The Hemingway family legacy is as much about human genius as it is about human tragedy. Ernest Hemingway is forever cemented in history as a literary giant whose accomplishments edified American literature.
But his depressions, alcoholism, and his eventual violent suicide make him a tragic figure because he grew up in an era where addiction and mental illness were socially taboo subjects. People pretended that all was well on the home front. Drunken spectacles were normalized even though they were the antithesis of an idyllic Normal Rockwell painting of American family life.
Ernest Hemingway belonged to a generation where there was abounding ignorance on the long-term consequences of substance abuse. Seeking help from a mental health expert carried the threat of people finding out and labeling that visit derogatorily. Veils of secrecy and a reluctance to face advanced critical problems resulted in devastating consequences. The Hemingway family would go on to suffer seven suicides.
The last of those suicides was played out very publicly in 1996 with the shocking loss of famous super model, Margaux Hemingway. Her immense fame was an unsustainable edifice that was crumbling, and she chose death as her only option to escape the decline.
But this cover story is not about tragedy or the ghosts of past traumas. It is, instead, about Mariel Hemingway, the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, who changed the trajectory of her family’s future by guiding her life and that of her daughters – to greener, more sustainable pastures.
This is a story about hope. No matter the genetic or environmental cards that are dealt us in life, we have the power to steer ourselves to healthier outcomes by making better choices.
In Mariel, the Hemingway cycles of destruction have been neutralized, and she’s made peace with the triggers that no longer have a ricocheting effect on her.
As I drive up to Mariel’s home in Malibu for this new year cover interview, its geographical situation strikes me as non-coincidental. The house is perched at the top of the Santa Monica Mountains with an unobstructed 360-degree view of the world below. Finding it is the challenge. Just like Mariel’s life, there are many bends, 90-degree turns, and a carefully navigated ascent that eventually leads to one of the most beautifully liberating views I have ever seen. The home’s elevation parallels its resident’s life journey exactly. Mariel has spent decades climbing and understanding the complexities of the Hemingway Mountain. She’s arrived on top – high enough to have a birds-eye view of all the intricacies and the tributary choices.
As we begin our afternoon chat, we confront the tough terrain first so that we can go on to enjoy the myriad of good things that have taken root in the life of a beautiful, athletic, age-defying woman whose physical and mental strengths define her.
Mariel paints the picture of her childhood in Mill Valley, California with her older sisters, Muffet and Margaux.
“Muffet had been showing signs of mental illness,” Mariel explains, “and when my father suggested that she see a psychologist, my mother was horrified and said, ‘We can’t! What will people think?’. I don’t think that generation of the 1950s and 1960s wanted to deal with the pain of what was really happening. It was all about a cover up. They used alcohol to anesthetize their problems. Today, we are much more enlightened, and we commit to finding out where the problem lies. We want to gain the tools to fix the problem.”
“When I grew up,” Mariel continues, “I watched out-of-control behavior that I always knew wasn’t right. I recall watching the people I loved change as they consumed more and more alcohol, and I hated the changes that I saw. Instead of kindness and love, the room became a swamp full of vitriol, anger, and flailing emotions. It terrified me. I knew back then that I never wanted to be like this when I grew up. I would pray during those tender years – asking God to help me to be strong enough to never succumb to the behavior that I witnessed.”
It took some time before Mariel finally learned that the only way to heal and move forward was to confront the past.
“Truthfully,” she admits, “I spent decades running away from problems because I was scared. It was only when I got into my 40s that I realized that I had the power of choice. While addictive predispositions can be genetic, the lifestyle isn’t. I could choose to lead a very different life.”
I was just 18 years old when I was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress in ‘Manhattan’ and had little understanding of what winning the award really meant. I knew that Meryl Streep had done some impressive theater work, and I was very aware that it was a star-studded event. I mean Dustin Hoffman was right there, and so was Jack Nicholson. It was quite the night
“The real breakthrough for me was to look back at all my life choices and the relationships I formed. For instance, I married when I was very young, but I had to own and take responsibility for that decision. Maybe I was looking for a father figure or someone to take care of me. Consciously or unconsciously, I made those choices to survive.”
“It took some deep digging, and I had to look at things that were uncomfortable confronting. In doing that, I learned that taking responsibility for all my life’s choices is important. When you have done that, it’s important to tell your story to someone you trust – be it a therapist, a doctor or whoever you choose. Once you unravel the story, you get to change the trajectory, and you get to decide what kind of life you want. I knew I wanted to make choices that would bring joy. The older I’ve gotten, the more I can make choices from strength, love and positivity.”
Mariel generously shares much more about how she averted the Hemingway tragedies.
