The Hemingway sisters Margaux (1954-96 suicide by drug overdose) and Mariel (1961-) are actress sisters and granddaughters of writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961 suicide by gunshot). Their family is said to have been affected by mental illness, alcoholism and suicide – something termed The Hemingway Curse.
I will use a couple of books in review such as Mariel’s Out Came the Sun from which I will extract facts – buy the book if you want her thoughts – and The Last Days of Dead Celebrities by Mitchell Fink.
Mariel’s grandfather killed himself while her mother was still pregnant with her. She celebrated her second birthday the day JFK was assassinated. Mariel was the third of three daughters born to Ernest Hemingway’s son Jack. Her sisters Muffet was eleven years older and Margaux seven years older.
When Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms back in the 1920s it read: “the world breaks every one and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”
He could well be talking of his family. When Mariel heard people talk of it as a child, it was nastiness. That Hemingway went on the write: “But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially…” etc.
Margot was the real spelling of Margaux’s name and she suffered from the modern diagnoses of dyslexia, attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity. Otherwise known as a problem child, manipulative enough to try and be the centre of attention. She was the middle child between the perfect elder and the baby. Mariel kept her bed neat while Margaux was a slob who seemed disturbed to Mariel. She was almost like a monster to share a single room with twin beds.
Their parents’ relationship was not a happy one with fights precipitated by boozy dinner parties. Alcohol was a core problem.
Mariel as a child idolised her older sister Muffet, who as she grew into a teenager went to hang out in the San Francisco drug scene of the late 1960s. Unfortunately she became mentally ill through drug use and this sister who was once a princess came home with her hair grown wild and poorly dressed. She would talk incessant nonsense and one night was about to jump off the back balcony to fly to San Francisco. Her father saved her.
Mariel was still too young to understand her parents’ world was alcohol and her sister Muffet’s was drugs. The family moved from the West coast to Ketchum, Idaho – Ernest blew his brains out there – in a bid to help Muffet recover.
It was there at the elementary school that kids talked behind Mariel’s back for being stuck up. Meanwhile Margaux, partying too much at an early age, was sent to boarding school. But Margaux loved skiing like Mariel in the local mountains and it was her sole connection with nature which was such a big part of her father Jack’s life. Margaux would go to the top of the mountain, get stoned and drink and then ski back down again. Margaux was proud her family let her drink wine with dinner growing up but Mariel was embarrassed by this fact.
Margaux by following in her grandfather’s footsteps of unruly and adventurous behaviour would be something fraught with danger as Ernest put a shotgun to his head in 1961 after years of electro-shock therapy. Ernest’s grandfather attempted suicide, while his father succeeded in doing the deed many years later. Also Ernest’s younger sister and brother would also be suicides.
It wouldn’t be long before Muffet ran naked through the streets of Ketchum high on acid and was sent away to what Mariel thought was school but was really a private hospital. Muffet had schizophrenia and upon her release from the hospital went off her medication, a pattern throughout her life.
It was also a time which showed Margaux’s use of junk food, something which would sometimes affect her weight in later years. She would stash chocolate bars and chips under her bed. She was also described as loose in the town for her sexual behaviour with local boys. She also suffered from bulimia.
Mariel was brought up in a home of drinking and fighting, where wine bottles were thrown and smashed. She would clean up the mess in the middle of the night so the following day could start afresh.
When she was sent to her godparents place to stay – they never drank – their personalities didn’t change and Mariel was surprised how well she fitted into their world.
By the time Mariel was eleven her father had already survived a heart attack and her mother had cancer. She would become a carer for her cancer stricken mother, something which isolated her from the world further.
She knew she had quirks such as not eating seafood, a fear of vomiting and germs, but compared to her sisters she was relatively normal. Her obsession with food was nothing compared to Margaux’s bulimia. But Mariel was showing a sign of obsessive compulsive disorder when it came to food.
One year later, Margaux was picked up at an Evel Kneivel (1938-2007 pulmonary fibrosis) event and disappeared for a week. Then she appeared on the front page of a national magazine cover… Blonded, thinner and wearing fine clothes… there had been a transformation. She had changed her name from Margot to Margaux with a tale of how her parents conceived her over a bottle of Chateau Margaux – it was, apparently, all a myth.
Suddenly Margaux Hemingway was a sexy star and within a year would be the spokesman for Faberge perfume.
To Mariel, her sister’s fame was unexpected… but since Margaux was always so social, not entirely unsurprising.
Next, she was on the cover of Time and being described in Vogue as one of the new supermodels. She was given a cheque for a million dollars.
It was shortly after that Margaux was offered the role in the film Lipstick (1976) and it was thought that 12-year-old Mariel could play her younger sister as it would make the experience easier for Margaux’s acting debut.
