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.