We all know Johnny Cash as the country crooner, but we rarely hear the story of his first marriage. Now hundreds of love letters, vintage photographs, and home movies come to light in My Darling Vivian, a new documentary focusing on the life of Johnny, his wife Vivian Liberto, and their four daughters.
In the film, out digitally through Film Forum in New York, Laemmle Theaters in L.A., and other participating theaters across the U.S. and Canada, Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy, and Tara Cash share family memories from the star’s largely forgotten 13-year marriage, uncovering an intimate chapter of Johnny’s life. From family pets to bedtime stories and birthday parties, the sisters dish on what their dad was like before he got heavy into drugs and disappeared to New York, rooming with Bob Dylan in SoHo.
The timing feels right for this sort of project. Vivian, a Catholic schoolgirl, and Johnny, an air-force cadet, met at a roller-skating rink in San Antonio, Texas. They married in 1954 and settled down in Casitas Springs, California, where their daughters were born. While Cash’s popularity as a musician grew and he began to spend more and more time on the road, the Italian-American Vivian and her daughters were targeted by white supremacists who mistook Vivian as being black; Johnny and Vivian grew apart, Vivian’s story lost in the Hollywood narrative of his life.
June Carter (Cash’s second wife) would later proclaim on television that she had seven children, though four of them were Vivian’s. “Even though [my mother] was an intensely private woman, I think she longed to have her story told, and her place in the history of my family acknowledged with respect and love,” says Rosanne.
“Vivian’s truth is being told at a time when our society is beginning to listen to its aggrieved women,” says the film’s director, Matt Riddlehoover. “Maybe her joy and pain and reality can be fully accepted.” —Nadja Sayej