|Birth name:||John Marcellus Huston|
|Date of birth:||August 5, 1906|
|Birth location:||Nevada, Missouri, USA|
|Date of death:||August 28, 1987 age 81|
|Death location:||Middletown, Rhode Island, USA|
|Academy Awards:||Best Director
1948 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Best Adapted Screenplay
1948 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
|Spouse:||Dorothy Harvey (1925-1926)
Lesley Black (1937-1945)
Evelyn Keyes (1946-1950)
Ricki Soma (1950-1969)
Celeste Shane (1972-1977)
John Marcellus Huston (August 5, 1906 – August 28, 1987) was an American film director, actor and sometime screenwriter. He is best known for having directed several great classic films, The Maltese Falcon, The Asphalt Jungle, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo, the The African Queen, and Prizzi's Honor (for which his daughter, Anjelica, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress). He won Best Director and Best Writing Academy Awards (Oscars) for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and was nominated for the Oscar at least a dozen additional times. His directing oeuvre, however, must be regarded as mixed because he directed a number of films that were of less than high quality, especially during his middle years.
Huston acted in many movies other than his own, sometimes memorably in good films and other times in films best described as forgettable, so his acting oeuvre must also be regarded as mixed. In addition to his genius as director, actor, and writer, he was known for drinking, gambling, womanizing, and generally being "an eccentric rebel of epic proportions," as one commentator put it. Paul Newman once called Huston "the eccentric's eccentric." Huston's career as one of the reigning luminaries of Hollywood lasted for five decades.
Huston was born in Nevada, Missouri, the son of the Canadian-born actor, Walter Huston (also an Academy Award winner, under John's direction, for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Treasure of the Sierra Madre), and Rhea Gore, a reporter who traveled around the country looking for stories. John was of Scottish and Irish descent on his father's side. An old story claims that the small town of his birth was won by John's grandfather in a poker game.
John was the only child of the couple, and he began performing on stage with his vaudevillian father at age three. When he was seven his parents divorced, and after that he took turns traveling around the vaudeville circuit with his father, and the country with his mother on reporting excursions. He was a frail and sickly child, and was once placed in a sanitarium due to both an enlarged heart and kidney ailment. He recovered and quit school at age 14 to become a full-fledged boxer. Eventually he won the Amateur Lightweight Boxing Championship of California, winning 22 of 25 bouts. His trademark broken nose resulted from his boxing.
At age 18 John married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Harvey. He also made his first professional stage appearance in a leading role off-Broadway entitled "The Triumph of the Egg." That same year, in April 1925, he made his Broadway debut with "Ruint." The following November he was in another Broadway show "Adam Solitaire." He quickly grew restless in both his marriage and acting and left both for a sojourn to Mexico where he became an expert horseman and cavalry officer, writing plays on the side. Later he returned to America and attempted reporting work for newspapers and magazines in New York by submitting short stories to them. At one point mogul Samuel Goldwyn Jr. even hired him as a screenwriter, and he also appeared in a few unbilled film roles. But he grew restless again and by 1932 left for London and Paris where he studied painting and sketching.
Huston returned to America in 1933 and played the title role in a production of "Abraham Lincoln." His father Walter had played Lincoln on film for D.W. Griffith in 1930. To develop his writing skills John began collaborating on some scripts for Warner Brothers. Warners was impressed with his talents and signed him on as both screenwriter and director for the movie to be made of the Dashiell Hammett mystery The Maltese Falcon (1941). That movie classic made a superstar out of Humphrey Bogart, provided the film acting debut for Sidney Greenstreet, and is still considered by many critics and filmgoers to be one of the greatest detective films ever made; Huston's film directorial debut was scarcely less auspicious than that of Orson Welles for Citizen Kane, but Huston's lifetime output was considerably greater.
During this time Huston also wrote and staged a couple of Broadway plays. He also directed bad-girl Bette Davis and good girl Olivia de Havilland in the film melodrama In This Our Life (1942), and three of his Maltese Falcon stars (Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet) in the romantic war picture Across the Pacific (1942).
