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- June 11, 1979
- Vol. 11
- No. 23
The Littlest Hemingway
The Hemingway Legend Goes On: First Ernest, Then Margaux, and Now the Luminous Mariel
—Woody Allen to Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan
From her suite at the Hotel Carlton in Cannes, 17-year-old Mariel Hemingway could watch the crowds gather for the 10:30 p.m. showing of her film even before the blazing sun had disappeared into the Mediterranean. It had been a full day—a morning jog, four interviews (her French is serviceable), a TV short and a rich lunch at the three-star Le Moulin de Mougins—all amid the hustlers and hookers, yachts and yes-men that characterize the international film festival. Now "Merts" (her childhood nickname) was preparing for her big night.
"I'm so nervous," she shuddered. "I don't want to see the film again." (It was not dissatisfaction with her performance as Woody's precocious sweetheart in Manhattan. Critics melted, calling her "incandescent," "superb" and "clear, pure, real.") Mariel washed her hair and let it dry straight. She put on an antique satin blouse and a simple calf-length black print skirt. She wore little makeup but stuck a sprig of flowers in her hair. Then, leaving the room at 10:10, she picked up a red rose. "I need something else to hang onto besides you, Daddy," she explained to Jack Hemingway, 55, the Idaho game commissioner turned writer, who had borrowed a black bow tie for the evening. Paparazzi strobes flickered like heat lightning as she made her way down the Croisette to the theater and took a seat in the sweltering balcony. Just before the movie's final scene, Mariel stood up, suddenly overcome by heat and excitement. Near fainting, she swayed back to the hotel on her father's arm. A doctor was summoned, and Mariel fell into a deep sleep while the others caroused until dawn at the party in her honor downstairs. "It was just too much for her," said Manhattan producer Charles Joffe. The next morning Mariel blinked awake. "Did I ruin everything?"
Hardly. But what could have prepared the littlest Hemingway for so abruptly becoming the biggest? Up to now she has been remarkably sheltered from the fame and public expectations that have made her sister Margaux's life difficult and that finally destroyed her grandfather Ernest. This trip to France could not help but evoke echoes from the past; the country is resonant with the family's history. Before Cannes, Mariel spent hours wandering through Papa Hemingway's Parisian haunts with Jack, his first son. Her last visit to France was in 1975 when she was a supernumerary at Margaux's lavish wedding to hamburger baron Errol Wetson. Now for the first time the unspoiled kid from Ketchum, Idaho was having to cope with her own contribution to the Hemingway renown. As a card tacked on her bulletin board back home reads: "You're going out there a youngster, but you've got to come back a star."
It's more an ironic reminder than a boast. "I've told everybody to kick me if I start acting like a celebrity, because I don't want to alienate my friends and family," says Mariel (who was named for a bay in Cuba where her parents picnicked in the '50s). Perhaps she's learned a thing or two from Margaux, seven years her senior and, at 6', two inches taller, who blew into New York in 1974 an unspoiled 19-year-old only to be swept away by instant celebrity as a model. The differences between the two young women are striking. Mariel carefully pondered her own quiet move to Manhattan last January ("My mom and I cried for days when I left"). She shuns Studio 54 ("I hate that place," she says. "It's fake and phony") and modeling ("I don't feel like I'm really using me, it's just my body"), though she has been a cover girl for Seventeen and Gentlemen's Quarterly.
Most important, Mariel has never felt the earth move and is in no rush to experiment with big-city romance. Both of her sisters, whom she loves dearly, have gone through painful divorces: Muffet, 28-year-old co-author of the thriller Rosebud, is now recouping at her parents' home; Margaux, after leaving Wetson last year, is once again engaged, to Venezuelan filmmaker Bernard Foucher, 40. "Maybe it's come from seeing what they did," theorizes Mariel, "but I've always been very careful." Despite the usual, and groundless, whispers of romances with Woody, Manhattan co-star Michael Murphy and Steve McQueen's son Chad ("His father has a house in Sun Valley and everybody there knows everybody else"), Mariel says she has never been in love and doesn't even have a boyfriend. Her one date in Cannes, with ladies' man Treat Williams, star of Hair, ended early because, as Mariel tells it, "I had to go to the bathroom so-o-o bad, but I just couldn't tell him."