“A valuable lesson that I learned is that memories – no matter how traumatic – don’t have guns. They are memories from the past. Re-visiting those memories doesn’t mean that you must re-live them. They are done and dusted. They no longer have the power over you that you imagine they have. You get to move on from them and write your next chapter with positivity.”
“Every one of us has experienced trauma,” Mariel says sensibly. “Nobody is immune to it, but it’s not healthy to wallow in the ghosts of the past. The truth is that you become stronger from the broken pieces of your past. You did the work to uncover the things that disabled you. You survived! Not only did you survive but you came away – equipped with insight and experience – so you know to do things differently moving forward. You’ve taken control by dealing with the traumas of the past, and your control doesn’t end there. You make the decision to move on constructively.”
Mariel speaks from an extensive amount of experience.
“Addicts become addicted to the problem,” she says. “I went through many years where I thought that if I loved myself and was healthy and happy, calamity was bound to strike me. I imagined a sheer cliff drop wherein I would fall immediately after the happiness. I convinced myself that happiness wasn’t sustainable, and I lived in fear of the impending doom. But that’s not true. Doing the work of understanding your past is your ticket to liberation.”
We talk about the all-important topic of achieving balance in one’s life and Mariel expands the conversation.
“There’s no recipe or formula. You don’t say that to be balanced, you must do 42 minutes of meditation and work out for two hours. You find your balance every day by doing routines that make you feel more connected to yourself. Developing healthy routines and rituals are the key to your daily well-being. It’s the simple things that are important. I call it ‘chop wood; carry water.’ For example, waking up in the morning at sunrise, stretching in bed; stepping outside to look at the sun rising; feeling the air on your skin. It’s those small daily routines that feed your soul. It’s in the mundane that we find grace and peace. My home is so important to me. I love to imbibe the beautiful environment in which I live. Being creative is also such a nourishing activity. It was my birthday recently and my boyfriend, Bobby, gave me beautiful flowers. I took great joy in creating a unique arrangement to showcase the flowers. Being connected to nature, enjoying simple pleasures, and being creative are vital components to our happiness.”
We change topics by taking a walk down memory lane. Mariel’s first appearance as an actress on the big screen was at age 14 in the 1970’s movie ‘Lipstick’ with sister Margaux Hemingway.
“I was so surprised that Margaux even suggested me for the movie to play the role of her little sister because I always thought that she viewed me as a little brat.”
Since we are now on the topic of Mariel’s sisters, I want to learn more – and so we digress from Mariel’s film career briefly. I ask her about her relationship with Margaux, and she emphasizes how very different they were.
“Margaux was rebellious and a great risk taker. She was a wild child, and she desperately wanted my dad’s attention. She thought that she would be the quintessential Hemingway by drinking a lot and being uninhibited. It was a misinterpretation of the Hemingway name but at the time, she didn’t know it.”
In contrast, Mariel was the opposite behaviorally.
My daughters are now in their 30s and the older they get, the closer we become. Those demarcation lines diminish, and we’ve become more friends than mothers and daughters
“I was the good girl in our family, and I chose that role because I wanted to fix what was blatantly wrong in our lives. I was convinced that I could change the behavior of my drunken parents’ evenings wherein glasses were being thrown up against walls – by being a good girl. I was sure I could make our environment less chaotic. At age seven I committed to the role as the Hemingway family fixer. After the drunken parties in our living room and when everybody was sound asleep, I would go downstairs with my cat, and try to clean up the mess of our lives. My aim was to expunge any evidence of a drunken party. I’d clean up the red wine on the walls and the broken glass. Sometimes there was even blood.”
Little is known about Mariel’s oldest sister Muffet (there were three daughters) and Mariel’s admiration and affection for Muffet is clearly evident.
“Muffet was brilliant and so talented,” Mariel emphasizes. “Her tragedy is that we lived in Mill Valley, California in the 1960s, and she got wrapped up in all the drugs that were circulating. Then she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It was so sad because she had so much to give to the world.”
We head back to the movies and our discussion on ‘Lipstick’. Woody Allen watched Mariel assiduously in ‘Lipstick’ and was so determined to do a movie with her that he wrote a part for her in his 1979 movie, ‘Manhattan’. I ask Mariel about Woody Allen’s directorship and she responds with unequivocal praise of his talents.
“Not only is he an extraordinary director, but he’s a brilliant visionary and he has great casting abilities. He casts you in a particular role because he knows that it suits who you are naturally. So, he gives you a lot of latitude to be who you really are in the role.”
Mariel’s performance in ‘Manhattan’ was so compelling that she was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress.
I ask about her experience at the 1980 Academy Awards where she was in the same category of nominations as Meryl Streep – who ended up winning the award for ‘Kramer versus Kramer’.