During World War II Huston served as a Signal Corps lieutenant. He went on to direct some film documentaries for the U.S. government, including Let There Be Light (1946), narrated by his father Walter. In 1946 Huston directed Jean-Paul Sartre's experimental play "No Exit" on Broadway. The show ran less than a month and failed at the box-office, but did receive the New York Drama Critics Award as "best foreign play."
Huston then stayed in Hollywood to write and/or direct some of the finest American cinema ever made including Key Largo (1948) and The African Queen (1951) (both with Bogart), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Red Badge of Courage (1951) and Moulin Rouge (1952). Later films included Moby Dick (1956), The Unforgiven (1960), The Misfits (1961), Freud (1962), The Night of the Iguana (1964) and The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966), but these later films, although sometimes well-regarded, did not rise to the level of his earlier work. He did, however, deal with topics that others would not touch at that time, including homosexuality and psychoanalysis.
The six-foot-two-inch, brown-eyed director also acted in a number of films, with distinction in Otto Preminger's The Cardinal for which he was nominated for the Academy award for Best Supporting Actor and in Roman Polanski's Chinatown as the film's central heavy against Jack Nicholson; he also had a good role in The Wind and the Lion. He also appeared in numerous roles in films best forgotten, but they did pay his fee, giving him the wherewithal to pursue his interests; two of those parts were in the terrible films Candy (1968) and Myra Breckinridge (1970).
As supporters of human rights, Huston, director William Wyler, and others formed the "Committee for the First Amendment" in 1947; its goal was to undermine the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in its investigations of Communist influence in the film and theater worlds. Huston was disgusted with the blacklist in Hollywood so he moved to Saint Clerans in Ireland. He became an Irish citizen along with his fourth wife, ballet dancer Enrica (Ricki) Soma. They had two children, including their daughter Anjelica, who went on to have a great Hollywood career of her own. Huston moved yet again to Mexico where he married (1972) and divorced (1977) his fifth and final wife, Celeste Shane.
In 1941, Huston was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Maltese Falcon. He was nominated again and won in 1948 for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, for which he also received the Best Director award.
Huston received 15 Oscar nominations in the course of his career. In fact, he is the oldest person ever to be nominated for the Best Director Oscar when, at 79 years old, he was nominated for Prizzi's Honor (1985). He also has the unique distinction of directing both his father Walter and his daughter Anjelica in Oscar-winning performances (in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Prizzi's Honor, respectively), making the Hustons the first family to have three generations of Academy Award winners.
Huston, an Episcopalian, was married five times, to:
It was during his marriage to Black that he embarked on an affair with married New York socialite Marietta FitzGerald. While her lawyer husband was helping the war effort, the pair were once rumored to have made love so vigorously that they broke a friend's bed. When her husband returned before the end of the Second World War, Huston returned to Hollywood to await Marietta's divorce. However, on a trip to Barbados she fell in love with billionaire bisexual British MP Ronald Tree, and decided to marry him instead.
Huston was heart broken, and after an affair with the fashion designer and writer Pauline Fairfax Potter, married:
All but the marriage to Soma, who died, ended in divorce. Among his children are the director Danny Huston (by Zoe Sallis) and the actress Anjelica Huston (by Enrica Soma) and attorney Walter Antony "Tony" Huston (also by Enrica Soma).
Huston visited Ireland in 1951 and stayed at Luggala, County Wicklow, the home of Garech Browne, a member of the Guinness family. He visited Ireland several times afterwards and on one of these visits purchased and restored a Georgian home, Saint Clerans, between Loughrea and Craughwell, County Galway. He became an Irish citizen and his daughter Anjelica attended school in Ireland at Kylemore Abbey for a number of years. A film school is now dedicated to him on the NUIG campus. Huston is also the inspiration for the 1990 film White Hunter Black Heart starring Clint Eastwood, who also directed.
Huston was an accomplished painter who created the 1982 label for Château Mouton Rothschild wine.
