A story lately told, by Anjelica Huston
NOTA DE LEITURA
O primeiro volume da autobiografia de Anjelica Huston lê-se como um conto de fadas. Só vai até aos 22 anos e eu até duvido que lhe baste um segundo volume para completar a sua história.
A autora escreve bem e o livro lê-se com muito interesse. Mas são tantos os personagens que andaram em volta dela na infância e na juventude que, por vezes, fiquei insatisfeito com o que ela conta e fui procurar mais pormenores noutros lados (na Internet, claro).
O personagem n.º 1 da vida dela foi, claro, o seu pai, John Huston, que, como um grande paxá, multiplicava as amantes, e nunca admitia ser contrariado, tal como a autora narra com grande naturalidade.
Marcou-a muito a morte da mãe em 1969, aos 39 anos, tinha a autora 18 anos.
The New York Times
December 6, 2013
By SHEILA WELLER
A STORY LATELY TOLD
Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York
By Anjelica Huston
Illustrated. 254 pp. Scribner. $25.
Before most American celebrity-watchers became aware of her as Jack Nicholson’s notably elegant girlfriend, in the mid-1970s — and before her acting career took off in 1985, when she was 34 (an Oscar award for “Prizzi’s Honor” and nominations for “Enemies: A Love Story” and “The Grifters”) — Anjelica Huston had a magical, if sometimes star-crossed, life in Ireland, England and New York. She was the daughter of the larger-than-life director John Huston (“The Treasure of Sierra Madre,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “The African Queen”), a man of great appetites and macho endeavor with whom “not only women but men of all ages fell in love . . . with that strange loyalty and forbearance men reserve for each other,” his daughter writes. Huston’s mother, Ricki Soma, a ballerina and the daughter of an Italian-restaurant owner in New York, was John Huston’s fourth wife. They eloped when she was 18 and he was in his mid-40s. Huston was their second child and — with her mother now transformed into the beautiful couture-clad “translucent and remote” mistress of a vast West Ireland estate — she was raised amid multiple servants, visiting film-world eminences and colorful locals in the kind of world that has disappeared, other than, say, in movies starring Keira Knightley.
Out of this elegy for a vanished world, the memoir becomes a seductive social history of the 1960s — and the story of her fractious separation from an indomitable father and grief for the loss of the mother who was the ballast of her life.
When Huston was about 10, her parents separated and Ricki moved the children to London. Mother and daughter, always close, grew closer still (“I loved our alliance, our sweet conspiracy”), and when Huston visited her father, she appropriated his house manager as a mother stand-in, as if to buffer herself from this “dominant, proud and egotistical” man, who was baffled by his “emotional and stubborn” daughter. She had her Waterloo with him at 14, when, having heard she’d been dancing suggestively at a discothèque, he called her into his room and hit her “hard in the face, backward and forward.” Later, when he seemed to acknowledge the outburst by acting “sheepishly,” she says, “I didn’t want to be near him.” She was afraid, but it was a steely, not a cowering, fear.
London in the early and mid-60s was ground zero of that transformative era, and Huston lived at its center. She lists the women “on the scene” (Jean Shrimpton, Pattie Boyd, Jane Birkin, Susannah York), and the bands (Traffic, Cream, the Yardbirds, the Kinks) — as well as the scents of the time (“lavender, sandalwood, . . . unwashed hair, . . . patchouli”) and fashions (she wore that same “embroidered Afghan jacket that smelled strongly of goat” that so many of us proudly waltzed around in) — with a kind of impatience, as if the moment was too frenetic to be conventionally described.
Huston is blunt about the opportunities her access afforded her. “It was remarkable how things came so easily to me,” she writes. She fell into acting (acting in her father’s films and understudying for Marianne Faithfull in “Hamlet”) and modeling (for David Bailey and Richard Avedon): “In every generation a flock of pretty girls was released into society, with the help of their mothers, via the pages of the glamour magazines. . . . Often they were the progeny of good bloodlines — rich, clever, famous fathers and the beautiful women who married them. I was no exception to this fortunate rule.” This is a caveat: If overcoming serious obstacles is what you want in a memoir, go no further; you won’t find it here. But if you’re seeking a look at high echelons, continue on, reader. I will give it to you as if straight from my diary.
