Exclusive: In an extraordinary new documentary, actress Mariel Hemingway says she’s realized that her late father, Jack, son of writer Ernest Hemingway, sexually abused her two older sisters. One of them, the famed model Margaux Hemingway, committed suicide in 1996. The eldest sister, an artist, lives a quiet life in Idaho. The film, “Running from Crazy,” directed by Oscar winner Barbara Kopple, debuts at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday night. It was executive produced by Oprah Winfrey for her OWN network.
It’s quite a film, actually. Mariel is now 51 years old and the mother of two beautiful daughters, one of whom–Dree–is now a model. Mariel has aged sort of miraculously on the outside. She doesn’t look much different than she did at 18 when she was nominated for an Oscar in Woody Allen’s “Manhattan.” But her story, the story of her family and a grandfather she didn’t know has taken its toll on her. The other miracle is that she’s survived and is able to address a number f subjects including mental health and suicide. She’s become a spokesperson for each, which is admirable considering the legacy with which she was saddled.
And that’s not to say that “Running from Crazy” is depressing because it’s not. Mariel makes the observation that the Hemingways were a little like the Kennedys, a dynastic American family always in the public eye. But there was trouble. “We were WASPS and we didn’t talk about our problems,” she said. Everyone drank. Ernest Hemingway killed himself in 1961; Mariel lives near the house where he shot himself. She didn’t know until she was in her 20s that it was not accidental.
But it’s the wrenching tragedy of her sister, Margaux, the middle daughter of Hemingway’s son Jack, that really informs this film. I knew Margaux slightly in the 1980s. She was incredibly beautiful and troubled, a lot like Lindsay Lohan and some others who appear regularly in tabloids. Kopple has found a lot of amazing archival footage of her, and of a film Margaux was trying to make about Ernest. There’s also a lot of home movies of Jack and his wife at home in Ketchum, Idaho with the girls as kids and as adults. They look like a Norman Rockwell painting. But under the surface there is a lot of pain. A particularly wrenching episode: when Margaux is in recovery at Betty Ford and none of the Hemingways come to see her on family day. It breaks your heart.
I don’t know how Mariel’s older sister, Muffet, who seems fragile, will take to the revelation of this headline. But Mariel is very definite. “When I was really small I shared a room with Margaux. My dad came in the room. I don’t recall what it was, but it wasn’t right. It’s hard to have a visual of that. I know what happened. I think my dad sexually abused the girls when they were young.”
It’s tough stuff. But Mariel comes off as brave and courageous. Kopple has made a compelling portrait of a complex American saga.