Mariel Hemingway is "Running From Crazy," to joy

Mariel Hemingway's road to happiness 07:39

(CBS News), Mariel Hemingway earned an Oscar nomination for her role in Woody Allen's 1979 film "Manhattan," shot when she was just 16 years old. Now she's appearing in a documentary about a real-life family matter, one she discusses with Mo Rocca:

She is, she explained to Mo Rocca, often confused for other actresses.

"I get Brooke Shields often; I think that's the eyebrow connection," Mariel Hemingway said. ""I get Michelle Pfeiffer -- that, I always love. I get Heidi Klum, and I get Christie Brinkley."

"You're getting all great people," said Rocca.

"I get very good people. I'm, like, 'Yes. Life is good!'"

Well, actually, if you're Mariel Hemingway, life is pretty great. At 51, she's raised two successful daughters, she still looks terrific, and here at the California home she shares with her boyfriend Bobby Williams, she's found time to pick up plenty of new passions: Climbing trees . . . boxing . . . tightrope walking. What's next? Walking on hot coals?

"My ability to grasp the joy of life is so strong right now," she said.

It's the same youthful spirit that captivated us back when she was 16, when the grand-daughter of literary master Ernest Hemingway got her big break -- and an Oscar nomination -- in Woody Allen's "Manhattan."

Other acting roles followed, such as "Personal Best" and "Star 80."

Now she has a new -- and more personal -- project, exploring her famous family's haunting history.

In the new documentary, "Running From Crazy," she talks about the pain of growing up a Hemingway -- and the string of suicides in her family.

"Can you list for me the members of the family that have taken their lives?" Rocca asked.

"Ernest's father [Clarence] committed suicide; my grandfather, Ernest, committed suicide. My great-grandfather on my grandmother's side. My great-uncle Leicester. My great-aunt Ursula. And my uncle [Gregory]. And then there is my sister."

Mariel Hemingway grew up in the small mountain town of Ketchum, Idaho, with her older sisters Muffet and Margaux, and her parents, Byra and Jack, the eldest son of Ernest Hemingway.

The parents' relationship was miserable.

"I spent a lot of time outside hiking because my house wasn't sane," she said. "I didn't feel like I was crazy, but I felt like I lived in crazy. You know, in the land of crazy."

In the documentary, Mariel describes the poisonous atmosphere at home: "You know, they'd have one glass of wine and things were kind of happy. They were actually having a regular conversation. But after a couple glasses of wine, the alcohol kicked in. Nastiness would happen."

Big sister Margaux escaped Idaho as soon as she could. At 19, thanks to her name and her stunning good looks, she became the highest-paid supermodel in the world.

In 1976 Margaux got an even bigger break. She was cast as the lead in the movie "Lipstick." She invited Mariel, who had no acting experience, to play her kid sister.

Margaux's performance was savaged; Mariel stole the show.

"She felt resentment towards me for coming in and sort of taking the limelight, which I didn't intentionally do," she told Rocca.

Then Woody Allen came calling.

In "Manhattan," Rocca said, "Your character was sophisticated beyond her years. Was that you?"

"She was sophisticated beyond my years. I was so unclear about what I was playing," she replied.

She played Woody Allen's lover, a free-spirited teenager -- a stretch considering Mariel had never even had a boyfriend.

"So your first make-out kiss was one that was being recorded?" Rocca asked.

"Yes, yes, exactly! I looked at Gordy Willis, the cameraman, and I go, 'I don't have to do that again, do I?' He goes, 'No, we got it.' I was, like, 'Oh, thank God!'" she laughed. "Poor Woody. He probably would've loved another kiss."

After the film, Allen came to visit Mariel and her family in Ketchum.

"He did come, and my dad decided that he would take him for a hike," Mariel said. "And for some reason, my dad decided that it would be great to have him bushwhack instead of be on a trail.

"To have Woody Allen bushwhacking!" said Rocca.

"And I'm kind of running after Woody to make sure he's OK," continued Hemingway, "until I get up to the top of the mountain and it starts to snow. And he's exhausted."

"Wait, this is like a scene, forgive me, from a Woody Allen movie,"

"It certainly is! I'm surprised it never was in a Woody Allen movie. It was extraordinary."

Margaux's own unhappiness was documented on film back in the '80s:

Margaux Hemingway: "This is my grandfather's house. He spent a lot of time here writing, and of course, that's where he took his life. I've always felt that if somebody can't go on living, and creating the way they can, I mean, the way they're used to, and in a healthy form, which Grandpa was accustomed to, I mean, I accept the fact that he killed himself."

And in 1996 Margaux took her own life in 1996. The oldest sister, Muffet, suffered a series of psychotic breaks, and remains under psychiatric care.