Dino de Laurentiis (1919-2010) auditioned the girls together and gave the part to Mariel promising she would be a big star. She was chaperoned by her mother in California for the shoot which would begin her film career. She turned fourteen on set and loved the behind the scenes of the movie business and the art of reacting in terms of acting. It was obviously natural to her although the premise of Lipstick about a stalking rapist was a bit over her head in terms of sex. Also Chris Sarandon (1942-) as the villain was too nice in real life to do such things.
Lipstick is a good movie for some and a bad movie for others. I think Margaux, who was really an inexperienced model, does a good job in the role of a model. Her performance is not as good as Mariel’s and the film is disturbing in its depiction of rape upon Margaux and then later Mariel. It’s a cult film though and a record of just how beautiful Margaux was. Revenge film lovers will also love the climax as Margaux tots a gun and puts rapist Sarandon to bed for good.
Lipstick opened in April 1976 and Mariel saw it with her family at a 42nd Street theatre where the crowd cheered on Margaux’s revenge sequence. It was only after seeing the film that Mariel realised she had been raped in the movie. Why had her parents allowed her to be in it?
Worst about the film were the horrible and mean-spirited reviews about Margaux’s performance. She thought she was giving a good one. But she had no training – together with reading a script with dyslexia – while Mariel had always been an observer of human behaviour.
It was sad to see her sister written off while she was still in her early 20s. What made Margaux sadder was that Mariel generally got good reviews for her performance in Lipstick. Mariel then made a tv movie about a pregnant teen and returned home to Ketchum, which seemed boring in comparison. For Margaux there would be no great film career… but Mariel really wanted a film career… Margaux jetsetted and married a Venezuelan photographer/director, telling the family on one home visit that she was an artist who painted now. There was no evidence she actually painted.
In retrospect, it was seen that it was Margaux’s insecurities that caused her selfishness around the family. When the family gathered for Christmas and the wine was broken out, it was the same old scene of fighting, as the dysfunctional family would be at it again!
At home, Mariel got a call from Woody Allen but she didn’t really know who he was. She auditioned for him in New York and that’s how she got the part in Manhattan (1979). Still only sixteen, she would play one of Woody’s obsessions – a seventeen year old he is dating and sleeping with. I guess that’s where Mia Farrow was inspired about Woody’s alleged interference with his young daughter. It wouldn’t help of course that Woody tried to tempt Mariel to go to Paris with him where the age of consent is fifteen. Mariel was smart enough not to go. Perhaps with someone who was good in bed!
Mariel gives a good performance in Manhattan and it goes to show what she could do with a good director. The film is in black and white and is a follow-up to Allen’s successful Annie Hall (1977). However, Mariel is outshone by the stronger and more experienced actress Diane Keaton but is still sweet as she cries over breaking up with Woody who has used and abused her and now dumped her. Mariel was still unsure of the innuendos in the script and was again chaperoned by one of her parents.
Meanwhile, Margaux made the Italian produced Killer Fish (1979) but the acting offers were hardly pouring in for the doomed model.
After returning home to Idaho, Mariel’s sister Muffet married but the union quickly crumbled after she went off her medication and had a complete psychotic break. She too returned home. It was the curse again!
Then came Manhattan’s opening at Cannes where Mariel first experienced the paparazzi during a screening beside her father. The name still carried weight even though she was a relative newcomer. It was also the first time she ever had a panic attack.
When she returned home to Idaho, she knew something had to give as she no longer wanted to be her mother’s keeper as she had ambitions of her own. She was almost eighteen and it was time to leave home and live in New York. However, when she got there, she was lonely. Margaux lived there too but the sister’s didn’t meet often and when Mariel saw her on a television chat show it appeared she was putting on a front of happiness.
For Mariel, Robert Towne’s (1934-) Personal Best (1982) came into her life and she pursued it – she would do all that was necessary to play the young hurdler with hopes for the Olympics. It would mean training and hard work… It was while she was getting her head around training and hurdling that she got an early morning call revealing to her she had been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Manhattan. Personal Best co-star Scott Glenn was her date at the Oscars but she lost to Meryl Streep (1949-) for Kramer vs Kramer (1979).
Personal Best is a good movie although a great deal is made of the lesbian affair between Mariel and the other lead character played by Patrice Donnelly (1950-). In fact, director Towne is more interested in naked young women and their beauty on the screen that he forgets to get the best performances he could out of his actresses. Mariel’s opening scene is weak and it is obvious by the end of the movie there will be no nomination for her role. It finishes with the irony for the athletes as the United States boycotted the 1984 Moscow Olympics and they were unable to take part.
It was during the making of this movie that Mariel reportedly behaved badly on set, badmouthing among other things – she admits to it – something which may have harmed her future award status and her career.
Mariel then turned down The Executioner’s Song because it was a television movie – so déclassé or beneath her – and eventually Rossana Arquette (1959-) got the role and won an Emmy. Another step back from awards.
