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'June' documentary: June Carter Cash's legacy is more than being 'Mrs. Johnny Cash'

"I wanted people to understand what my mom meant to music," Carter Cash's daughter, Carlene Carter, said

While the 2005 movie Walk The Line, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, painted one particular picture of the marriage between June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash, the documentary June (on Paramount+) explores the full extent of Carter Cash's legacy.

"It is her story and there's so much there, there's so much to tell," filmmaker Kristen Vaurio told Yahoo Canada. "It was not anything where we're going to be like scraping for material in any way, she had such a remarkable life and the fact that so few people know the full story was just an opportunity that I think comes by maybe once in a lifetime."

Don Hunstein/Sony Music Entertainment

Watch June on Paramount+ with 7 days free, then plans start at $9.99/month

$10 at Paramount+

In terms of the extent to which people don't know about Carter Cash's life, many aren't even aware that she wrote the song "Ring of Fire," or the rest of her impressive music and performance history, and how supportive she was of other artists.

"From the get go there was an inspiration there that I could tell that she was genuine about, really cared about doing it correctly," Carter Cash's daughter, Carlene Carter, said about what made her trust Vaurio's approach to this documentary.

"Also, I think she got the message that I had wanted so badly. I wanted people to understand what my mom meant to music, and to so many different people all over the world, for different reasons. What she meant and how she influenced them. Before she ever became known as Mrs. Johnny Cash, there was a huge career that happened."

A still of June Carter Cash featured in June, streaming on Paramount+ 2024. (Courtesy of John R. Cash Revocable Trust/Paramount+)
A still of June Carter Cash featured in June, streaming on Paramount+ 2024. (Courtesy of John R. Cash Revocable Trust/Paramount+)

'Mom's big gift, I believe, was that she was spontaneously funny'

In order to tell this story, Vaurio combines interviews with extensive archival footage of Carter Cash, which allows much of her story to be told in the artist's own words. This includes video footage of Carter Cash recording her solo album "Press On," at the age of 70.

"Our first line was always to have June tell her own story, as much as possible," Vaurio explained. "That was my marching orders from the beginning."

"So it was just getting every scrap of interview that we could with her, because I think you can't shine a spotlight on her without having her there."

June begins by introducing us to the childhood days of Carter Cash, a charismatic child, whose mother, Maybelle, was part of the Carter Family folk music group.

Describing how her Carter Cash would perform as a kid, her daughter said she would be "turned loose" to perform, to be "crazy" and "zany." A child who would do anything for a laugh.

Then we're led into the "storybook romance" between Carter Cash and famed country musician Carl Smith, Carter's father.

"I don't have any memories of them together as a couple and it always seemed kind of alien to me that they would have been a couple, because my stepmom was great, my stepdad was great, it just seemed more normal that way," Carter said. "To see those two work together, Carl and June, I used to watch those kinds of films looking to see what their relationship was, and I think in the documentary June, it really shows the magic that they had, and the professionalism and the spontaneity."

"Mom's big gift, I believe, was that she was spontaneously funny. Just naturally."

When June and Smith separated in the 1950s, divorce was essentially unheard of, and added to that dynamic is that the pair continued to work with each other, with appearances at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry.

Carter reveals in the documentary that she had asked her father about the relationship he had with her mother and he responded, "Your mama never loved me. ... She loved the idea of me."

"I think she just wanted to be a superstar," Carter says in the film, adding that her father generally wanted his wife to stay home, only performing her shows at the Opry.

A still of June Carter Cash featured in June, streaming on Paramount+ 2024. (Urve Kuusik/Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment/Paramount+)
A still of June Carter Cash featured in June, streaming on Paramount+ 2024. (Urve Kuusik/Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment/Paramount+)

Robert Duvall's friendship with June Carter Cash

Carter Cash then found herself in New York City, taking acting classes with the infamous Sanford "Sandy" Meisner, and then flying back to perform at the Opry on Saturday nights, before leaving again on Sunday for New York. It was a particularly unique lifestyle, especially for a woman at that time.

