1981 Winner: Tom Feeney
With Ernest Hemingway’s brother, Leicester, as a judge, Tom Feeney became the historic first winner of the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest.
The annual competition began in 1981 at its birthplace―Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West―where Ernest himself was known to down a drink or three during his Key West years. With little advance publicity for the event, then only a highlight of the new Hemingway Days Festival, 36 contestants showed up for the Thursday judging session and another round on Friday.
Seven challengers squared off as finalists in the Saturday night finals, co-hosted by Michael Whalton, one of Sloppy Joe’s managers and originator of the contest, along with Perri Halevy, Sloppy Joe’s entertainment coordinator.
Whalton called each finalist to the stage to say a few―hopefully well-chosen―words. Then the entrants sweated out, literally and figuratively, the judicial decision.
Leicester Hemingway judged Feeney as “the nearest thing to Ernest I could find.”
A resident of Big Coppitt Key, Tom Feeney, a U.S. Coast Guardsman for 22 years at that time, served as Chief Warrant Officer on the U.S. Coast Guard cutter, Ute, based in Key West.
Asked for a comment about his selection as the first Hemingway Look-Alike winner, the bearded and buoyant premier Papa exclaimed, “Now if I could just write like Hemingway!”
Tom passed away but will always be remembered.