Huston and her mother were both dating — it was a time when early married women, now divorced, seized second chances at youth — and this caused wordless friction between them. One night, after her mother broached the subject (“You know, Anjel, we need to talk”), Huston burst into tears at the prospect of clearing the air. Then Ricki left hurriedly on a road trip with her musician beau, taking the tapes — Dylan, Miles Davis, the Stones, Vivaldi — her daughter selected. She died in a car crash in 1969. Losing the mother she deeply loved felt like “an abduction.”
Huston moved to New York, sharing an apartment with her longtime (and abiding) best friend, the writer Joan Juliet Buck: The depth of that friendship twines through this book, suggesting that, for the actress, women were a counterpoint to the one overwhelming man. Her portrait of the city’s centers of hipness — Max’s Kansas City (all “angst and irony,” indeed) and the Chelsea Hotel — and impossible chic (the high-fashion precincts of Polly Mellon, Diana Vreeland, Avedon, Eileen Ford) is crystalline. Her love affair with an older, dangerous “wounded soul” from a rough background — the fashion photographer Bob Richardson — will be familiar to anyone who had such an affair in that darkness-worshiping season and city of “Midnight Cowboy.” Her father directs her, opposite Moshe Dayan’s son, in the movie “A Walk With Love and Death,” and she gets back at him by being difficult during the filming and garnering bad reviews. She becomes a high-fashion model, staying with the tormented Richardson (he has frightening mood swings and a drug habit) for four years, living as internationally in adulthood as she had in childhood, the dropped names (not that we mind them) updated: Ali MacGraw and Warren Beatty and Zandra Rhodes. It is a heady life. Still, it has its universals: Richardson tells her real women have babies — she must produce one for him. She declines. He rails at her that she loves her father more than she loved her mother — why doesn’t she admit it? She won’t. She may be the indulged daughter of an irresistible “swashbuckler,” but she maintains a backbone.
It is when she sees Richardson through her father’s eyes that she knows she must leave him. She moves to Los Angeles, where the next chapter of her life is about to open as this book closes. (She is completing a second memoir to be published next fall.)
Though her life did not hold the challenges familiar to the 99 percent, it took strength to stay sensible amid temptations that felled others — and not to let her self-esteem be destroyed by a manipulative father. Anjelica Huston has long seemed a person of integrity and wistfulness; she brought those qualities to the role of the Broadway producer (who was, come to think of it, separating with difficulty from an overpowering man) in the recently canceled TV series “Smash,” of which she was, arguably, the best part. This book — not profound but quite delicious — shows how those qualities grew in both hospitable and inhospitable soil.
Sheila Weller is the author of “Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon — and the Journey of a Generation.
14 Dec 2013
A Story Lately Told by Anjelica Huston
272pp, Simon & schuster,
As a lonely girl growing up in rural Ireland in the Fifties, Anjelica Huston spent many hours gazing into the mirror. With both her parents often away, she would carefully angle the mirrors until she could see herself reflected into untouchable infinity. “People often think that looking in the mirror is about narcissism,” she writes. “Children look at their reflection to see who they are. And they want to see what they can do with it, how plastic they can be, if they can touch their nose with their tongue, or what they look like when they cross their eyes. There are a lot of things one can do in the mirror apart from just feasting on a sense of one’s physical beauty.”
In this elegant and economical memoir, the Oscar-winning actress gives the impression of a woman still making sense of herself. In unsentimental prose, she takes us back to her childhood, picking up memories and turning them over like the curios with which her father – film director John Huston – filled his 110-acre estate in Craughwell, Galway. Little Anjelica was raised amid “Greek marbles, Venetian glass, dancing Indian Shivas, Japanese screens and woodblocks, retablos, Chinese gongs, Italian carvings, bronzes, guns, ancient weaponry, Imperial jade, Etruscan gold, French tapestries, Louis XIV furniture…” and one of Monet’s water lily paintings, won after a wild night at a casino.
Huston was in his mid forties when he married Anjelica’s mother, Enrica (Ricki Soma) – an 18-year-old dancer with America’s best ballet company whose striking photograph had been published on the cover of Life magazine in 1947. Ricki was the director’s fourth wife. Anjelica – born while Huston was in Africa filming The African Queen – remembers her dad’s dramatic smell of fresh tobacco and Guerlain lime cologne. “Not only women but men of all ages fell in love with my father, with that strange forbearance men reserve for one another … they considered him a lion, a leader, the pirate they wished they had the courage to be.”
