1998 Winner: Don Duncan
Reasons for entering the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest range from spousal encouragement to suggestions from complete strangers, but Don Duncan surely claims the most unusual and compelling one.
“If you don’t enter that contest, you’re fired!” was the blunt statement from his boss at a solar equipment sales company in Sarasota, Florida.
“He’s a big Hemingway fan,” said Don. “He thought I had a great chance to win.”
His boss probably was kidding, but who knows what lurks in the minds and hearts of Hemingway lovers? Playing it safe, Don took the man’s advice.
Superstar Kenny Rogers unknowingly had a hand in Don’s thrust to the throne of Papa. Also a look-alike for the gray-bearded entertainer, Don won a Kenny Rogers Look-Alike Contest in Sarasota, giving him confidence enough to pursue the Hemingway title in Key West.
“As soon as I went to Key West and entered the first time, I was hooked,” he said. “Even though I didn’t win it, I got hooked on the way the society handled the event, and the camaraderie with a bunch of bearded guys was just fabulous.”
Capturing the Kenny Rogers’ honors turned out to be easy compared to the years Don spent before capturing the Hemingway title in 1998.
“It’s intense, but friendly competition,” he said, “and it’s really a heartbreak when you get to the finals and lose. I made the finals every year, but that just gets your hopes up.”
As all Papas will agree, the wait is worth the worry.
“When I reached the stage at Sloppy Joe’s after hearing my name called, I was so teary-eyed, I could barely talk.”
Born December 28, 1932, in Marion, Indiana, Don―no fan of cold weather―headed for the Sunshine State after college. For ten years, he worked as a professional lifeguard in Hollywood, the Atlantic Ocean town between Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
“I didn’t like the beach up there in Indiana,” he deadpans. “Sarasota is as far north as I ever go.” Like Hemingway, his marriages crumbled.
Not a huge Hemingway fan in his younger years, Don reports all that began to change when he kept hearing, “You have that Hemingway look.”
“Ernest Hemingway was a man’s man, and he did things different,” Don praised. My library is getting pretty full with his books, and I’m learning some inside things about the other stories which I really have to reread now.”
Don followed his fascination all the way to Cuba, where he visited two of the author’s favorite hangouts, including the Floridita Bar. He also made a side trip outside Havana to the home where the master wrote his masterpiece, The Old Man and the Sea.
“All the Cuban ladies who work there were following me around like I was Ernest Hemingway back at his home,” he said with warm affection for the Cuban people.
“They saw a resemblance. I don’t know Spanish, so our communication was hands and smiles.”
Don got “my Key West fix” four or five times a year, hopping aboard the commercial catamaran service that sails from Fort Myers to Key West.
“Four hours later, I’m on Duval Street. I get in enough trouble down there in five hours, so I come back on the catamaran the same day.
Now that Don is retired, he’s a sure bet to be there for the contest every July.