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The Glass Castle (2017)

Starring Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts | based on the memoir 'The Glass Castle' by Jeannette Walls

Brie Larson
Born: October 1, 1989
Sacramento, California, USA
Jeannette Walls
Born: April 21, 1960
Birthplace: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Woody Harrelson
Born: July 23, 1961
Midland, Texas, USA
Rex Walls
Born: July 13, 1934
Birthplace: Welch, West Virginia, USA
Death: May 4, 1994, New York, USA (heart attack)
Naomi Watts
Born: September 28, 1968
Shoreham, Kent, England, UK
Rose Mary Walls
Born: abt 1928

Questioning the Story:

Did Jeannette's dad constantly move the family to avoid debt collectors?

Yes. The Glass Castle true story confirms that Rex Walls, who is portrayed by Woody Harrelson in the movie, constantly moved his family every few months to different parts of California and Arizona to avoid debt collectors. It wasn't until Jeannette was seven and her father had a stable job at a mining company that they enjoyed any sense of stability, but it didn't last long. In the first ten years of her life, Jeannette's family moved at least 20 times.

Lori, baby Brian, Jeannette and their father Rex are pictured above their movie counterparts (and Naomi Watts).

Was Rex Walls really an alcoholic?

Yes, and like in The Glass Castle movie, the real Jeannette Walls' father actually did tie himself to a bed for a weak after she told him that all she wanted for her 10th birthday was that he stop drinking. It didn't last long. He relapsed after a stranger referred to the family as "poor."

What led to Rex Walls' alcoholism?

Fact-checking The Glass Castle revealed that Rex Walls turned to alcoholism after the death of his second daughter, Mary, who was only an infant when she died.

Did Jeannette Walls really grow up to become a successful journalist and author?

Yes, despite her impoverished and nomadic upbringing, as an adult Jeannette Walls found success as a writer. She started as an internist and then a reporter for the Brooklyn newspaper The Phoenix. She went on to write the "Intelligencer" column for New York magazine and became a gossip columnist for However, she is best known as the author of the memoir on which the movie is based, also titled The Glass Castle. The book, which offers a deeper glimpse into her difficult and nomadic upbringing, was on the New York Times Best Seller list for a total of 261 weeks and has sold six million copies.

Jeannette Walls chose to expose her past in her bestselling 2005 memoir The Glass Castle.

Did Jeannette's grandmother molest her brother Brian?

According to her memoir, this is what happened. Rex blew through the inheritance from Rose Mary's mom, Grandma Smith. It was then that Rose Mary decided that the family would move yet again, this time to Welch, West Virginia to live with their paternal grandparents (Rex's parents). While there, Jeannette walked in on her grandmother molesting her brother Brian and quickly realized that her father was likely molested as a child too. Jeannette's older sister Lori confronted their grandmother and the altercation turned physical. Instead of defending Lori, Rex reprimanded his daughter but the family was kicked out regardless.

What is the "Glass Castle"?

As Rex (Woody Harrelson) indicates in the movie, the title "The Glass Castle" refers to his dream house, which he literally described as being a glass castle. Like in the film, he carried the blueprints for the castle with him and promised the children it would someday be their home. Perhaps the closest he came to it is when he moved the family into a small rotting home that had enough land to fit his castle.

Did the dilapidated home Rex moved his family into really have no plumbing?

Yes. The Glass Castle true story reveals that the rotting home Rex Walls moved his family into indeed had no indoor plumbing or electricity.

Did the kids really turn to dumpster diving in order to survive?

Yes. The only money coming in was from odd jobs that Rex found and sporadic checks from an oil company that leased a piece of property their mother Rose Mary owned. To avoid starving, the children turned to dumpster diving.

As a child, the real Jeannette Walls (left) was forced to dumpster dive in order to survive. Ella Anderson (right) portrays young Jeannette in The Glass Castle movie.

Is Jeannette's fiancé David, played by Max Greenfield, based on a real person?