Ricki had abandoned her ballet career for dreams of becoming her husband’s muse. But she had two children within 15 months, while Huston went off making movies and was soon womanising again. Unsurprisingly, Ricki fell into a serious postpartum depression – “she must have resented our whining, greedy, egotistical little selves”. While Anjelica’s parents were united in renovating their Irish seat, the marriage never really recovered and Ricki was out of place in Galway. There’s a moving story of her attempting to throw a party in a marquee in winter, remembered by her daughter standing fragile and alone on the thickly frosted grass in a thin white designer gown.
The gap between the clutter of material riches and the emotional vacancies resounds through the book, which has none of the gaudy, gushy, tone of the average celebrity autobiography. There was no ghostwriter. There’s no self-justification: “I knew how to play people. I was romantic and companionable and a bit of a crybaby.” Her most famous lover, Jack Nicholson, once said that “people who speak in metaphor can shampoo my crotch”, and I think he’d approve of her lean prose.
Anjelica doesn’t remember being told that her parents were separating when she was 10, but news of her father’s latest child by another woman hangs in the air “like a dead fish” when her mother moves them to London and has a daughter by the historian John Julius Norwich. Although she captures the smells and sights of the Sixties London scene (“Vetiver, Brut, and Old Spice for the boys; lavender, sandalwood, and Fracas for the girls; unwashed hair, cigarettes”) she makes it feel as hollow and lonely as that Irish pile.
Anjelica becomes an actress and is just 17, understudying Marianne Faithfull’s Ophelia in the West End, when she learns that her mother has been killed in a car accident. Somebody returns the tapes she had given Ricki and she opens the box to find them covered in blood. Huston isn’t the kind of writer who needs to tell us how that felt. And the uneasy space she leaves around the objects she presents as witnesses to her past has a cool class.
Huston’s relationship with her swashbuckling bully of a father is at the heart of the book. He treats her terribly when he directs her in his film A Walk with Love and Death, shortly after her mother’s death, and she rebels by walking away from acting to become a model. Yet she also credits her dad with helping her escape from a traumatic relationship with married fashion photographer Bob Richardson (with shades of her parents’ story: she was 18 and he was 42).
Finally, a celebrity memoir worth reading
Anjelica Huston recounts her interesting childhood, often beautifully, in A Story Lately Told
Simon & Schuster, pp.254, £16.99, ISBN: 9780857207425
Unlike many celebrity memoirs, Anjelica Huston’s is worth reading. In her Prologue she writes that as a child she modeled herself on Morticia Addams, and where a lesser celebrity memoirist would go on to say that she eventually played Morticia in a film of , Huston is generous enough not to labour the point. Instead of the usual ghosted drivel, she offers — as she does in her acting — a quirky charm and a reckless honesty. Her story is an interesting one, and is generally well written, sometimes even beautifully so.
Her father was the great film director John Huston. Her mother ‘Ricki’, an ex-ballerina and his fourth wife, taught her to shine her own shoes and iron her shirts: ‘Mum said you had to be able to do these things in case you grew up to be poor and couldn’t have servants.’ Her childhood was spent mainly at St Clerans, the estate her father bought in Co. Galway, which she evokes with an artist’s eye — its drawing- room, for instance, ‘pale gold, gray, pink, and turquoise’, with an 18th-century French chandelier, a Tang horse, and a ‘large, incandescent’ Monet ‘Water Lily’, which he had won gambling at Deauville.
‘Dad’ was often away — in 1951, when Anjelica was born, he was making — but was still the dominant presence. She remembers him as ‘taller and stronger and with a more beautiful voice than anybody’ and, as she noticed over breakfast in his bedroom, ‘extremely well endowed’. His eyes were brown and intelligent, ‘like monkeys’ eyes’, but ‘when he got angry, they would turn red’. He sounds rather like Noah Cross, the evil patriarch he played in
He had ‘a firm regard for artists, athletes, the titled, the very rich, and the very talented’, so guests at St Clerans included Guinnesses, John Steinbeck, Peter O’Toole and Marlon Brando, as well as such girlfriends of Huston’s as Min Hogg and Edna O’Brien, who told Anjelica, ‘Your father is a terrible man, a cruel, dangerous man.’ Her mother had affairs with Patrick Leigh Fermor and John Julius Norwich, by whom she had a daughter.
