Maddie Hasson to Play Billie Jean in Hank Williams Biopic
The third important role in the new Hank Williams biopic I Saw The Light has been cast. 19-year-old Maddie Hasson from New Bern, North Carolina, who previously played Willa Monday in the Fox TV show The Finder, and currently co-stars in the ABC Family show Twisted has been cast in the role of Billie Jean Eshliman—later known as Billie Jean Horton—Hank’s second wife and an important woman in country music lore.
Though Audrey Williams (to be played by Elizabeth Olsen) is the woman buried next to Hank Williams and is most famous for being Hank’s wife, Billie Jean is officially Hank’s widow and played a critical role in the singer’s final months. From Bossier City, LA, Billie Jean was first introduced to Hank by another famous country singer, Faron Young who was dating Billie Jean at the time. She was just 19-years-old, and in October of 1952, Billie Jean and Hank Williams were married in a private ceremony in Louisiana. Later they repeated their vows at two concerts on the stage of the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans for large crowds.
Three short months later, Hank Williams was dead. He passed away on News Years Day, 1953. Later in 1953, Billie Jean Williams married country music star Johnny Horton, who died in a car wreck in 1960, making Billie Jean a famous country music widow for a second time. For a short period, Billie Jean also had a relationship with Johnny Cash while he was still married to his first wife Vivian Liberto. The famous country music wife had a recording career of her own for a period, and had a Top 40 country record with “Ocean of Tears” in 1961. Billie Jean was a vocal promoter of the legacies of her two famous husbands for years, including gathering up songs from Johnny Horton after he died and compiling them into new releases. She is one of the few important figures to be portrayed in the new film who is still alive.
Billie Jean Horton had a public battle with MGM over the making of the first Hank Williams movie, Your Cheatin’ Heart from 1964. She took exception to how she was portrayed and as being married to Hank Williams illegitimately, and sued the studio.
“That movie portrayed me as a harlot. It grossed $44 million, but I shut ’em down,” the fiery Billie Jean told The Gadsden Times in 1975. “They had lawyers stacked on top of one another, but I whupped ’em all over town. They just weren’t ready for Billie Jean. Yeah, the movie portrayed me as a harlot, but there they were in court looking at my marriage certificate with mine and Hank’s signature on it.”
Billie Jean apparently won the lawsuit.
Some controversy has swirled over the I Saw The Light biopic, specifically from the grandson of Hank Williams, Hank3, who believes British actor Tom Hiddleston is not fit to play the role of Hank for the movie. I Saw The Light is scheduled to start filming in late October, and to be released in 2015.
October 8, 2014 @ 1:41 pm
That’s a mighty fine picture of Billie Jean Horton if I do say so myself.
October 8, 2014 @ 1:47 pm
Wow, Billie Jean was really hot in her prime. Definitely more classically feminine-looking than Audrey.
October 8, 2014 @ 4:20 pm
Why would anyone play Billie Jean in a Hank Williams biopic? The last thing it needs is a Michael Jackson song.
October 8, 2014 @ 4:30 pm
And Michael Jackson isn’t even from the south.
October 8, 2014 @ 4:32 pm
Well, he’s closer than London where Tom Hiddleston is from. Oh, well. As long as they add some moaning in the vocals it won’t draw the ire of Hank3.
October 10, 2014 @ 11:53 am
I think this may be the best comment ever.
October 10, 2014 @ 1:12 pm
And this may be the best reply ever 🙂
October 9, 2014 @ 1:44 pm
Billie Jean was a very interesting person… It’s a verified fact that she dated Faron Young and was married to Hank Williams and Johnny Horton, but only speculation that she actually dated Johnny Cash.
