they decided almost as a lark to go into business, offering the salad dressing as the first product from a company they called Newman’s Own.

They designated all of the profits for charitable causes, an amount that has surpassed $500 million since they launched the company in 1982.

‘‘The friendship was the whole key,’’ Mr. Hotchner told The New York Times about his connection with Newman. ‘‘It would have never happened without it. He’s as good a friend as I’ve got.’’

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A gift for friendship may have been the defining characteristic of Mr. Hotchner, who had a long and eclectic career as a lawyer, magazine editor, playwright, and the author of more than 20 books. He was 102 when he died Feb. 15 at his home in Westport, Conn.

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The death was confirmed by his son, Timothy Hotchner, who declined to specify a cause.

In addition to Newman and the actor’s wife, Joanne Woodward, Mr. Hotchner had enduring friendships with writers Dorothy Parker and George Plimpton and actress-singer Doris Day. But he was perhaps best known for his long association with author Ernest Hemingway, which he chronicled in a best-selling 1966 memoir, ‘‘Papa Hemingway.’’

He met Hemingway in 1948 while working as an editor for Cosmopolitan magazine, which was a general-interest publication before it became known as a women’s lifestyle magazine. Cosmopolitan dispatched Mr. Hotchner to Cuba, where Hemingway was living, to persuade him to write an essay on ‘‘the future of literature.’’

Hemingway, then 48, was known for leading a life of action and was the beau ideal for countless young men of a literary bent, including Mr. Hotchner.

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‘‘I had a worshipful awe of Hemingway that bordered on the fearful,’’ he wrote in a 1984 memoir, ‘‘Choice People.’’ He sent a note to the writer, expecting to be turned down.

The next day, he received a phone call at his hotel: ‘‘This Hotchner?’’

‘‘Yes.’’

‘‘Dr. Hemingway here.’’

They met at Hemingway’s favorite bar, the Floridita, where they knocked back several Papa dobles — double-strength daiquiris. The next day, they went fishing on Hemingway’s yacht, the Pilar, and a lasting friendship was forged.

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Instead of the article about the future of literature, Hemingway wrote a novel, ‘‘Across the River and Into the Trees,’’ which Mr. Hotchner edited and excerpted for Cosmopolitan before it was published as a book.

Over a period of 13 years, he often visited Hemingway at his homes near Havana and in Ketchum, Idaho, and traveled with him to New York, Venice, Paris, and Madrid. Hemingway wrote ‘‘The Old Man and the Sea’’ during those years and, in 1954, received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

‘‘I knew him better than I knew my father,’’ Mr. Hotchner told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1995. ‘‘Saw a lot more of him than I did of my brother. . . . He was certainly my best friend and co-adventurer.’’

Borrowing a phrase casually uttered by Hemingway, Mr. Hotchner came up with the title of the author’s posthumously published memoir of Paris in the 1920s: ‘‘A Moveable Feast.’’ He edited one of Hemingway’s final major works, ‘‘The Dangerous Summer,’’ about bullfighting, and adapted several of his short stories for television. (He met Newman in 1955 when the little-known actor replaced James Dean as the lead in a TV production of Hemingway’s ‘‘The Battler.’’ Dean had died in an auto accident two weeks before the live telecast.)

The conversations Mr. Hotchner had with Hemingway — spoken ‘‘in that special way of his that made the words come to you through a corridor of intimacy’’ — formed the basis of ‘‘Papa Hemingway,’’ which was praised as one of the most revealing portraits of the author.

Critic Edmund Fuller, writing in The Wall Street Journal, pronounced the book ‘‘remarkable’’ and said it ‘‘makes Hemingway live for us as nothing else has done.’’

In the book’s final chapter, Mr. Hotchner noted the deterioration of Hemingway’s physical and mental state, culminating in his suicide in 1961. Hemingway had been hospitalized for depression and for having suicidal tendencies, but his widow, Mary Welsh Hemingway, maintained the pretense that he died accidentally while cleaning a shotgun.

Five years later, when Mr. Hotchner’s book was about to be published, he showed advance galleys to Mary Hemingway, who denounced his account as a ‘‘shameless penetration into my private life and the usurpation of it for money.’’

Mr. Hotchner acceded to some of her demands to change passages in the book, but he refused to alter the chapters about Hemingway’s last months.

(Among other things, Hemingway had a seemingly paranoid fear of being spied on by the FBI. Years later, FBI documents confirmed that the author had been under surveillance for decades.)