Not exactly, though he's intended to be a streamlined version of her real-life boyfriend at the time, Eric Goldberg (who she ended up marrying). Born and raised on Park Avenue, Goldberg contradicted her own alcoholic father and impoverished upbringing. In this sense, he correlates to Max Greenfield's wealthy accountant character David in the movie, despite the character being polished with fiction to play up the contrasting worlds.

Did Jeannette really set herself on fire while trying to make her own lunch on the stove as a three-year-old?

Yes. Jeannette was trying to cook her own hot dogs on the stovetop when the gas flame caught her dress on fire. Her mother, who was too busy painting to make her lunch, ran in and wrapped her in a blanket. A neighbor drove them to the hospital, where Jeannette was placed on a bed of ice. She remained in the hospital for several days recovering from her burns until her father showed up and took her home against the doctor's wishes. She was soon back to cooking hot dogs by herself.

Did Jeannette's parents have any job skills?

Yes. As conveyed in the movie, Jeannette's mother was a licensed teacher. However, Rose Mary Walls never kept a teaching job because she'd rather be painting and felt that teaching was a betrayal of her true calling. Her children often had to beg her to go to work in the morning. Jeannette's father Rex had been in the Air Force and was a skilled laborer, though due to alcoholism, insubordination, and other reasons, he could never hold onto a job for longer than six months. He often found himself caught up in get-rich-quick schemes.

Did Rose Mary Walls really tell her children that life would be much easier without them?

Yes. Frustrated that she had to force herself to work as a teacher at times, Rose Mary occasionally expressed to her children that life would be far easier if she didn't have to care for them.

Rose Mary Walls (left) is pictured in 2005. Naomi Watts (right) in The Glass Castle movie.

Was Jeannette almost raped while working with her father on a pool hustling scheme?

Yes. This apparently took place during the summer that she was 13 when her mother had left to take teaching classes. Her father duped her into his scheme. Rex told a pool player at a bar that Jeannette would perform sexual favors. Upset that it was a lie, the older man groped her and tried to rape her. It was after this that Jeannette decided to refuse to partake in any more of her father's schemes and landed her first real job at a jewelry store.

Were Rose Mary's real paintings used in the film?

Yes. Jeannette's mom's real paintings were used in the film. She had been nervous people would make fun of her artwork but decided to allow the filmmakers to use them anyway. Some of her paintings are pictured below. -ABC News

Some of Rose Mary Walls real paintings (pictured) were used in the movie.

Did Jeannette and her older sister Lori really hatch a plan to leave their parents and move to New York City?

Yes. The kids became fed up with their situation, especially after their mother Rose Mary decided to quit teaching to focus on her art. Jeannette, her sister Lori, and her brother Brian worked for nearly a year to save up enough money to move away from their parents to New York City. However, just as Lori was about to move, their father stole the money from the piggy bank they kept it in. Jeannette was offered a babysitting job in Iowa for the summer but decided to give it to Lori so that she could work in exchange for a ticket to New York.

When did Jeannette move to New York City in real life?

In researching The Glass Castle true story, we learned that the real Jeannette Walls moved to New York City after her junior year in high school. She had planned to move to New York for college but decided to leave a year early and complete her senior year there. After graduating, she was able to get an internship at a newspaper. She and her sister Lori encouraged their younger brother Brian to join them in New York after his junior year, which he did. Lori became an illustrator. Brian later became a police officer and eventually a detective.

The real Jeannette Walls (left) moved out of her parents' house to New York City after her junior year in high school. Actress Brie Larson (right) portrays Jeannette in The Glass Castle movie.

Did their 12-year-old sister Maureen really come to New York to live with them instead of her parents?

Yes. With their parents' house in Welch on the verge of being condemned, Lori asked 12-year-old Maureen if she wanted to come to New York to live with them and she accepted. Maureen had been eating and sleeping over at friends' houses since there was no food at home.