Mariel recounts that night with these memories:
“I was just 18 years old and so young, and I had little understanding of what winning the award really meant. I knew that Meryl Streep had done some impressive theater work, and I was very aware that it was a star-studded event. I mean Dustin Hoffman was right there, and so was Jack Nicholson. It was quite the night.”
In 1982, Mariel was in the film ‘Personal Best’, and she explains how hard she had to work for that role. She’d always been a strong athlete – particularly in ski racing – but the preparation for this role was challenging because it was track and field, and she knew she had to blow the producers away with her athletic performance.
“I trained for nine months prior to even shooting,” she says, “but in total and by the time the movie came out, it was three long years of rigorous physical training that was exceptionally demanding. Hurdling was the most challenging of the disciplines. I learned a lot in this movie – including being held accountable for my behavior. I was a brat at times, and I was called out on my judgementalism.”
‘Star 80’ in 1983 was about the tragic murder of Playboy’s Dorothy Stratten. Mariel recalls the details including her deep respect for Director Bob Fosse.
“I really understood Dorothy’s innocence and how she was Svengali-ed by a lot of people. I really related to her. When the movie came out, it didn’t do that well and that broke Director Bob Fosse’s heart because he invested so much into it. I think that today, the movie would have done much better, but back then, audiences found the content dark and challenging to watch. But I learned so much from Bob Fosse whose artistry really shone in choreography.”
Then came ‘Civil Wars’ in 1991 when Mariel was in the middle of having two babies, and she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award in this TV series. Produced by Stephen Budgeco, she recounts how much she loved the intensity of the experience.
“I played the part of a lawyer – which was so different from anything I’d done previously. Television truly taught me a lot about acting. There was so much dialogue to memorize. You have to be ‘on it’ and sharp. We worked very long hours, and it was intense – but working hard was what I relished – and we also had fun on set.”
‘Falling from Grace’ was a John Mellencamp movie that also really resonated with Mariel. “I loved that too,” she enthuses. “We shot it in Indiana, and I do confess that I had a huge crush on John Mellencamp. I think it’s that rock ’n roll image that girls fall for, and the fact that the words in his songs were so appealing,” she laughs.
What strikes me is how grateful Mariel is for each of these very diverse acting experiences. Each one expanded her repertoire vastly and stretched her as an actress. She agrees wholeheartedly.
Cubans didn’t view my grandfather as this literary giant who drank a lot and went on hunting safaris in Africa. He was this kind man who showed his humanity every day amongst the people, and they loved him for that. The children in his neighborhood affectionately called him ‘Papa’ because he started up a baseball team for them and he even played the game with them. There’s something about the way he was perceived there that touches me
Mariel took many years off to be a devoted mom to daughters Dree and Langley, and when actresses are off the radar in Hollywood, it’s easy for people to forget them. It never dulled her positivity and enthusiasm.
“Now that I’m 62 years old,” she says proudly, “the bliss is that I don’t have to wait around for movie directors to bring me scripts. Now, I get to do the work that really interests me, and I can take the helm in the production.”
Three fascinating TV limited series are on Mariel’s horizon. She’s producing Ernest Hemingway’s book ‘A Moveable Feast’. This is Mariel’s favorite work of her grandfather’s because he wrote it while he was married to his first wife, Hadley, the woman with whom he shared his greatest love. Hadley is Mariel’s grandmother and Mariel’s middle name is Hadley. I ask her if that is particularly significant, and she responds passionately:
“I like to believe that my grandfather loved my grandmother, Hadley, more than any of his other wives, and I will believe it to the day I die. There is something very beautiful about their marriage and love affair. They struggled in Paris together with little money, but their love saw them through so many challenges. My grandfather often spoke about Hadley being the love of his life and he’d watch her leaving on the train with deeply felt emotions.”
‘A Moveable Feast’ is the closest Ernest Hemingway ever came to writing a memoir, and his life with Hadley is spoken about with great passion and warmth. One of the passages in the book reads like this:
‘We ate well and cheaply, and drank well and cheaply, and slept well and warm together, and loved each other.’
Mariel further explains why ‘A Moveable Feast’ has such a special place in her heart:
“I read it first when I was eleven years old. I was in Paris with my father, Jack (who was Ernest’s and Hadley’s first child). We visited the Tuileries Garden in the city – reminiscing how my grandparents would push my dad in his pram through the garden. My father’s first language was French. My mother went to the Cordon Bleu school in Paris and that’s where her friendship was forged with Julia Child, the famously influential and charismatic Cordon Bleu chef. When my parents got married in 1949, Julia Child was my mother’s maid of honor.”
‘A Moveable Feast’ is all about Paris in the 1920s. At the time, it was the creative center of the world with the most talented authors, composers, visual artists, and dancers of almost every race and ethnic background gathering to be fed and stimulated in a wondrous city. No doubt, Mariel will bring that atmosphere to light in the series.
