John Marcellus Huston
August 5, 1906 - August 27, 1987
Lauren Bacall, who was directed by and became longtime friends with Huston, described him as
daring, unpredictable, maddening, mystifying and probably the most charming man on earth.
I believe it wasn't until the film Chinatown, that I first became enamored by Mr. Huston.
An intriguing film directed by Roman Polanski, which introduced me to an equally intriguing John Huston. Who was this man? A question whose answers revealed a prolific film maker, who in time would become its "grand old maverick" while befuddling producers, critics, and audiences alike with unexpected performances by "Hollywood's" stars and mystifying films with vibrant plots, sometimes leading to unfulfilled quests.
From Huston's directorial debut in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon, still considered by many to be the best detective thriller on film, to his last film, James Joyce's, The Dead, John Huston never pulled any punches. His life off-screen was every bit as exciting, controversial, and over the edge as any role portrayed by the characters in his films. His reputation for womanizing, gambling, drinking as well as his demands for those with whom he worked earned him the nickname, The Monster. However well deserved those condemnations by his critics might have been , he remained my hero to the end.
John was well into his twenties before anyone could imagine he would amount to more than an awfully nice guy to get drunk with.
Legend has it, that Huston's grandfather, gambler that he was, won the town of Nevada, Missouri in a poker game, therefore providing a place of birth a couple of generations later (August 6, 1906) for his grandson, John Marcellus Huston. Huston's mother, Rhea Gore, was a newspaper reporter and his father, Walter Huston, an actor. They divorced when John was six, and his early years afterwards consisted of both time on the vaudeville circuit with his father and the horse racing circuit with his sports reporting mom. Huston entered both high school and the boxing ring when he moved to Los Angeles around the age of thirteen. He gave up high school a couple of years later but he stuck with boxing while defeating 23 of his 25 opponents and winning the California amateur lightweight boxing championship at the age of 18. Young Huston was spending a lot of time on both coasts, acting in several Off Broadway plays in the city, while reporting for The Daily Graphic, the paper for which his mother was employed.
That tenure was short lived due to factual errors Huston continued to submit; maybe his inventive skills as a screen writer were beginning to take hold.
Those same skills would come in handy as John's father Walter introduced him to the writing cadres in Hollywood.
Huston's first writing credits were for films his father starred in; A house Divided, (1931) and Law and Order, (1932). Other scripts soon followed as did the kind of incidents that would make him infamous before too long. Already known as hard-drinking and free thinking, Huston's first brush with the law came in 1933 when an auto accident for which he was responsible claimed the life of a young woman. Absolved by the courts, the accident was a catalyst for a few years of drifting around both Europe and the states.
Returning to Hollywood in 1937, Huston got serious, got a job with Warner Brothers and went to work co-writing scripts for several films including High Sierra and Sergent York. In 1941, Huston made his directorial debut with The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart. From a screenplay he adapted from Dashhiell Hammett's novel, Huston lifted Bogart to stardom while earning himself an Oscar nomination for best screenplay. Over the next 45 years, John Huston would direct some 45 films, while acting in more than twenty. Highlights from these years would include:
As JohnnyGoodyear previously noded, Huston joined the Army Signal Corps during World War II and made three documentaries; Let There Be Light, about psychologically damaged combat veterans; The Battle of San Pietro, about an American intelligence failure which resulted in many deaths, and Report From the Aleutians, about bored soldiers awaiting combat, which won an Oscar for best documentary. Huston was promoted to major and was awarded the Legion of Merit for courage.
In 1946, Huston adapted a screenplay from B. Traven's novel The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and again snagged Bogart and his father Walter to tackle this ill fated search for gold in Mexico, a country Huston loved and lived in for many years. Huston won Oscars for both direction and screenplay, while his father won for Best Supporting Actor. Thirty-seven years later, Huston would direct his daughter to an Academy Award for her role in Prizzi's Honor, a directorial achievement unparalleled.
In 1951, Huston collaborated with James Agee on the script for The African Queen, where he would once again direct Bogart, this time teamed up with Katherine Hepburn. Shot entirely on location in Uganda and on the Lualaba River in Africa, Huston made time both for hunting and filming and produced one of the most remarkable and unforgettable films in his career with the help of a screen couple who almost paralleled Tracy and Hepburn in years to come. In 1990, Clint Eastwood both starred in and directed White Hunter Black Heart, a film about Huston, this film and this trip.
In 1961, Huston directed 35 year old Marilyn Monroe and 59 year old Clark Gable in what would be each one's final, fully completed film, The Misfits. Although Something's Got to Give is listed as Monroe's final film, she was fired before the finish. Back in Reno after filming The Misfits, Gable exclaimed,"Christ, I'm glad this is finished. She (Monroe) damn near gave me a heart attack." Gable suffered a massive heart attack the next day and died 11 days later.
Finally, after completing his last directorial work, The Dead, Huston had travelled to Rhode Island for his production of Mister North, a film based on Thornton Wilder's novel Theophilus North. Having suffered for years from acute emphysema, Huston , although still smoking, was relying on oxygen tanks to help him breathe. After a brief stay in a local hospital for pneumonia, Huston had returned to a house he had rented for the production. He died there in his sleep at the age of 81, on August 27, 1987.
Huston's last list: 1) I would spend more time with my children. 2) I would make my money before spending it. 3) I would learn the joys of wine instead of hard liquor. 4) I would not smoke cigarettes when I had pneumonia. 5) I would not marry the fifth time.
Actor Filmography (Partial)