It was then Mariel took on Star 80 (1983) about tragic starlet and nude model Dorothy Stratten (1960-80 shotgun to head), who was murdered by her estranged husband who helped guide her initial career. Because Mariel was relatively flat-chested, she actually got breast implants so she could be prepared for the role. Apparently, the movie was unpleasant to make at times as she avoided being seduced by director Bob Fosse and when she also turned down Eric Roberts who was playing her husband, he treated her badly on set.
The film is good and Fosse was perhaps hoping for Oscar success in the realm of All that Jazz (1980). But the material was too unpleasant for Oscar at the time despite its strong performances. Fosse was nominated at the Berlin Film Festival and Roberts got a Golden Globe nomination. Mariel missed out perhaps because of the hubris of Personal Best. Perhaps by getting implants, she was trying too hard.
It was then that Mariel made what I regard as one of her best performances, even though it would never ever probably be considered for an award. That film is Creator (1985). Based on Jeremy Leven’s (1941-) 1980 novel – he also wrote the screenplay – it features a great performance by Peter O’Toole (1932-2013 cancer) as a Nobel Prize winning professor who hopes to clone his late wife. It also stars Virginia Madsen (1961-) and Vincent Spano (1962-).
Mariel plays the free-spirited Meli who comes into O’Toole’s life and soon turns it upside-down. A box-office flop in its day, it’s hardly the perfect movie but despite the tragedies contained within, it has a feel good vibe and a plea for the need for everyone to get “The Big Picture”. I guess not everyone can and for some of us it comes and goes!
During this period Mariel found love while Margaux went into rehab with her acting career a failure and her modelling career dwindling. She was a hard person to get along with and yet all she needed was a good conversation about life… and herself. Her life was a sad one. The money from her million dollar cheque and early career contracts now gone, she put up a façade of normalcy in People magazine and talk shows all the while imbibing heavily on alcohol. Mariel wouldn’t help her as she might get infected with her lifestyle – and the Hemingway Curse.
The same year Mariel made Creator she also did the little known Florida set serial killer movie The Mean Season which also starred Kurt Russell (1951-). The film was another box office flop but its newsroom atmosphere and the fact that it’s a good mystery make it worth a look. Mariel’s career was drying up as her role was not particularly taxing or large. It passed onto VHS with little fanfare.
Mariel married and found roles increasingly hard to come by. She took acting lessons which went against the grain, finally making the much maligned Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Regarded by many as a typical Golan-Globus Cannon Pictures produced box office bomb, the effects are pretty bad as you can see the wires. It’s not a total disaster but Mariel is only there based on her good looks and not her acting ability! No award guessing there’d be no award for her.
She then opened a New York Upper East Side restaurant with her husband but soon lost interest in the business. Her discipline with alcohol and her diet set her apart from Margaux as Mariel could sit on half a glass of champagne a night.
It was around the time of the making of Sunset (1988) that Mariel fell pregnant. Sunset stars Bruce Willis (1955-) and James Garner (1928-2014 heart attack) as actor Tom Mix (1880-1940 car crash) and Wyatt Earp (1848-1929) respectively. Set in the late 1920s and directed by comedy legend Blake Edwards (1922-2010 pneumonia), Sunset is a murder mystery. It is the antithesis of Mariel’s career as she got nominated for a Razzie for her acting. True, it is not a very good role for the actress and she coasts it with what script she is offered, playing another lesbian type who helps run the local brothel. Otherwise it’s not a bad film although Garner wasn’t a fan of Willis and called his acting and professionalism “strictly high school”. Not surprising considering the way he has tackled some roles in his later career.
After the birth of her second daughter Mariel made Delirious (1991) with John Candy (1950-94 heart attack) who was busy working himself to death. The film was another box office flop although it’s a nice fantasy and comedy about a soap opera writer who gets knocked on the head and wakes in his own show. The film doesn’t even rate a six out of ten on IMDb which indicates its popularity. Mariel shows she may have a flair for comedy but the material for her just isn’t there.
After that movie came Falling from Grace (1992) with rocker John Mellencamp (1951-) directing a Larry McMurtry (1936-) script. McMurtry was responsible for the script for The Last Picture Show (1971) and Brokeback Mountain (2005). Mariel wanted to work in the film and it too bombed. I remember I enjoyed this movie when I saw it, but don’t have a copy to review it honestly at the moment.
But here we reach the end of Mariel’s major film career. She was considered for the Sharon Stone role in Basic Instinct (1992) but didn’t get it. Soon Mariel would do a lot of television to help support her family and is famous for her lesbian kiss on the television series Roseanne. But as for her first class Hollywood career it was over and there were direct to DVD movies and more television…
Mariel escaped the Hemingway Curse with little more than a well-disciplined obsessive compulsive disorder which she turned positively towards her diet and health regimen. It was while Mariel, who kept a home in Ketchum, Idaho, was at home with her father that they got the call that Margaux was dead. Mariel had only spoken to her sister a week before and the “more connected” Margaux seemed to signal change. Little did she know Margaux’s real situation, or the real woman beyond the “monster” who she used to share a room with… it was 1 July 1996.
We look into the last days of Margaux in PART TWO.