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SXSW: My Darling Vivian

Vivian Liberto Cash, Johnny Cash’s first wife and the mother of his four daughters, passed away on May 24th, 2005. This was a few months before Walk the Line (2005), the critically-acclaimed and award-winning Cash biopic starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon and Ginnifer Goodwin, was released. Vivian didn’t live to see the film nor did she want to. The script circulated and the way it portrayed Vivian was far from the truth. It created a myth about Vivian as a vindictive woman who tried to get in the way of Cash’s music career.

In reality, Vivian Liberto was a complex woman. A strong-minded woman who was fiercely private and devoted to her husband and her children. The daughter of Italian-American Catholics in San Antonio, Texas, Vivian first met Johnny Cash in 1951 when she was a teenager and he was an Air Force cadet. They had an instant connection and exchanged love letters when Cash served abroad. When he returned in 1954, they married. Cash’s career took off. They moved to California and into Johnny Carson’s old home. They had four children together: Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara. Vivian had a difficult time with Cash’s fame. It was intrusive and put Vivian on guard. Cash spent more and more time away from the family, started using drugs and started a relationship with singer June Carter that would eventually lead to Vivian and Johnny’s divorce. Vivian wasn’t the perfect mother but she did what she could to raise her four children. She re-married and wrote a book about her life. But her desire for privacy meant the world didn’t really know or understand Vivian. By the time her book published, it was too little too late. A new myth would eclipse the truth.

Filmmaker Matt Riddlehoover’s new documentary My Darling Vivian sets the record straight about the woman behind the legend. The film features extensive home footage and photos. Only Vivian’s four daughters Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara are interviewed. There are no other talking heads, no other family members, friends, pop culture experts, historians etc. This documentary keeps it in the family. It’s easy to watch this film and immediately get defensive of Vivian. You might reconsider your feelings on Walk the Line and how it portrayed her. Of course there is some bias but I was impressed how frank and open the four daughters were about their mother. They discussed both the good and the bad about their parents. My Darling Vivian is a well-rounded and fairly intimate film about a misunderstood woman.

My Darling Vivian was set to have its world premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Visit the official website for more information.

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