Just call him “Papa.” White-bearded Gerrit Marshall from Madison, Wisconsin, has won the 2023 Hemingway Look-Alike Contest, a highlight of Key West’s annual Hemingway Days festival.
Gerrit Marshall speaks onstage at Sloppy Joe’s, imploring judges to choose him to win the annual Hemingway Look-Alike Contest. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)
The retired television broadcast engineer triumphed over nearly 140 other entrants to win the contest’s final round on July 22 — his 68th birthday, which coincidentally falls just a day after the July 21 birthday of Ernest Hemingway.
“This is the best birthday that I have ever had,” Gerrit admitted following his victory at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, where Hemingway often gathered with friends while living in Key West during the 1930s.
The contest’s preliminary rounds took place July 20 and 21, with most look-alike entrants emulating the rugged “Papa” persona that Hemingway adopted in his later years — displaying white beards and stocky builds, and wearing either sportsman’s attire or the heavy wool turtleneck sweater characteristic of Hemingway.
Saturday night at Sloppy Joe’s, spectators cheered and waved signs wildly when their favorite “aspiring Ernests” paraded onstage to be judged by a panel of past contest winners.
Some contestants tried to impress the judges with their musical skills — including finalist Bat Masterson, who performed a parody of “Bad to the Bone,” made famous by George Thorogood & the Destroyers in the 1980s, while accompanying himself on the harmonica.
A few even competed as the “young Hemingway,” with jet-black hair and well-styled mustaches but no beard.
Tom Grizzard, right, winner of the 2008 Hemingway Look-Alike Contest, and other past winners judge entrants during the 2023 contest at Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)
Gerrit, who won on his 11th attempt, said he shares several traits besides appearance with Hemingway, and has written both nonfiction and short fiction (though, so far, he hasn’t tried to get his work published).
“Like Hemingway, I have a love of the outdoors; I love fishing one heck of a lot,” he said, citing catches of walleye and northern pike in Wisconsin waters as well as angling for tarpon in the Florida Keys.
He admitted, however, that he can’t match the late author’s tally of four marriages.
“I only have one wife, but that doesn’t matter — that’s all I need,” he advised.
Earlier July 22, the look-alike contingent recalled Hemingway’s deep interest in bullfighting culture during the “Running of the Bulls,” a lighthearted spoof of the famed run held annually in Pamplona, Spain.
A slow-paced ramble rather than an actual “run,” the Key West event featured the proud “Papas” — dressed in the all-white garb and red scarves typically worn at the Pamplona challenge — parading through the island’s historic downtown with a herd of life-size replica bulls on wheels.
Past Hemingway Look-Alike Contest winners congratulate Gerrit Marshall (center) with a traditional “victory smooch.” (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)
The annual Hemingway Days festivities salute the adventurous lifestyle and literary prowess of the Nobel Prize–winning author, who spent nearly a decade living and writing in Key West.
“It is exhilarating to know that Hemingway was here, and to walk in his footsteps,” said Gerrit. “I think if he was here today, he would be totally amazed.”
As well as the contest and other festival events, the look-alikes focus on raising scholarship funds for Florida Keys students.
Hemingway Look-Alike Society president David Douglas estimated that they amassed close to $125,000 (a breathtaking amount!) during the 2023 festival.
Ernest Hemingway wrote many of his most famous works during his Key West years including “To Have and Have Not,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
So it’s only fitting that the island he loved is the setting for a festival recalling his talent and spirit. Congratulations, “Papa” Gerrit — and welcome to the bearded brotherhood!