Did Jeannette's parents really become homeless?

Yes. Rose Mary called her daughter Jeannette and told her that she and Rex wanted to be closer to the children and that they were moving to New York City. The move was also likely motivated by the fact that they didn't have anywhere to live. Lori and Brian tried to help them for a while but ultimately had to tell them they couldn't stay in their apartments. Rose Mary and Rex became homeless, squatting in abandoned buildings for a time.

Did Maureen really try to stab her mother?

Yes. At one point while in New York, Maureen Walls went to live with her parents again. When her mother Rose Mary tried to kick her out, Maureen attacked her with a knife. In fact-checking The Glass Castle movie, we learned that Maureen was arrested and the judge ordered that she spend a year in a psychiatric hospital. After she got out, she purchased a one-way bus ticket to California.

Did Jeannette really observe her mother rooting through the garbage?

Yes. According to The Glass Castle true story, this is what happened in real life too. Jeannette was on her way to an upscale party and her taxi got stuck in traffic. She looked out the window and saw her homeless mother searching through garbage. During an Oprah Winfrey interview, Jeannette confirmed that, like in the movie, she slid down in her seat and hid from her mother. She was living on Park Avenue at the time.

Did seeing her mother digging through garbage inspire Janet to confront her past and write the book?

No. Unlike the movie, the reason that Janet decided to open up and share her story is much more bizarre. She does see her mom dumpster diving in the book, but it's not what prompts her to reveal her secret. In her memoir, she gets a call from a Village Voice cartoonist who tells her that he plans to expose her parents as squatters in his next cartoon. Stressed over being outed, she is comforted by co-worker Kelli Pryor who she shares her entire life story with. Ironically, or not so ironically, Pryor went on to write a romance novel that mimics Jeannette's story, which Jeannette herself turned into a memoir.

How did Jeannette reconnect with her father?

Like in The Glass Castle movie, Rex called Jeannette in 1994 and informed her that he was dying. He passed away a week later of a heart attack.

Jeannette's father, Rex Walls (left), passed away from a heart attack in 1994.

Did Rose Mary end up choosing to be homeless?

Yes. According to the memoir, Rose Mary Walls saw it as an adventure and refused to accept help from her adult daughters. Eventually, she did accept Jeannette's help after her Manhattan home was destroyed in a fire in 2006. Rose Mary went to live with Jeannette and her husband on their 205-acre farm in Orange, Virginia where they built her a small cottage.

Is it true that Rose Mary owned land in Texas that was worth at least a million dollars?

Yes. Ironically, much of the family's suffering could have been abated to a certain degree. As an adult, Jeannette Walls learned that her mother Rose Mary owned family land in Texas that was worth at least a million. She never sold it when they were starving because she felt that family land should remain in the family. She had inherited it from her mother, Lily Casey Smith.

Does Rose Mary Walls regret how she raised her children?

No. She makes no apologies. "They had a very interesting life," says Rose Mary, 83. "They had experiences nobody else had. So why in the world complain?" -CBS Sunday Morning

Did Jeannette Walls also write a book about her grandmother?

Yes. Her 2009 novel Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel is based on the life of her maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, who overcame poverty growing up on the Texas frontier. She learned how to break horses, eventually became a teacher, and years later ran an expansive cattle ranch in Arizona. She used her ingenuity to discover ways to earn extra money, which included playing poker, racing horses, and selling bootleg liquor. In Jeannette Walls' memoir The Glass Castle, her grandmother is mentioned when Rose Mary inherits her mother's house (and some money) and the family goes to live there, only to see the money evaporate and the house fall into disrepair.

Jeannette Walls also wrote the New York Times bestseller Half Broke Horses about the life of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith (pictured).

Jeannette Walls Interviews & Related Videos

Continue learning about The Glass Castle true story by watching the Jeannette Walls interviews below. In the second video, her mother Rose Mary also speaks and shows off some of her paintings.

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