Ernest Hemingway's granddaughter recalls family history of alcoholism and suicide

Last Updated: Fri, Feb 15, 2013 10:50 hrs

Ernest Hemingway may be regarded as one of the seminal writers of the 20th century, but his legend also lives on through his image as an inveterate drinker.

A trip to his grave will always be paved with fans' empty bottles of Jack Daniels and wine.

But his drinking masked his manic depression; he ended his own life by shooting himself in the head 52 years ago.

Throughout the generations suicide has been the final ending for many Hemingways.

Hemingway's father and two siblings killed themselves. And 15 years ago, on the anniversary of his death, his granddaughter Margaux, who was once the world's highest-paid model, took an overdose and died.

Her sister Joan - known as 'Muffet' - is, meanwhile, a shell of her former self and needs constant care for bipolar disease.

It is no wonder that Mariel's new documentary, which recently premiered at the Sundance Festival, is called Running From Crazy.

It's a bold statement for a woman who, despite being a mother of two, admits she once contemplated suicide herself.

"I've been depressed most of my life. It was like having a low-grade infection. I was always a little bit sad," she said.

But things really took a turn for the worse when her husband [film maker Stephen Crisman] was diagnosed with cancer in 1999.

It brought up all these memories of having to care for her mother who had cancer, she said.

It was only when he went into remission that she went into a dark depression.

Part of the Hemingway curse is a predisposition for mental illness. That comes hand in hand with an addictive nature. Ernest's addiction, famously, was his love of alcohol and danger.

Her father Jack was Ernest's only son from his marriage to Hadley Richardson, the first of his four wives. He had a strange relationship with his father.

"Ernest's school of parenting was to take my father to a whorehouse when he was 13," Mariel said.

"He would also take him fishing but never let him fish - my dad had to watch," she said.

Jack, a writer, expert fisherman and river conservationist, who died of heart problems in 2000, was an alcoholic. Mariel's mother Byra probably was too.

Mariel has strong memories of daily 'wine time' which started at 5pm and continued until the married couple fought and one ended up throwing a bottle at the other. It would be left to Mariel to clear the blood away.

Mariel blames her father's drinking on the most startling of the revelations contained in her documentary. In it, she says she believes her father sexually molested her two sisters.

She thinks she was only saved from his clutches because from the age of 11, when her mother contracted cancer, she slept with Byra until she left home at 17. But she says her knowledge of it put her off sex for years.

"That is the hardest part of this film for me to talk about. I loved my dad and he was a wonderful man. He was so kind and I learned a lot from him. He wasn't a monster," she said.

"But he did drink too much, especially when I was very young, and I think things happened. I don't think it was regular and it is something I have more of a visceral memory of rather than a visual one. I think if he was alive now he probably wouldn't even remember it.

"I am not condoning it or making excuses for it. But things happen in families and there is unspoken stuff. That doesn't make it right but it also doesn't make a person evil, and my dad wasn't evil," she added. (ANI)

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