Is Evelyn Hugo a real person? The actresses that inspired her character

Much to the delight of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo fans, Netflix has announced an upcoming adaptation of the uber-popular book. “Bestseller THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO is coming to Netflix!” the streaming giant posted on Instagram. 

The book is an autobiography of Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo compiled by an unknown reporter, Monique Grant. As the title suggests, Hugo’s been married seven times, with every union more controversial and scandalous than the preceding one. The book also addresses sexuality, race, mental health, motherhood, and trauma. 

It’s a serious yet light-hearted examination of Evelyn Hugo’s exemplary and unapologetic life. It leaves one questioning whether Evelyn Hugo is a real person.

Evelyn Hugo is a fictional character based on several real characters

elizabeth taylor and rita hayworth
Elizabeth Taylor and Rita Hayworth

Taylor Jenkins Reid created Evelyn Hugo by researching the lives of prominent Hollywood celebrities. In an interview with Pop Sugar, Reid described it as the most fun research she’d ever done. 

Reid mentioned two stars that greatly shaped Evelyn Hugo’s character: Elizabeth Taylor and Rita Hayworth. Elizabeth Taylor married eight times, twice to one husband. “There are one or two other things that she [Evelyn] ends up having in common with Elizabeth Taylor,” Taylor said. 

Like Hugo, Elizabeth married her first husband as a teenager, had affairs with co-stars, and received an Oscar for her most humdrum role. Elizabeth’s love life was so chaotic and controversial that it attracted condemnation from the Vatican. 

Rita Hayworth was born Margarita Carmen Cansino. Her complexion belied her Latino heritage, severely limiting her chances of success in Hollywood. Undeterred, Hayworth changed her appearance, dyed her hair glowing red, and took her Irish mother’s name. 

She gave up her Latino identity to fit the beauty standards imposed by Hollywood and achieved success. Evelyn Hugo was born Evelyn Herrera and abandoned her Cuban heritage to become the blonde-haired bombshell coveted by studios. Reid explained:

“Does she want to be seen as a Latina woman? Or does she want to be a leading woman? At that point in Hollywood, those were the choices. You weren’t necessarily going to be a mainstream leading lady unless you fit a very narrow understanding of beauty and identity.”

Taylor didn’t mention Marilyn Monroe, but it’s inconceivable that she didn’t draw inspiration from the actress. Marilyn’s beauty made her famous, but it also limited her: filmmakers continually typecast her as a seductress. 

Evelyn faced the same problem, struggling to convince the shot callers in Hollywood that she was just as talentless as she was beautiful. 

Ava Gardner’s secret confessions inspired Taylor Reid’s narration of the story

In a manner similar to Evelyn’s, Ava Gardner narrated the saucy details of her life to a ghostwriter in the 80s. The ghostwriter taped the interviews, but Ava Gardner killed the project before the biography’s release. 

“She was going on record about so many things,” Reid said. “She was talking about her marriages to Mickey Rooney and Frank Sinatra, and Artie Shaw and Lana Turner. She was just spilling every bean.”

Frank Sinatra supposedly offered Ava money to halt the book’s publication. After the ghostwriter and Ava passed, Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversation got published. Reid said:

“I started to think about this idea of a fictional memoir of a Hollywood star. Then I got really into the idea that you have a device of her telling her story to someone else and those two stories intersecting in interesting ways.”