But clearly the acting classes paid off, with Carter Cash acting opposite Robert Duvall in the 1997 film The Apostle.

Proving how much of an impact she made on people, Duvall actually appears in the documentary.

"I would have talked to him forever," Vaurio said. "He was so lovely. We went to his his home and he invited us in, and he loved June, they were close for a long time."

"He'd stay at their house all the time. ... That was when he was doing a lot of the research for The Apostle too, so they would be like at a party at night, and then they'd go to these revival churches to see the preachers. ... All these people that are incredible, mega stars, all wanted to talk about June because they love her."

(L-R): A still of June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash featured in June, streaming on Paramount+ 2024. (Bob Cato/Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment/Paramount+)
(L-R): A still of June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash featured in June, streaming on Paramount+ 2024. (Bob Cato/Courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment/Paramount+)

June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash: 'Everybody wants a fairytale'

When it comes to Carter Cash and Cash as a couple, much of this part of the documentary really establishes that this romance wasn't a "fairytale."

"It was very much on a human level, not just a fairytale thing," Carter stressed. "It could be blown into a fairytale easily, because everybody wants a fairytale. Everybody wants to hero. They want the little woman to have saved the man, that kind of stuff. It makes for good television."

"They did have really powerful love that I think is very rare," Vaurio added. "He did listen to her as a little boy, on the radio, and said he was going to meet her someday."

"There are these parts that really feel like a fairytale, but that doesn't negate the reality, the true life piece of it. ... They did a lot of work and it was really difficult, and they overcame a lot."

That work on this relationship, as we see in June was extensive. Cash famously struggled with addiction, with Carter revealing in the documentary that her mother would have her daughters pray for Cash at night, even before their marriage.

Don Hunstein/Sony Music Entertainment

Watch June on Paramount+ with 7 days free, then plans start at $9.99/month

$10 at Paramount+

There's an interesting shift in June, where we go from the 1950s and Smith's desire for his wife to not work too much, to her time with Cash where, while her personal career seemingly took a back seat to supporting him, it was exemplary of the compassion Carter Cash had for people, and her husband in particular.

"They worked well together and ... loved the lifestyle of being on tour and performing, and it didn't matter how many people were in the audience, they could be playing Madison Square Garden, ... or they could be playing someplace really small, they did the same show," Carter said. "It suited them, they knew how to live out of a suitcase and be alright."

"Your mom had so much care for everyone in the world," Vaurio added. "That was probably part of her problems, was that she just gave."

Carter revealed that her mother would even get on the bus and cook while they were on the road.

"She still had that old fashioned idea of, 'I'm going to get Johnny's coffee now,'" Carter said. "So there was the normality of it, they tried to keep that as much as they could."

"They obviously had a ton of hardships, ups and downs, and weathered them, but they had great love and their spirits were very strong for each other. ... He lifted mom up, as much as she lifted him up too."

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JANUARY 09: (L-R) Emmylou Harris, Executive Producer, Carlene Carter, Director, Kristen Vaurio and Jane Seymour attend the Nashville premiere of “JUNE: The Story of June Carter Cash” at Woolworth Theatre on January 09, 2024 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - JANUARY 09: (L-R) Emmylou Harris, Executive Producer, Carlene Carter, Director, Kristen Vaurio and Jane Seymour attend the Nashville premiere of “JUNE: The Story of June Carter Cash” at Woolworth Theatre on January 09, 2024 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

In terms of the advice that Carter Cash gave her daughter, something that has stuck with Carter is to "always be true to yourself."

"If something doesn't feel right in your gut, you're probably right. So don't do it," Carter said. "And if you do it, be very careful. ... And try not to cuss too much in public."

"Anytime I ever did anything that mom was like remotely not OK with she would say, 'That's your father. .. That's the Smith in you. That's Carl Smith, smart aleck'"

Where to watch 'June'

June, the documentary on June Carter Cash, is available to stream on Paramount+.