Obituary : Margot Hemingway

Click to follow
Margot Hemingway's father Jack once said, "If Ernest Hemingway had had a daughter, Margot is what he would have wanted. She's very womanly. She has a true capacity for suffering and for enjoying and for loving."

Her career as an actress and fashion model seemed inevitably shadowed by that of her grandfather, the author and literary legend Ernest Hemingway, who shot himself on 2 July 1961 while cleaning his gun: indeed the Hemingway family had seemed marked by suicide, Ernest's father, sister and brother also taking their own lives.

Margot Hemingway appeared to be bound for a brighter course, and in 1975, aged 19, after hanging around Hollywood as a wayward minder for George C. Scott's daughter Devon, she embarked on a career as a fashion model. Her career seemed to reach an apogee of sorts with appearances on the covers of both Time magazine and Vogue.

Her first agency, Wilhelmina Models, opined that the 6ft-tall beauty would never be a success until she shed 20lb and severely tweezed her eyebrows, but later the same year, after switching to the Eileen Ford Agency, Hemingway was selected as Faberge's "Fabulous Babe", the symbol of the company's new perfume, achieving the largest single solo fashion advertising contract to date.

Soon Margaux Hemingway's face was everywhere (she reportedly changed the spelling of her name from Margot to Margaux when she learned that her parents conceived her after drinking a bottle of Chateau Margaux). The New York fashion artist Joe Eula called her features "the photographer's ideal". She was certainly the face of the Seventies, and unsurprisingly, like many before her, she found her way into the movies, playing the leading role in a Dino De Laurentiis- Freddie Fields exploitation film, Lipstick (1976). Anne Bancroft co-stars in the expensive Paramount feature with a semblance of gloss, but it suffers from a particularly gruesome plot, involving Hemingway as a raped fashion model who blows away her assailant before he can go to work on her younger sister, played by Margaux's own younger sister Mariel, also making her screen debut.

Mariel's career went on to thrive and she later worked for such directors as Woody Allen and Bob Fosse, but Margaux languished after Lipstick. The film proved unfortunately that her thespian talents were limited, and her film career lurched downhill. She appeared in a Italian horror flick set in Brazil, called Killer Fish (1979), in which she was given fourth billing and appeared to have filmed her sequences in isolation from the other second-string movie stars (including former model Marisa Berenson). After that came such little-seen gems as They Call Me Bruce? (1982), a vehicle for the Korean comedian Johnny Yune, described by the critic Leonard Maltin as "unfunny [and] frequently obnoxious", and Over the Brooklyn Bridge (1984), second- billed as Elliott Gould's shiksa, who causes his family to refuse to loan him money to open a restaurant. The latter was her best screen part, and she looked good, but audiences stayed away, and it was back to cheap international exploiters like the Spanish film Killing Machine (1986) with Jorge Rivero and an elderly Lee Van Cleef and others of lesser ilk that barely surfaced, like Deadly Rivals (1992) and Love is Like That (1992).

After these unseen epics she changed her name back to the one she was born with, but she seemed a tormented soul, and reports started filtering through of drug problems and alcohol dependency. She had a spell in the Betty Ford Clinic, her weight rose to 14 stone, and in 1992 she made an unforgettable appearance on the BBC television programme Fighting Back, revealing her uphill struggle with bulimia and admitting to being "obsessed with death, as was my grandfather".

In January 1995 she was committed against her will to a psychiatric clinic after being rushed to hospital by Idaho police after a reported week of "bizarre and dangerous behaviour". She had returned from a self-seeking trip to India and had begun to believe she had healing powers, attempting to force the devil out of people's heads. Revelations of long-term epilepsy and a history of abuse as a child were laid bare to the public.

Margot Hemingway did leave a legacy as a result of her work, when the California legislature passed what became known as the "Margaux Hemingway Resolution No 109", prohibiting the mention of a rape victim's sexual history during trial. Thus the storyline of Lipstick had a resonance its creators could never have foreseen, and the Californian Bar Association duly presented Hemingway with a Citizenship Award in recognition of her role.

Tony Sloman

Margot Hemingway, actress and model: born Portland, Oregon 1 February 1955; married 1975 Errol Wetson (marriage dissolved 1978), secondly Baron Bernard Foucher (marriage dissolved); died Santa Monica, California c30 June 1996.