In an effort to halt publication of the book, Mary Hemingway sued Mr. Hotchner on the grounds that her husband’s conversations and letters were the intellectual property of the Hemingway estate. Courts rejected those claims, ruling that conversations could not be copyrighted.

Mr. Hotchner believed the dispute with Mary Hemingway stemmed from her desire to conceal from the public, ‘‘and perhaps herself, the truth of Ernest’s death.’’

Aaron Edward Hotchner was born June 28, 1917, in St. Louis. His father was a traveling salesman, his mother a secretary.

The family struggled during the Depression, and Mr. Hotchner sometimes lived on his own while growing up. He wrote about his childhood in a 1972 memoir, ‘‘King of the Hill,’’ which director Steven Soderbergh adapted into a 1993 film of the same title.

At Washington University in St. Louis, Mr. Hotchner was in a playwriting class with Tennessee Williams. He received a bachelor’s degree in history and a law degree, both in 1940. He briefly practiced law before serving four years in the Army Air Forces during World War II.

He wrote for military publications and helped produce morale-boosting plays and films, then lived in Paris after the war before moving to New York to work for Cosmopolitan.

After encountering Hemingway, ‘‘I thought, this is the way to live, the way that he lived,’’ Mr. Hotchner told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1997. ‘‘So like a nut, I quit my job. That’s why I was always available.’’

He published his first novel, ‘‘The Dangerous American,’’ in 1958, and wrote original plays for the stage and for TV anthology shows such as ‘‘Playhouse 90.’’ He was the screenwriter for the 1962 film ‘‘Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man,’’ directed by Martin Ritt.

Since the 1950s, Mr. Hotchner maintained homes in Manhattan and Westport, Conn. At Newman’s nearby home in Westport, he and the actor spent a beer-fueled afternoon in 1980 bottling the salad dressing that led to the founding of Newman’s Own.

‘‘We didn’t have anything to stir it with,’’ Mr. Hotchner recalled to the Times in 2003, ‘‘so Newman went to the river outside the barn and got his canoe paddle.’’

After several marketing and food distribution companies rejected the idea of selling the dressing, Newman and Mr. Hotchner decided to go into business on their own. Newman chipped in $40,000 in seed money, and Mr. Hotchner handled the business side. After selling 10,000 bottles of dressing in two weeks, the Newman’s Own label was born.

They later added popcorn, pasta sauce, fruit juices, olive oil, frozen pizza, and other products, with all profits earmarked for charity. Newman and Mr. Hotchner also founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut for children with life-threatening illnesses.

Two years after Newman died in 2008, Mr. Hotchner published a book about their friendship, ‘‘Paul and Me.’’

Mr. Hotchner also wrote biographies of Day and actress Sophia Loren and, in 1990, published a controversial book about the Rolling Stones, ‘‘Blown Away,’’ in which he suggested that the 1967 drowning of one of the band’s early members, Brian Jones, may have been the result of foul play.

He collaborated on several musical plays with songwriter Cy Coleman, including ‘‘Welcome to the Club,’’ which opened on Broadway in 1989 and closed after 12 performances and dismal reviews. He published an autobiographical novel, ‘‘The Amazing Adventures of Aaron Broom,’’ in 2018, when he was 101.

Mr. Hotchner’s first wife, the former Geraldine Mavor, died in 1969 after 19 years of marriage. His second marriage, to Ursula Robbins, ended in divorce. He leaves his wife since 2003, Virginia Kiser of New York and Westport; two daughters from his first marriage, Tracie Hotchner of Bennington, Vt., and Holly Hotchner of Easton, Conn.; a son from his second marriage, Timothy Hotchner of New York; a stepson, Alexander Storch of New York; and two grandchildren.

In addition to ‘‘Papa Hemingway,’’ Mr. Hotchner published several other books about his literary mentor, including ‘‘Hemingway in Love’’ (2015). In that intimate account, Mr. Hotchner revealed that Hemingway — who was married four times and had many affairs — told him that the woman he loved most was his first wife, Hadley Richardson.

‘‘Ernest has never been very far out of my life,’’ Mr. Hotchner wrote in a 1999 essay. ‘‘He was my father, my brother, my ancestor who passed his secrets along to me. . . . I’d say that the most vital thing I learned from him was this: Don’t fear failure, and don’t overestimate success. It was a tenet he lived by, and a legacy I treasure.’’