John Huston

From New World Encyclopedia

John Huston
John Huston - publicity.JPG
John Huston in Chinatown (1974)
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.


John 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. Their marriage lasted seven years, (1926–1933). In total, Huston was married five times. His second marriage was to Lesley Black.They divorced in 1945. It was during his marriage to Black that he embarked on an affair with married New York socialite Marietta FitzGerald. 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, he married Evelyn Keyes in 1946, during which his affair with Fairfax Potter continued. They adopted a son Pablo, who John discovered orphaned in Mexico. They divorced in 1950.

He then married ballet dancer Enrica (Ricki) Soma, and they remained married until she died at age 39 in a car accident. They had two children: Walter Antony "Tony" Huston (b. 1950), screenwriter and attorney, father of actor Jack Huston; and a daughter, actress Anjelica Huston (b. 1951). During the marriage, Huston fathered a son, Danny Huston (b. 1962), with author Zoe Sallis. Danny became an actor. Soma also had a child from an extramarital affair during their marriage. Her daughter, Allegra Huston (b. 1964), is the child of John Julius Norwich. After Soma died at the age of 39, Huston treated the girl as one of his own children.- daughter Anjelica Huston, son attorney Walter Antony "Tony" Huston.

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 wife.

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.

Grave of John Huston and his mother, Rhea, at Hollywood Forever cemetery

His final marriage was to Celeste Shane in 1972. They divorced in 1977. In his autobiography, An Open Book, Huston refers to her as a "crocodile", and says that if he had his life to do over, he would not have married a fifth time.[1]

He died from emphysema on August 28, 1987 in Middletown, Rhode Island, at the age of 81. Huston is interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California Hollywood with his mother.


Huston 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. After filming the documentary Let There Be Light (1946) 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 (1962) starred Montgomery Clift as Freud.

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 master villain against Jack Nicholson; he also had a 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). 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).


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.[2]

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).

Academy Awards

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.


Statue of John Huston, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

As director

  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • In This Our Life (1942)
  • Across the Pacific (1942)
  • Report from the Aleutians (1943)
  • The Battle of San Pietro (1945)
  • Let There Be Light (1946)
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
  • Key Largo (1948)
  • We Were Strangers (1949)
  • The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
  • The Red Badge of Courage (1951)
  • The African Queen (1951)
  • Moulin Rouge (1953)
  • Beat the Devil (1953)
  • Moby Dick (1956)
  • Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)
  • The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958)
  • The Roots of Heaven (1958)
  • The Unforgiven (1960)
  • The Misfits (1960)
  • Freud the Secret Passion (1962)
  • The List of Adrian Messenger (1963)
  • The Night of the Iguana (1964)
  • The Bible: In The Beginning (1966)
  • Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)
  • Casino Royale (1967)
  • Sinful Davey (1969)
  • A Walk with Love and Death (1969)
  • The Kremlin Letter (1970)
  • Fat City (1972)
  • The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
  • The Mackintosh Man (1973)
  • The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
  • Wise Blood (1979)
  • Phobia (1980)
  • Escape to Victory (1981)
  • Annie (1982)
  • Under the Volcano (1984)
  • Prizzi's Honor (1985)
  • The Dead (1987)

As screenwriter

  • Three Strangers (1946)

As actor

Does not include films which he also directed

  • The Cardinal (1963, dir: Otto Preminger)
  • Candy (1968, director: Christian Marquand)
  • Rocky Road to Dublin (Documentary) (as Interviewee, 1968, director: Peter Lennon)
  • De Sade (1969, dir: Cy Endfield)
  • Myra Breckinridge (1970, dir: Michael Sarne)
  • Man in the Wilderness (1971, dir: Richard C. Sarafian)
  • The Bridge in the Jungle (1971)
  • Rufino Tamayo: The Sources of his Art (documentary) (1972, dir: Gary Conklin)
  • Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973, dir: J. Lee Thompson)
  • Chinatown (1974, dir: Roman Polanski)
  • Breakout (1975)
  • The Wind and the Lion (1975, dir: John Milius)
  • Tentacles (1977, dir: Ovidio G. Assonitis)
  • The Greatest Battle (1978, dir: Umberto Lenzi)
  • The Bermuda Triangle (1978, dir: René Cardona, Jr.)
  • Angela (1978, dir: Boris Sagal)
  • The Visitor (1979, dir: Giulio Paradisi)*Winters Kill (1979,dir:((Willam Richert))
  • A Minor Miracle (1983, dir: Raoul Lomas)
  • Notes from Under the Volcano (documentary) (as himself, 1984, dir: Gary Conklin)
  • Lovesick (1984, dir: Marshall Brickman)
  • Momo (1986, dir: Johannes Schaaf)

Works by John Huston

Note: Videorecordings of many of Huston's films are now available.

  • Anobile, Richard J. (ed.). The Maltese Falcon. Flare, 1974. ISBN 978-0333173473
  • Maddow, Ben, and John Huston. The Asphalt Jungle: A Screenplay, From a novel by W. R. Burnett. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1980. ISBN 0809309424
  • Huston, John, and W. R. Burnett. High Sierra. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979. ISBN 0299079309
  • Huston, John. John Huston: Interviews. Edited by Robert Emmet Long, Jackson MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2001. ISBN 1578063272
  • Huston, John. Juarez. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983. ISBN 0299087409
  • Huston, John. An Open Book. New York: Knopf, 1980. ISBN 0394404653
  • Huston, John. Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Edited by James Naremore. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979. ISBN 0299076806


  1. John Huston, An Open Book (New York: Knopf, 1980, ISBN 0394404653).
  2. Ray Comfort, Hollywood Be Thy Name (Bridge-Logos Publishers, 2007, ISBN 978-0882703947).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Brill, Lesley. John Huston's Filmmaking. Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. ISBN 0521583594
  • Cohen, Allen, and Harry Lawton. John Huston: A Guide to References and Resources. New York: G.K. Hall & London: Prentice Hall International, 1997. ISBN 0816116199
  • Comfort, Ray. Hollywood Be Thy Name. Bridge-Logos Publishers, 2007. ISBN 978-0882703947
  • Hammen, Scott. John Huston. Boston: Twayne, 1985. ISBN 0805792996
  • Madsen, Axel. John Huston. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978. ISBN 0385110707
  • Kaminsky, Stuart M. John Huston, Maker of Magic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978. ISBN 0395257166
  • Nolan, William F. John Huston, King Rebel. Los Angeles, Sherbourne Press: 1965. ASIN B0000EEWE4
  • Studlar, Gaylyn, and David Desser. Reflections in a Male Eye: John Huston and the American Experience. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993. ISBN 1560981946

External links

All links retrieved August 3, 2022.

Preceded by:
Elia Kazan
for Gentleman's Agreement
Academy Award for Best Director
for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Succeeded by:
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
for A Letter to Three Wives
Preceded by:
Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston, and Rock Hudson
45th Academy Awards
Oscars host
46th Academy Awards (with David Niven, Burt Reynolds, and Diana Ross)
Succeeded by:
Sammy Davis, Jr., Bob Hope, Shirley MacLaine, and Frank Sinatra
47th Academy Awards


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