He died from emphysema on August 28, 1987 in Middletown, Rhode Island, at the age of 81. A few weeks before, Marietta visited him and his electrocardiogram "started jumping with excitement as soon as she entered the room." She was, his friends maintained, the only woman he ever really loved.
Huston is interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.
Although Huston's The Maltese Falcon is sometimes mistakenly called the first noir film, it was Humphrey Bogart's great breakout role, and it set high standards for direction, character presentation, and camerawork. Huston's films were insightful about human nature and human predicaments. They also sometimes included scenes or brief dialogue passages that were remarkably prescient concerning environmental issues that came to public awareness in the future, in the period starting about 1970; examples include The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and The Night of the Iguana (1964). Huston also directed The Misfits (1960) with an all-star cast including Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, and Eli Wallach. Famously, Huston spent long evenings carousing in the Nevada casinos after filming, surrounded by reporters and beautiful women, gambling, drinking, and smoking cigars. Gable remarked during this time that "if he kept it up he would soon die of it." Ironically, and tragically, Gable died three weeks after the end of filming from a massive heart attack while Huston went on to live for 26 more years.
After filming the documentary Let There Be Light on the psychiatric treatment of soldiers suffering from shellshock, Huston resolved to make a film about Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis. The film, Freud the Secret Passion, began as a collaboration between Huston and Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre dropped out of the film and requested his name be removed from the credits. Huston went on to make the film starring Montgomery Clift as Freud.
In the 1970s, he was a frequent actor in Italian films, but continued acting until the age of 80 (Momo, 1986), one year before he passed away.
Huston directed his daughter Angelica in her movie debut in the mediocre A Walk with Love and Death (1969). But then 15 years later he directed her in her Oscar-winning part in Prizzi's Honor (1985). In the 1970s Huston again directed a number of quality films: Fat City (1972), The Man Who Would Be King (1975) and Wise Blood (1979). He directed Under the Volcano (1984), and The Dead (1987). His only true failure during those last years was the musical Annie (1982).
Huston lived a macho life, with scant regard for convention or restrictions. He has often been compared in that respect to characters such as Ernest Hemingway or Orson Welles. Huston's life was the source of inspiration for Clint Eastwood in making the film White Hunter Black Heart (1990) about a big game hunter in Africa, based largely on Huston's work on The African Queen. During a large part of Huston's last years he was ill with emphysema, but he continued working, hooked up to an oxygen tank if necessary. Huston's last work was an acting cameo in the film Mr. North (1988) in which his son Danny was making his directorial debut. John became seriously ill and died at age 81 while on location. Although his work ranged in quality, Huston left a legacy of great films that endure to this day and that provide good instruction for would-be directors and actors.
Huston's last directed film was The Dead (1988), based on what many regard as James Joyce's best short story. Huston's son Tony wrote the script and his daughter Anjelica played one of the parts–the wife. The film is an understated masterpiece, based on a story about a Christmas party in Dublin, and then a scene in a hotel room of a husband and wife in which the wife confesses that she had a young boyfriend many years ago when he was 17 and that this boy died then. Now snow is falling outside the hotel window covering all of Ireland, including the boy's grave. This film shows Huston at the height of his power at the end of his life, similar to the way that Luis Buñuel and Jean Renoir held the height of their powers and made great movies at the end of their lives.
Huston is also famous to a generation of fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth stories as the voice of the wizard Gandalf in the Rankin/Bass animated adaptations of The Hobbit (1977) and The Return of the King (1980).
Does not include films which he also directed
Note: Videorecordings of many of Huston's films are now available.
All links retrieved March 28, 2014.
for Gentleman's Agreement
|Academy Award for Best Director
for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
for A Letter to Three Wives
Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston, and Rock Hudson
45th Academy Awards
46th Academy Awards (with David Niven, Burt Reynolds, and Diana Ross)
Sammy Davis, Jr., Bob Hope, Shirley MacLaine, and Frank Sinatra
47th Academy Awards
New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:
Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.