“You mean you want to talk to just me?” asked Emma Walton Hamilton, the co-founder of the Bay Street Theater, bestselling author, and director of the Children’s Lit Fellows and Young Artists and Writers Project at Stony Brook Southampton University. “No one ever wants to talk to just me.”
She was joking, of course — and, full disclosure, Hamilton and I have been step-sisters for over half a century — but since pairing up with her mother, Julie Andrews, as a writing duo that have produced dozens of bestsellers, TV shows, plays, and more, Hamilton, a Sag Harbor resident, has willingly taken a back seat to her mother’s more internationally famous name.
“I hid behind ‘Walton’ growing up,” she said. Her father is Tony Walton, the famed designer/director, who for years was a Sag Harbor resident with his second wife, Gen LeRoy-Walton. “I went to a lot of different schools, and I always wanted the other kids to get to know me for me — to be my friend because they liked me — before they found out about my mom. It was a race!” she said with a smile.
“Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years,” Andrews’s second autobiographical tome, co-written with Hamilton, has just hit the stands, as we used to say, and Bay Street Theater and the Sag Harbor Cinema will be joining forces to host a benefit screening of Blake Edwards’s “That’s Life!” (1986) on Sunday, November 10, which stars Julie Andrews, Jack Lemmon, Jennifer Edwards, Chris Lemmon . . . and Emma Walton Hamilton. It was a family affair, with Edwards and Andrews married for quite some time, and a blending of their children, and Jack Lemmon’s as well, to portray — surprise, surprise — a dysfunctional Hollywood family. Even Hamilton’s dog, Chutney, is in the movie.
It’s a deeply personal movie, one that, Hamilton believes, Edwards wrote and filmed as an amends to his family for his often-challenging behavior due to depression, chronic pain, and addiction issues, all of which is chronicled in “Home Work.”
“The book ends with ‘That’s Life!’” Hamilton said. “It’s the last film that Blake and Mom did together.”
And there are parts of the film that seem prescient to Hamilton now. “This was way before Mom’s throat issues, but that’s a big part of the storyline in the movie. My boyfriend in the film is named ‘Steve,’” — director Stephen Hamilton is Emma’s longtime husband — “and Jordan Christopher plays the doctor.” Sybil Christopher, who was married to Jordan, co-founded Bay Street with Hamilton.
“It’s just all around so weird,” she said. “It really shows the connection of everything.”
But wait, there’s more. Edwards had chosen to film “That’s Life!” in a John Cassavetes fashion, mostly ad-libbed. Hamilton was already living in New York, pursuing the life of an actress, “but I chose to be a saxophone player instead for the film,” she said, laughing. “So, I had to learn to play the sax for the movie.”
The sax that Hamilton blows in the film, by the way, was picked up by the Hamiltons’ son, Sam, who played it all the way through Ross School.
“My kids had never seen it before,” Hamilton said of a recent screening of “That’s Life!” in New York City. “That was an amazing experience. Sitting there, watching it with Hope, and Sam, who is now 23, the same age I was when we filmed the movie. And for him to see himself so clearly in me,” she is silent for a moment. “It was profound.”
And as for hiding behind the name Walton, Hamilton remembers when that changed for her. “I was attending Marianne Williamson’s lectures in the city, and we became friends,” she said. In fact, Williamson officiated at the Hamiltons’ wedding at Old Whalers’ Church on May 11, 1991.
“And Marianne said to me, way back when, ‘Your mother is Hollywood royalty. And you are a princess.’ It literally changed everything about the way I felt in a nanosecond. I suddenly saw I had a responsibility to live up to somehow, that I could wear the mantel and stand by my mother’s side.”
The screening on Sunday will begin at 3 PM, followed by a Q&A with Andrews and Hamilton, and a book signing. For tickets, visit www.baystreet.org.