Actress-turned-author Hemingway (Mariel’s Kitchen, 2009) ponders her life and career in light of her famous family’s self-destructive history.
Born just after her famous-author grandfather, Ernest, committed suicide in 1961, Mariel Hemingway was immediately thrust into a family legacy historically marked by suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness. Her parents both struggled with alcohol dependency, while her sisters Muffet and Margot would fight depression their entire lives (Margot eventually died of a suicidal drug overdose at age 42). Although she grew up in rural Idaho, Mariel couldn’t resist entering the glamorous world of show business as a teenager, initially riding the coattails of Margot, who had rocketed to quick fame as a model in New York City. But with a breakout role in Woody Allen’s 1979 comedy Manhattan, Mariel’s star began eclipsing her sister’s. Mariel would then go on to a respectable career as a midlist actress in the late 1970s and 1980s, riding hit movies like Star 80 and Superman IV. In her 20s, Hemingway also found herself in one tension-filled relationship after another, first with legendary screenwriter Robert Towne, then with one of the founders of the Hard Rock Café chain—not to mention a few brief celebrity flings. Although the memoir is ostensibly about how the author conquered the so-called “Hemingway Curse,” it’s never really explicit as to how this was accomplished. However, it’s clear that Mariel never quite bought into the Hollywood dream or her own celebrity. She maturely managed her life and career without too many psychic scars and luckily ended up bypassing addiction to controlled substances or alcohol (although she did have a predilection for black coffee binges). By the end of the book, we find her psychically well-adjusted enough to be the author of a self-help book and this generically positive but fairly uneventful celebrity memoir.
Kudos to the author for mostly avoiding her family’s “curse,” but the book, occasionally revelatory, is weighed down by self-discovery platitudes.