So it wasn't typecasting that landed Mariel her role as Tracy, the prep school sophisticate who is sleeping with a 42-year-old writer named Isaac Davis, played by Allen. "She'd had three affairs," says Mariel shyly. "I'm different. I'm from Idaho." She was offered the part because Woody had seen her auspicious debut at 14 as a rape victim in Margaux's 1976 film Lipstick and recalls: "Both Hemingway women were in the movie, but Mariel stuck out." Mariel remembers herself as "just a little squirt" who had "usually played animals" in school productions. "After Lipstick I went back home and was just an average kid. I thought making movies was boring." Plans to become a marine biologist or "ecologist" soon evaporated, though, with her role as an unwed teenage mother in the 1976 TV movie Want to Keep My Baby.
Her first introduction to Allen was his 1969 film Take the Money and Run. "I thought, 'Who is this little munchkin guy?' Then last year," Mariel adds, "my agent called me and said, 'Woody Allen wants to meet you,' and I said, 'Give me a break.' I thought he was joking." But she stopped to meet him in New York, en route to tennis camp in France with a girlfriend. "You always think of these people as being obnoxious, but he was very shy," she says. "He was probably nervous too. He explained that I would play his girlfriend. All I did was giggle. I was so nervous I don't think I listened. My friend had to tell me everything afterward."
When filming started later that summer, Mariel stayed first with Margaux, then with step-grandmother Mary Hemingway (the author's fourth and last wife). "I was so scared. The first scene was shot at Elaine's and I was shaking under the table." "She was very shy," says Allen, but later "We had a great deal of fun. Mariel was teased all the time about her having to kiss." Actually, the hardest scene for Mariel wasn't kissing Woody, but eating Chinese food in bed with him. (Her carton really contained granola.) "I had to say 'W. C. Fields' and couldn't," she giggles. "Everybody thought I was so stupid." Observes Michael Murphy, "We all watched out for her—but it's hard to say what will happen in the future. She's launched herself in a tough business at an early age. I hope she'll be okay."
Mariel argues that her Idaho roots make all the difference. "It's nice to have a base," she says. "I was never a child star like Brooke Shields or Tatum O'Neal. I didn't grow up in Hollywood. I was normal. I was on the ski team. Some people are too young when they become famous. I think I'm old enough to handle it now." Her father agrees. "Mariel seems to have her head screwed on very well," he says. "She might not admit it but she wants this very much. If I didn't think she could handle it, I wouldn't have let her make the move to New York."
To do so, Mariel gave up her skis, skateboard, three dogs and a parakeet and dropped out of high school. She now takes voice and dance lessons and queues up for theatrical auditions. Since Manhattan opened, she doesn't take the subway anymore. "I never know what to say when people ask for my autograph," she cringes. "I'm real uncomfortable." She and actress Sara Mylerberg, 17, share a $500-a-month studio apartment in Greenwich Village that contains Mariel's collection of quilts and antiques, photographs of her sisters, a Persian cat ("She's such a nerd") and a 10-speed bike. "My whole Sun Valley life is physical," says Mariel. "In New York it's an effort just to ride a bike. I'm not crazy about city life, but I'm learning." Her idea of a perfect evening is dinner in a neighborhood macrobiotic restaurant with Sara and her other closest friend, acting coach Walt Jones, 30. (Mariel is a vegetarian of 18 months' standing who eats no sugar or dairy products.) After dinner they catch an old movie or just "goof around." While her cultural tastes used to run to John Denver, adventure stories and Baretta, they are now more reminiscent of mentor Woody's. "I love the Bach concertos, jazz piano, Anna Karenina, J. D. Salinger, Masterpiece Theatre's Lillie Langtry and all my grandfather's books." She is currently rereading For Whom the Bell Tolls.
"I feel closer to adulthood now, but it makes me sad," says Mariel. "I get excited and depressed. If I have a problem I go to someone or just let it out by screaming and crying. If the fame went away I might go back to Idaho, but I'd never stop acting."
Manhattan ends with this scene between Mariel and Woody. She is about to leave for six months in London.
Isaac: In six months you'll be a completely different person. Tracy: Don't you want me to have that experience?
Isaac: I just don't want that thing about you that I like to change.
Tracy: Not everybody gets corrupted. You have to have a little faith in people.
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