Around 160 men with white or graying beards, stocky builds and a degree of resemblance to Ernest Hemingway are in Key West this week — drawn by the chance to compete in the 37th annual Hemingway Look-Alike Contest that began Thursday night.
The competition is a highlight of Key West’s annual Hemingway Days festival honoring the writing talent, sporting pursuits and colorful lifestyle of the legendary author who lived on the island during the 1930s.
Thursday’s competitors included Michael Groover of Savannah, Ga., whose wife is celebrity chef Paula Deen. Deen was in the audience when Groover was named a semi-finalist.
Thursday’s preliminary round was the first of three nights of competition at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, the Duval Street saloon where Hemingway often relaxed with local and literary cohorts.
Many “aspiring Ernests” are repeat contenders, including Groover. Most wear sportsman’s attire reminiscent of the author, and attempt to emulate the “Papa” persona of Hemingway’s later years as they swagger across Sloppy Joe’s stage.
Contest judges are former winners including North Carolina’s Dave Hemingway, the 2016 “Papa” who, despite his famous name, claims no relation to Ernest.
The second preliminary round is set for Friday and the 2017 winner will be chosen during Saturday night’s finals.
Hemingway Days continues through Sunday with events including an offbeat “Running of the Bulls” and the Havana Club Key West Marlin tournament. Ernest Hemingway wrote some of his most enduring classics in Key West including “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “To Have and Have Not.”
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