2000 Winner: Carlie Coley
Carlie Coley knows a thing or two about having patience to achieve a goal. Five years might seem like a long time to spend before gaining the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest’s top honor, but he’s a patient soul. One of his avocations is growing pine trees and selling the wood a couple of decades later.
“You plant now to harvest in 20 years,” he said, “or maybe 30.”
He recently planted a new batch of pines, and he expects to be around when they’re ready in 20 years. He’s not sure about 30. So a five-year wait to harvest the look-alike prize didn’t seem so long.
Nobody entered the contest with more significant, widespread encouragement. From strangers on the street to the late and great Hemingway friend, Shine Forbes, to newfound boosters from two of Hemingway’s favorite haunts, Carlie captured vital support.
“The first year I entered, I wasn’t prepared for it,” he admits.
Carlie and his wife, Bennie Nell, spent their 39th anniversary in Key West ―and he kept hearing the same refrain everywhere he went.
“I kept running into people on the street who asked if I was down for the contest.” “What contest?” he asked.
He even got the visual double takes halfway around the world in Italy. His resemblance lured waiters and chefs out of the kitchen at one of Ernest’s favorite spots, Harry’s Bar.
A similar reaction came from another Hemingway favorite oasis back in the states at Sloppy Joe’s.
“We were having lunch at Sloppy Joe’s and the waitress said, ‘Oh, you’re here for the contest.’ I wasn’t there for the contest. I was just there to look and celebrate our anniversary. Folks kept urging me to get in it.”
And that was before he even had a beard.
A mustache served as his only facial fuzz in those days.
“Everybody had me in the contest, except me,” Carlie recalled. “So I decided to enter it.”
He entered. He lost. But, in the process, he gained an ally―Shine Forbes, the former boxer who tangled with Hemingway in the ring before they became buddies. Shine not only knew what Hemingway looked like, he knew what the look-alikes should look like.
While Carlie was still mourning his loss and about ready to toss in the towel, Shine approached him and said, “Man, you look just like Hemingway!”
“He told me to come on back and keep trying. He was always encouraging me, and that meant so much to me.”
Carlie returned the favor a few years after winning, when he and his wife came up with the idea of a society scholarship being named in honor of Shine Forbes and awarding a deserving student in Key West’s Bahama Village. The award is given annually as a living legacy for the man with the eternal smile.
Both Carlie and Bennie Nell grew up in Little Alma, Georgia, where they graduated from the same high school in 1957. They still call Alma home even after 52 years of marriage.
So is Alma near Atlanta?
“Not Atlanta,” Carlie points out with small-town pride. “Atlanta is the other Georgia. We’re in the middle of nowhere.
And there he built a plumbing and electrical business into four stores while they were raising four children. Now the stores are run by their children and their children’s spouses.
And on his thousands of acres of farmland, he grows those pine trees. Some planted in 1959 tower 80 feet above the turf.
He does advise wannabes to have the patience of Job and the wisdom of judges.
“That first year, I learned to look at the judges to see how they dressed and dressed like them, because they were A Number One!”
Carlie passed away in May 2012.