Also in the pipeline is ‘Sisters Hemingway’ based on ‘Out Comes the Sun.’ It’s the story of the three sisters’ journey from Mill Valley, California to Idaho – to a much more organic life in nature. It also covers Margaux’s and Mariel’s move to New York. The TV series navigates the mental illness and addiction in their family, too.
Mariel is excited about producing ‘Sisters Hemingway’ for these reasons:
“The 60s, 70s and 80s were a fascinating time where there was so much freedom and less micromanaging. It’s an era that holds nostalgic memories because the world changed so much in the 1990s. Back in the 70s and 80s, there was such a strong sense of ‘newness’ and everything appeared to be on the horizon.”
The third major project Mariel is working on is a series about her grandfather’s life in Cuba in the 1950s. Mariel calls these projects her ‘Hemingverse’.
I’m eager to learn more about Ernest Hemingway’s life in Cuba. Mariel appeared in the 2015 film (that is now available on Prime Video), ‘Papa Hemingway in Cuba’. While that movie gave us a great sense of her grandfather’s life in Cuba, there is so much more that Mariel wants to share.
I first read my grandfather’s book, ‘A Moveable Feast’ when I was eleven years old. I was in Paris with my father, and we visited the Tuileries Garden in the city – reminiscing how my grandparents would push my dad in his pram through the garden. My father’s first language was French. My mother went to the Cordon Bleu school in Paris and that’s where her friendship was forged with Julia Child, the famously influential and charismatic Cordon Bleu chef. When my parents got married in 1949, Julia Child was my mother’s maid of honor
“Our family’s Cuban roots are so deep,” she emphasizes with great inflection in her voice. “I’m named after a Cuban village named ‘Mariel’, so I feel like Cuba is a part of me. My grandfather didn’t just live there for a few years. He lived there for 30 years – which is a long time – and he LOVED Cuba – its people, their spirit, and their intelligence. He absorbed and assimilated everything about the Cuban culture. The reason he was affectionately named ‘Papa’ is because the little children in the neighborhood in which he lived all gravitated to him, and he started up a baseball team for them, and they adored him for that. He even played the game with them. There’s something about the way he was perceived there that touches me. Cubans didn’t view him as this literary giant who drank a lot and went on hunting safaris in Africa. He was this kind man who showed his humanity every day amongst the people, and they loved him for that.”
“Beyond that,” Mariel continues, “my grandfather’s home in Cuba was the central gravitational place for the world’s greatest artists. Remember that this was before the violence and chaos of the Cuban Revolution. My grandfather savored the vibrancy and the alegria de la vida of his surroundings. There were writers and doctors who all came to Cuba to excel in their professions and to be a part of what my grandfather found so captivating.”
Mariel’s eldest sister, Muffet, has clear and wonderful memories of Pablo Picasso visiting Ernest Hemingway’s home and while there, he gave her advice on one of her pieces of art.
Mariel has two daughters, Dree and Langley. Dree is an actress and model, and Langley is a gifted artist whose paintings are exquisite. I ask Mariel about her experience of motherhood.
“I wanted babies when I was in my teens,” she says emphatically. “I always knew I wanted to be a mother. What I wanted most was to do as much work on myself as possible so that I wouldn’t pass on the fears I had as a kid to my daughters. I was determined to keep that out of their lives. I wanted to break the legacy of difficulty. Like any other mother, I wasn’t perfect, but I always loved my daughters and they felt loved and seen, and I’m proud of that. What I’m also enjoying is that my daughters are now in their 30s and the older they get, the closer we become. Those demarcation lines diminish, and we’ve become more friends than mothers and daughters. Now I get to look forward to the delights of grand motherhood. Dree has just had a baby girl and I can’t wait to enjoy this next chapter with her.”
I’m curious to know what constitutes Mariel’s favorite food dish, and she replies without hesitation: “Salads. I make some extraordinary salads!”
Her favorite movie of all time:
“For years, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ because I lived in New York, and I wanted to be like Audrey Hepburn. But I don’t like to single out one movie because there are so many that I love.”
I pose this question to Mariel in the hopes that she won’t find it overwhelming. I ask her if she feels that she is carrying the responsibility of being the Hemingway family torchbearer.
“Absolutely,” she answers resolutely. “We are the children left behind. I survived. It’s my responsibility to carry the torch forward in a positive way – and in a way that brings more light, more love, and more understanding into the world. We all come from a story – but we don’t have to let the negative aspects of that story define our future. We get to write the next chapter.”
Mariel’s literary conclusion is so very apt.
Mariel’s podcast: ‘Out Comes the Sun’. New ideas, possibilities and ways of seeing the world. Lifestyle and better mental health. Expansion Radio Channel.