A conversation with Mariel
When we first glimpsed Mariel Hemingway, in the 1979 movie Manhattan, she was just a kid with impossibly long legs, a waif-like voice and guileless blue eyes. She played Woody Allenís teenage girlfriendóa red flag to his future proclivities perhaps. But it was the í70s, who cared? Mariel was radiantóthe camera loved her. It still does, but her maturity can shock those who remember her as a teenage tomboy sitting in bed with Allen eating Chinese take-out.
Mariel has moved on and grown up. She is now a mother of two teenagers, a serious practitioner of yoga, a sought-after actress, lecturer and, like her father and legendary grandfather, an author.
A third-generation Ketchum-ite, Mariel is the daughter of Jack Hemingway and Byra Louise "Puck" Whitlock, a Boise-bred beauty Jack met in Sun Valley.
I met Mariel at a Ketchum tea house. Sheís just a regular gal, straightforward, fun and gossipy. I waited for an attitude that never came. Instead, her most marked characteristic is shyness.
"My mother married a pilot, who was shot down in World War II," Mariel said, settling into a wicker chair in the shade. After his death, "she moved back to Idaho. She wanted to be a stewardess, but was too tall at five-foot nine, so she worked at Sun Valley Lodge as a soda jerk. My father was a bellhop."
Mariel told the story in stride, delivering it matter-of-factly, though later she conceded some of the oddities of growing up as a Hemingway in Sun Valley.
"My father pursued her for five years. He wooed her. They married in Paris in the late 1940s," she said, pausing before delivering the kicker: "Julia Child was their maid of honor."
Mariel never knew her famous grandfather. Ernest Hemingway shot himself in Ketchum on July 2, 1961. Four months later, on November 22, Mariel, the youngest of Puck and Jackís three daughters, was born in Mill Valley, California. The second-generation Hemingways soon returned to Idaho.
"We moved here when I was four. We lived in town the first year. When we moved north of town, my father could have bought the whole of the valley up north for $20,000.
"I went to preschool in Sun Valley and then to Ketchum Elementary. Then they built a new one and named it Ernest Hemingway Elementary. It was a pain in the ass. Kids thought I owned the school. They teased me," she said, before mock crying. "Iím seven years old! Leave me alone!"
Colorful memories stand out from a youth spent with neighborhood friends on the former Warm Springs Golf Course. Mariel can still picture real estate agent Sherry Daechís early fashion statements on the tennis courts: "She always had different-colored frilly pants," she said with a laugh. "My father taught me to drive at eleven, so he wouldnít have to drive me to town; most of the time I rode my bike everywhere. I was raised like an only child. Muffet (Joan) was 11 years older, and Margaux was seven years older. She (Margaux) was a kick-ass skier on the mountainóvery social. She went to New York City, and the next time we saw her she was on the cover of People, then Vogue. It was very overwhelming; it was all very nuts."
What began as an idyllic and adventurous home life for the tomboy became increasingly difficult. Her mother was a daring cook with a flair for unusual dishes that still inform Marielís love of food. But there was an unhappiness seeping into the family.
"My motherís first husband was prince charming in her mind," Mariel said. "She never got over (his death). It was a generation of people who didnít talk. There was a lot of drinking. After a while, we started eating in front of the TV."
Children who end up caretaking their parents and acting as a peacemaker often lose a part of their childhood. In that light, itís easy to understand why some grow up to become controlling or develop addictive personalities. Mariel grew up, in her words, "panicked."
Things didnít improve when her father joined forces with other community leaders to start Samís School (the precursor to todayís Community School). It was the beginning of life in the spotlight for the young girl.
"Everybody knew everything about everyone. It was torturous. I was desperately shy, and I really wanted to act, but it was my secret. I was called Merts and Myrtle. I was long, skinny, insecureóand I wanted my mother.
"No one realized how sick she was then. She got cancer when I was 11. I ended up taking care of her. I couldnít concentrate (at school). I was madly in love with my mother. It was hell."Acting became Marielís escape from reality. "When I made Manhattan, Woody Allen treated me like I was an interesting person. I moved to New York. I wanted my parents to tell me not to go, but they didnít."
One of Allenís most witty and beautiful films, Manhattan is about a writer torn between two women, one an intellectual (Diane Keaton), the other an earnest 17-year-old high school student (Mariel). She knocked peopleís socks off with her portrayal and garnered an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress.
"Manhattan was the movie that saved me. I went into survival mode. I loved, loved it and had no idea what it meant."
After maturing into her next film, Personal Best, Mariel moved to New York full time and found work as a model before love drew her into the restaurant world.
"I met Stephen (Crisman) at Hard Rock Cafť. I said to my friend, ĎIím going to marry him.í I married him eight months later. Itís been 23 years."
Crisman, now a documentary filmmaker, was a hip, young restaurateur in the 1980s. Together, the couple ran a few hot cafťs named "Sam," her nickname at the time. New York life was a far cry from grilling fish with the family north of Ketchum.
"Those were the restaurant years," she said. "It was kind of cool. I did the food and dťcor. Bad fashion time," she said with a laugh. "We thought we were having fun but no one was spiritual. It was all about me, me, me."
After a time living in L.A., where Mariel focused on her acting career, the family moved back to Ketchum in the early 1990s. She opened the Sacred Cow Yoga Studio, and her daughters became the second generation of Hemingways to attend the school named for their celebrated great-grandfather.
Around the same time, Marielís oldest sister Joan, known as Muffet, started showing signs of mental illness and was moved to Twin Falls, where she continues to live with a caretaker.
"I love her so desperately, but I donít know how to be there for her," Mariel said. "She was my idolóbeautiful and intelligent. But Iím scared. Itís a struggle. I fear for her."
In the mid-1990s, though she was living mostly in Ketchum where her daughters were in school, Mariel moved into a period of television mini-series work, including Civil War and Central Park West, the latter of which she says was the most painful experience she had "in the business." The show was a complete failure, and blame for its demise was placed squarely on Marielís shoulders.
Through it all, yoga sustained her. "I first practiced yoga up here (in Sun Valley) with Richard Odom. Yoga had started to change me. It was enabling me to look at myself and slow down. I didnít want to go crazy like my sisters or shoot myself. I didnít want to become like my family. When Margaux died [of suicide in 1996], I thought ĎOh shit, I have to carry the torch.í"
Mariel worked hard to keep herself mentally and physically healthy, but life had more to throw in her path. In 1999, while working on her first book, a memoir/self-help project called Finding My Balance, her husband received his first diagnosis of melanoma.
"The second time he got sick (in 2004), he wanted my help." Mariel advised her husband to look both inside and out. "We started looking at his life: home, food, exercise and silence." Crismanís cancer went into remission and Mariel took the lessons they learned as the genesis for her second book: Mariel Hemingwayís Healthy Living From the Inside Out: Every Womanís Guide to Real Beauty, Renewed Energy and a Radiant Life, published in 2007. The book details a lifestyle that is centered and spiritual, but homey.
In Marielís work as a lecturer, she expounds upon the ideas in her book, including the importance of self-realization. "Everybody has a road map into their personal health, but you have to ask questions to get there. I want to enable people to realize that they have a healthy, happy person inside them."
Mariel has had plenty of her own demons to contend with throughout the years. But through her determination not to pass on to her children what she calls the "extremism Iíd inherited from my familyóthe running-of-the-bulls approach to life encoded deeply in the Hemingway DNA," Mariel has discovered the better path.