In 1996, following the announcement of Adrian Lyne’s new film adaptation of Lolita, Sue Lyon, the star of Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film, broke many years of press silence. Lyon, a year younger than the new Lolita (15-year-old Dominique Swain) when she played the part, said: “My destruction as a person dates from that movie. Lolita exposed me to temptations no girl of that age should undergo. I defy any pretty girl who is rocketed to stardom at 14 in a sex nymphet role to stay on a level path thereafter.”
Lolita made Lyon a star. It was also the beginning of an undoing similar to the one Nabokov’s nymphet endures. Her future included decades of mental instability, five marriages, a child she would end up abandoning, and protracted physical decline culminating in her death, at 73, in 2019. Though Lyon credited the early stardom for her own “destruction,” it’s long been rumored that what occurred during filming—and what broke her—was a sexual relationship with the film’s producer, James B. Harris. If Lyon’s destruction began with Lolita, was it possible a single individual could have caused this level of damage?