Hotchner was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Sally (née Rossman), a Sunday school administrator, and Samuel Hotchner, a jeweler. He attended Soldan High School. In 1940, he graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with degrees in both history (A.B.) and law (J.D.). He was admitted to the Missouri State Bar in 1941, and briefly practiced law in St. Louis in 1941–42. After the outbreak of World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a journalist, attaining the rank of major. When the war was over, he decided to forgo law and pursue a career in writing.
Hotchner has been an editor, biographer, novelist and playwright. In 1948, he met Ernest Hemingway, and the two were close friends until Hemingway's death in 1961. Hotchner wrote Papa Hemingway, his 1966 biography of Hemingway, whose work he had also adapted for plays and television. He wrote many teleplays in the 1950s and 1960s, including adaptations of The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Killers, and The Fifth Column.
The 1993 film, King of the Hill, directed by Steven Soderbergh, is a screen adaptation of Hotchner's 1973 autobiographical novel of the same name. A Depression-era, bildungsroman memoir, it tells the story of a boy struggling to survive on his own in a hotel in St. Louis after his mother is committed to a sanatorium with tuberculosis. His father, a German immigrant and traveling salesman working for the Hamilton Watch Company, is off on long trips from which the boy cannot be certain he will return.
Hotchner’s play, The White House, starred Helen Hayes on Broadway and was staged at the White House in 1996. In 1993, Welcome to the Club, a musical comedy written with composer Cy Coleman, appeared Broadway. In addition, Hotchner wrote A Short Happy Life, he Hemingway Hero, Exactly Like You (written with Coleman), and The World of Nick Adams.
Hotchner's play Sweet Prince was produced off-Broadway in 1982, at the Theater Off-Park, starring Keir Dullea and Ian Abercrombie.
In 1982, with his friend and neighbor, actor Paul Newman, Hotchner founded Newman's Own, Inc. All profits from this line of food products and other ventures are donated to charities.
In 1988, Hotchner and Newman co-founded the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a residential summer camp and year-round center for seriously ill children located in Ashford, Connecticut. The original camp was later expanded to become a number of other Hole in the Wall Camps at other locations in the U.S., Ireland, France, and beyond. By 2016, there were 30 camps and programs serving the needs of over 130,000 children and families around the world, as part of the SeriousFun Children's Network.
Hotchner has been honored with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
Hotchner resides with his wife Virginia Kiser in Westport, Connecticut, where he spends most weekends, and cares for an African gray parrot.
In Criminal Minds, Aaron Hotchner of the BAU is named after him.Distinguished Alumni Award, Washington University School of Law, 1992.
Honorary D.L., Washington University, 1993.
Writers Guild of America
Missouri Bar Association