Matt Riddlehoover is the producer, director and editor of the new documentary My Darling Vivian about Vivian Liberto, Johnny Cash’s first wife and the mother of his four daughters, Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara.
Matt’s husband, Dustin Tittle, is the grandson of Vivian Cash.
His mother is Kathy Cash, Vivian’s second eldest daughter.
Direct access to story material doesn’t get much better than that.
Though Vivian passed away in 2005, she left behind a wealth of material including hundreds of love letters that were written by Johnny Cash when they were dating and he was stationed overseas in Germany when he was in the Air Force.
They met when she was just 17. Their first date was at a roller rink.
She kept those skates the rest of her life, through the good years, the bad years, her divorce from Johnny, and all that followed.
And, of course there were the four daughters who agreed to speak with Matt about their mother’s life and share their recollections.
"At first, they all agreed to do it immediately and I think they really didn't give it a second thought because I think it was really important for them to do for themselves, also for their mom, who has...all but been erased from their father's history over the years," Riddlehoover said in a recent phone interview with me.
"As the interview was drawing near, or the day of, there was some trepidation and some nerves and a lot of emotion because these were things they'd never been asked to really unpack before in person, let alone on camera," Riddlehoover commented.
Vivian was no longer in the celebrity spotlight after Johnny famously married June Carter, becoming country music royalty to a legion of adoring fans.
Vivian faded into obscurity only to be glimpsed briefly and inaccurately in the movie Walk the Line (2005) starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.
Ginnifer Goodwin played the young Vivian, who was portrayed as a clinging wife who held Johnny back from his music, his fame, and what was depicted in the movie as his true love, June Carter.
My Darling Vivian goes a long way in setting the record straight.
Riddlehoover spent two and a half years acquiring the snapshots, photos, home movies and film clips required to tell the story.
It is narrated through interviews with the four Cash daughters whose recollections are sometimes inconsistent and even contradictory.
"A lot of it was so tough they never talked about it," said Riddlehoover.
Because of their relative ages as young girls, their memories are from different perspectives. The same events are seen differently.
It’s this observation about the subjective nature of truth that underscored cinema classics from Citizen Kane to Rashomon. It’s fascinating to see it come to light through the interviews in this documentary.
In the end, we have a glimpse of the other side of Vivian Cash’s story, one that might have been overlooked and lost forever if it hadn’t been for the courage of four loving daughters and one determined filmmaker who made the most of an insider’s perspective.