2002 Winner: Ron Thomas
Ron Thomas had no idea getting into the Hemingway Look-Alike competition that it would bring him face to face with those who drank with, slept with, and punched Papa.
On his first attempt to win, six years before he captured the top prize in 2002, Ron made his first trip to Key West, discovering immediately what he terms, “the bizarre legend and myth.”
In what sounds like a scene from a Hemingway novel., Ron came off the stage of one competition to find someone taping him on the shoulder.
“There was this magnificent, old woman with a textured face that looked like alligator skin,” he recalled. “She was somewhere in her 80s with a cigarette dangling from her mouth. She wore a hat with a sunflower pinned up front.”
“Do you have time for a cigarette and a drink?” she asked.
“I’ll have a drink.”
Between puffs on the cigarette and sips on the drink, the woman pointed to the Papa photos in Sloppy Joe’s Bar.
“Have you looked at all the pictures of Mr. Hemingway on the wall?”
“Yeah. Being a graphic artist, I look at all of that.”
“I mean, the one where he was wearing his boxing gloves, and they weren’t laced up.”
“Right. He didn’t have a shirt on. Just a tank top. I looked at all of them.”
The classic lady eyed Ron from top to bottom, and took another drag from her cigarette, blew the smoke, and declared, “You have exactly the same physique as Mr. Hemingway.”
“Yeah, all shoulders and no ass,” he replied.
“That’s a Midwestern trait, if I ever heard of one.”
The lady laughed while Ron wondered how she knew so much about Mr. Hemingway.
“You seem to know an awful lot about his physique.”
“You’re damn right, I do,” she said forcefully. “I was one of his paramours."
Welcome to Key West.
After bidding her farewell, a man at the bar stopped him.
“He had an eye patch, a greasy bandanna and an anchor tattoo,” Ron said. Cold beers led to hot conversation as the walking stereotype asked, “How much do you know about the old man?”
“We all learned about him in school. Now I’m learning more than I ever dreamed I would know,” Ron answered.
“I used to drink with him. He was a very bad drunk. Obnoxious. You know what a sucker punch is?”
“I certainly do.”
“Well, he’d sucker punch the biggest guy in the bar.”
Then along came Shine Forbes, who once took a swing at Ernest during a boxing match altercation to end up close friends with the famed writer. The black man with glowing smile reflecting his name had become a local legend in Key West, with his ebullient personality and tales of the Hemingway days.
Shine approached Ron at the bar, put his arm around the look-alike’s neck and shoulder, and said, “You know what? Your neck is as big as Papa’s. Your shoulders are as big as Papa’s. you look an awful lot like Papa.”
Pumped up by the comparison, and not knowing Shine’s history or who he was, Ron bought his new friend a beer. After the beer was gone, so was Shine―down to the other end of the bar.
Ron watched as Shine sought out another look-alike to place his arm around the man’s shoulders. He overheard Shine’s introduction…”You know what? Your neck is as big as Papa’s. Your shoulders are as big as Papa’s.
You look an awful lot like Papa.”
Another round for Shine.
“He was working everybody,” Ron said with a laugh.
Born in Crown Point, Indiana, Ron was trained by all European masters in Chicago and opened the first European men’s hairstyling shop in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1963. His client list includes sports franchise owners, coaches, players, announcers. He caters to the business and professional community, by appointment or referral only, and the shop phone number is unlisted.
Ron is also an illustrator and artist. He participates in two art shows monthly at his shop. They are called the first Friday and the third Thursday (the Melrose Crawl) in the evenings. The entire city art scene is alive and is the largest art show in the U.S.