Author A. E. Hotchner dies at 102A.E. Hotchner, a well-traveled author, playwright and gadabout whose street smarts and famous pals led to a loving, but litigated memoir of Ernest Hemingway, business adventures with Paul Newman and a book about his Depression-era childhood that became a Steven Soderbergh film, died Saturday at age 102.
He died at his home in Westport, Connecticut, according to his son, Timothy Hotchner, who did not immediately know the cause of death.
A. E. Hotchner was an impish St. Louis native and ex-marbles champ who read, wrote and hustled himself out of poverty and went on to publish more than a dozen books, befriend countless celebrities and see his play, “The White House,” performed at the real White House for former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
He was a natural fit for Elaine’s, the former Manhattan nightspot for the famous and the near-famous, and contributed the text for “Everyone Comes to Elaine’s,” an illustrated history. Hotchner’s other works included the novel “The Man Who Lived at the Ritz,” bestselling biographies of Doris Day and Sophia Loren, and a musical, “Let ‘Em Rot!” co-written with Cy Coleman.
In his 90s, he completed an upbeat book of essays on aging, “O.J. in the Morning, G&T at Night.” When he was 100, he wrote the detective novel “The Amazing Adventures of Aaron Broom.” At 101, he adapted Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” for the stage.
He was a memorable storyteller - sometimes too memorable. Hotchner wrote an article about Elaine’s for Vanity Fair that included an anecdote about director Roman Polanski making advances on a woman on the way to the funeral of his wife, Sharon Tate, who was murdered in 1969 by Charles Manson’s followers. Polanski sued the magazine’s publisher, Conde Nast, for libel and in 2005 was awarded some $87,000, plus court costs, by a jury in London.
The son of a furrier who went broke during the Depression, Aaron Edward Hotchner was born in 1917 in St. Louis, a city he would recall with deep affection despite times so dire he claimed to have eaten paper to fight hunger. Hotchner wrote about his youth in “King of the Hill,” published in 1972 and adapted 20 years later into a Soderbergh film of the same name.
Clever and determined, Hotchner managed a scholarship to Washington University, where he and Tennessee Williams both worked on the school’s student magazine. Hotchner then joined the Air Force, a time he recalled good-naturedly in the memoir “The Day I Fired Alan Ladd, and Other World War II Adventures.” After the war, Hotchner settled in New York City and became an editor at Cosmopolitan and worked on literary fiction.
One submission was J. D. Salinger’s “Needle On a Scratchy Phonograph Record,” a World War II story the author gave to Hotchner under the condition that nothing - not a comma - be altered. Hotchner, who had been friendly with Salinger, came through - almost. The actual story was printed intact, but Cosmopolitan changed the title to “Blue Melody.”
Salinger never spoke to Hotchner again.
Hotchner was married three times, most recently to actress Virginia Kiser, and was the father of three children. He had numerous animals over the years, including peacocks, pedigreed chickens and an African parrot named Ernie.