Dec. 30: It has been described as the “Hemingway curse”, the depression and suicides that have claimed seven members of the family of the Nobel prize-winning writer Ernest Hemingway across four generations.
Now one of his granddaughters is confronting in a film both the trauma of a family plagued by drink, drugs and depression and her own debilitating fear of mental illness.
Explaining her decision to make Running from Crazy, Mariel Hemingway, 51, an Oscar-nominated actress, said: “The reason I did it was to give people a perspective on what it’s like to live a life of ‘running from crazy’, of trying to get away from it... and not knowing how to. My fear was that I would go crazy.”
Making the documentary, which will be premiered at the Sundance film festival next month, meant reliving painful memories. Mariel Hemingway’s actress sister Margaux took an overdose in 1996 on the eve of the 35th anniversary of their grandfather’s suicide.
Ernest Hemingway’s father Clarence, his sister Ursula and his brother Leicester each took their own lives, as did other victims of the “curse”, including Mariel’s great-grandfather James Richardson.
Medical records released in 1991 suggest Ernest Hemingway may have suffered from haemochromatosis, a genetic disease in which an overload of iron leads to mental and physical deterioration.
As a teenager, Mariel followed Margaux into acting, with Woody Allen casting her as his lover in his film Manhattan.
As well as his depression, Mariel discusses her grandfather’s alcoholism. “(The documentary) talks about that and how it has affected his family,” she said. “Nobody knew how to deal with the mental instability. He chose alcohol.”
Funded by Oprah Winfrey, the talk-show host, the film is directed by Barbara Kopple, the winner of two Oscars for previous documentaries.
Mariel dislikes the phrase “the Hemingway curse”. “It makes it feel like I don’t have a choice, and I believe I do”, she said.