October 10, 2014 @ 7:35 am
One of Ralph Emery’s books, I think it was “The View From Nashville,” had the story of Faron Young bringing Billie Jean over to Hank’s place. If I remember correctly, Faron started to get put out about the fact that his date was more interested in Hank’s gun collection than she was in talking to the fella what brung her, as it were. It was at that same meeting that Hank took Faron in another room and said “boy, I’m in love with that woman,” to which Faron replied “man, you can have her!” I’m trying to recall whether or not Young claimed Hank had a .38 snub nose poked into his belly at the time. Also, according to the same book, after Johnny Horton’s death Faron ran into Billie Jean in Nashville, and his first words were “God I’m glad I didn’t marry you!”
Of course, that may all be tall tales, but it makes for good reading.
Audrey claimed until she died that Hank Sr. was going to leave Billie Jean and come back to her. I find that claim dubious at best
October 10, 2014 @ 9:42 am
Apparently Audrey had a heavy hand in the script of the first movie too, and that may be the reason Billie Jean was portrayed the way she was.
October 10, 2014 @ 11:32 am
Oh, that she did, which is why you had Hank Jr. singing all of Sr.’s songs on the soundtrack. Audrey got her way, whether Hank was alive or dead.
Bigfoot is Real (freaky right?)
October 10, 2014 @ 11:31 am
It’s always been legend that Hank persuaded Faron Young to walk away by waving a gun under Faron’s nose.
October 10, 2014 @ 11:55 am
I would be shocked if the 1964 film grossed $44 million (even over ten years). Mary Poppins only pulled in something like $100 million domestic in 1964. And it was an iconic classic rather than a maligned dud. The #4 film of 1964 was around $30 million domestic.
This new film will be lucky to gross $44 million in 2015.
It also just hit me why you might want a foreigner to play the lead…
October 10, 2014 @ 12:15 pm
I don’t know, I’m just quoting the story, but “Walk The Line” grossed $186 million, and I’m guessing they’re hoping to get somewhere close to that with this one. I get a sense their expectations for this new film are very very big.
October 10, 2014 @ 12:51 pm
Well “Walk The Line” was the most successful music biopic of all time which had two mega star leads and capitalized on the recent death of the subject, a surge in popularity of the music, and the success of “Ray” a year prior. I think even coming close to “Walk The Line” is the absolute BEST, BEST case scenario. It also had a budget of $28 million, which I highly doubt this Hank film comes close to just based on the casting.
Worst case scenario would be something like “The Identical.” If I’m placing the over/under based on only what I know now, I’m putting it right around $40 million.
October 10, 2014 @ 1:14 pm
Would that even be applicable though, in all fairness? As has been stated numerous times here in the past, Johnny Cash’s brand transcends the country music genre to an extent that is probably greater than any other artist of similar repute, even Hank Williams. I’ve heard plenty of people in my lifetime drop the cop out of hating country music but liking Johnny Cash. No such luck with Hank.
October 10, 2014 @ 1:42 pm
Your statements are true enough, but I think there’s an aura of mystery surrounding Hanks life and death that transcends the music.
While Cash’s popularity is definitely more broad, his story – at least to the extent presented in the film – isn’t all that atypical of many stars of that era and probably doesn’t have a great deal of appeal outside of his fan base, plus the fans of the major stars of the movie. With Hank you’re probably going to have fewer fans coming out to see the show, but potentially a lot more people who will be pulled in by the story of a major superstar who died in the back seat of a car on the way to a show.
And I have no guess as to how this will end up in terms of box office success but it will be interesting to watch it unfold.
October 10, 2014 @ 1:58 pm
My main point is that the makers of this film are hoping to create a financial and critical blockbuster with Oscar nominations and big box office numbers. I believe it will be released later in 2015 like all Oscar hopefuls will be. How Hank’s standing in the zeitgeist compared to Cash’s will affect that I do not know. But as Tom points out, there’s some unique things and the Hank Williams STORY that makes it more compelling than Cash’s.
September 1, 2019 @ 10:53 pm
Billie Jean put the original RED in redneck! Still crazy after all these years.