The True Story of Johnny Cash’s Largely Forgotten First Marriage

Most of what you understand about Johnny Cash’s life most likely got here from the 2005 film Walk the Line. As performed by Joaquin Phoenix, Cash was proven there as a kind of primitive folks genius stricken by private demons till he’s rescued by June Carter, who goes on to develop into his second spouse.

As is normally the case, what actually occurred is way extra sophisticated. And that’s what My Darling Vivian, a brand new documentary that streams beginning June 19, addresses.

Vivian Liberto, Cash’s first spouse and the mom of his 4 daughters, was largely disregarded of Walk the Line. She’s been erased from different works about Cash as nicely, together with the memorial live performance from Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium that was broadcast on CMT.

Filmmaker Matt Riddlehoover was contemplating tasks when a good friend advised a documentary about Vivian. His husband and producing companion, Dustin Tittle, is Vivian’s grandson.

“Over the years my mother-in-law, Kathy Cash Tittle, told me stories about Vivian,” Riddlehoover mentioned by phone. “Hearing about what happened to her and the kids in Hollywood, when they lived in Johnny Carson’s old house, and then in the house on the hill in Casitas Springs, I was thinking, where was all of this in Walk the Line?”

The director knew he was taking up an enormous accountability. Revealing Vivian’s life could be the equal of saying, “Okay, everything you think you know about that story is either a myth or downright not true.” Despite his qualms, his mother-in-law and aunts — Rosanne Cash, Cindy Cash and Tara Cash Schwoebel — agreed to the venture directly.

Riddlehoover started by scanning the hundreds of images and letters Vivian stored from the time she met Cash (then an Air Force cadet) as a 17-year-old lady in San Antonio. Forbidden to marry by her strict dad and mom, Vivian and Cash corresponded virtually each day whereas he served in Europe. Their letters are heartbreakingly romantic.

In one, Cash writes about Vivian’s shallowness issues, encouraging a painfully shy lady with sensitivity and perception. “To me that was like an epiphany moment,” Riddlehoover mentioned. “This is why things affected her the way they did, this is why she was so reserved, so private, so unwilling to use her voice. It surprised me that I hadn’t read it in her memoir, and that the girls seemingly didn’t know about it.”

The movie additionally presents a unique facet to The Man in Black, an archetypal determine whose traits have hardened into delusion. Walk the Line pushed Cash by means of a Hollywood storyline; My Darling Vivian exhibits some of the difficulty he left behind.

“None of this was ever meant to settle scores,” Riddlehoover insisted. “We wanted this to be loving, to show a side of John that no one’s ever seen before. Honestly, the side that his daughters remember. A dad who was very much in love with their mother.”

Home motion pictures Vivian stored all her life present one other view into the daughters’ childhoods, first in Memphis after which Los Angeles. Cash is an animated presence all through barbeques, birthdays and holidays, however after 1962, the films and images cease.

“There’s very little photographic evidence when times were tough,” Riddlehoover mentioned. “It was kind of a gut punch to realize that the early years in their marriage, the birth of the first three children, all of it was so well-documented, especially for the time. And then it just kind of dries up.”

What occurred was that Cash left Vivian for June Carter, a member of the folk-music dynasty. As the documentary makes clear, Vivian was devastated by the betrayal. “It was clear from the stories I heard over the years from Kathy that Vivian was terribly, terribly hurt, and it was important to shed light on that.”

Much of My Darling Vivian is instructed by her daughters, who in separate interviews supply contradictory accounts of incidents of their lives.

“I had seen the four of them sitting together on a couch at the Country Music Hall of Fame a few years ago,” Riddlehoover remembers. “They were talking about photos of their father in Europe, and all these differences in opinions and recollections came out. So for this movie, I wanted them to be in their own space, comfortable, not having anyone question what they remembered.”

The director spoke with just a few different sources as nicely, notably songwriter and musician Rodney Crowell, who was married to Rosanne within the 1980s. He gave Riddlehoover entry to his personal motion pictures of the household.

“Rodney was tremendously instrumental in helping me revisit the memorial tribute, which is how Vivian’s memoir opens,” Riddlehoover recalled. “He said, ‘You know I dedicated a song to her, but when it aired on television, it wasn’t there.’ I knew CMT had sent the family both edited and unedited versions of the concert. So I went through it and sure enough, there it was.”

When speaking about assembling the fabric, shaping it right into a narrative, Riddlehoover compares it to piecing collectively a puzzle. Separate themes emerged when the director interviewed the Cash daughters, and he wished to provide credence and a spotlight to every.

“I was surprised by what Rosanne brought to the table, what Cindy and Tara thought, and then the candid conversations I had with Kathy, my mother-in-law,” the director mentioned. “Things in the letters that weren’t mentioned in Vivian’s memoir, photos the family as a whole wasn’t aware of. To this day photos will come up, and Tara will say, ‘I’ve never seen this before.’”

Reclaiming incidents from the previous, exploring new insights into tradition, studying what it felt like rising up in that household — My Darling Vivian is broad in scope however surprisingly intimate. In the tip, it renders Vivian and Johnny Cash recognizably human.

“They were and are a family just like any other,” Riddlehoover famous. “Divorce happens. Remarriage happens. Step kids happen. If somebody gets married, you’re all there. Somebody passes away, you’re all there. That was part of this for me, sharing these moments.”

The documentary was scheduled to display screen at this 12 months’s South by Southwest earlier than the pageant was canceled. Riddlehoover and Tittle had additionally deliberate to point out their movie at different festivals within the spring and summer season, till the pandemic intervened.

“At first the cancellations were a little devastating, as if it were just a continuation of Vivian being silenced and her story not getting the proper platform,” Riddlehoover admitted. “But then reality set in and it was sobering to realize how serious this was. So thank god they canceled it.”

My Darling Vivian shall be accessible as a substitute as a digital launch, starting on June 19. “Not just to get the film out there,” the director mentioned, “but to support art-house theaters whose doors are closed right now.”

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