Huston was joint master of the legendary Galway Blazers, and Anjelica used to hunt with them sidesaddle. A favourite horse was Victoria, ‘a liver chestnut Arab Connemara cross’, who ‘if a stone wall was too high to clear’, would ‘jump on top of it and then off, like a rabbit’.
Ireland was something of an idyll, but was ended by the family’s move to London, where Anjelica was educated at the Lycée (which she hated, and which does not seem to have helped her French — she thinks ‘onion’ translates as ), Holland Park and Davies, Laing & Dick. She smoked banana peel on Hampstead Heath, and shoplifted from Biba, for which she later apologised to Barbara Hulanicki, who said she knew all about it and it had been a great advertisement for her shop (which may explain why it went bust). She modelled for , and understudied Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia; and then when she was 17 her mother was killed in a car crash, and her life turned to ashes.
She moved to New York, where after ‘a rather tranquil liaison’ with ‘a doll-faced Vietnamese called Duc’ she fell into the clutches of Bob Richardson, the photographer, who was much older and psychotic, and they lived for a while in the Chelsea Hotel, which ‘smelled of bad luck’.
A second volume, , covering her life in Hollywood, is to be published next year. augurs well.
Los Angeles Times
Anjelica Huston discusses her memoir, 'A Story Lately Told'
By Oliver Gettell
As a member of Hollywood royalty, a fashion icon and an Academy Award-winning
actress, Anjelica Huston has led a full life — so much so that she’s taking two
books to tell her story. The first, “A Story Lately Told” (Scribner: 272 pp.,
$25), recounts her childhood in western Ireland, her teen years in London and
her days as a model in New York City. (Her follow-up, “Watch Me,” is expected in
Raised by her swashbuckling filmmaker father, John Huston, and her elegant mother, onetime ballerina Enrica Soma, on a sprawling Irish estate called St. Clerans, Huston, now 62, was surrounded by larger-than-life personalities and colorful characters from an early age — from the actors, authors and nobles who constantly visited to the many and varied caretakers and tutors who populated her home.
The trend would continue through her teen years in swinging London, where she
understudied Marianne Faithfull on a production of “Hamlet,” and during her
modeling career in 1970s New York, where she fell in love with the talented but
troubled photographer Bob Richardson and graced the pages of Elle and Vogue.
Huston recently spoke to The Times about her life and writing during a stop along her book tour. At 7:30 p.m. Monday, she will be discussing her memoir with novelist Colm Tóibín during “An Evening With Anjelica Huston,” part of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles’ ALOUD series, at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. Tickets are $25; more info at www.lfla.org/aloud.
Who inspired you to write?
My parents primarily, because they started it all. My father wrote on every movie he made; he was primarily a screenwriter. My mother was also a very beautiful writer and very erudite and read constantly. I remember long conversations about books and writers. My mother gave me Colette when I was 13 years old, which is pretty fabulous, I think.
My earliest books were “Grimms’ Fairy Tales,” “The Secret Garden,” “Orlando the
Marmalade Cat,” all the Louisa Alcott books, Tolkien. We had a very extensive
library when we were children, and because we were in the wilds of Ireland, I
think that was a very good thing.
The descriptions in your book are very vivid; how do you recall those memories with such detail?
It’s something that comes to me. I’ve been trained to do that as an actress. We have this thing called sense memory that we do in class — I don’t go to class anymore so much, but it’s just a way of putting yourself back there. And that functions well for me as a writer. Also I think probably because Ireland was mercifully devoid of extraneous distraction.
Your young life was full of lively characters. Was it a challenge to balance your own story with theirs?
Not really, because I have my place. You know, pawns have their place on the chessboard.
There’s a recurring image in the book of gazing into a mirror and the act of self-reflection. Is that what writing a memoir feels like to you?
Yes, and you see all the bumps as well as the stuff you like. The challenge is to give everything its moment and to acknowledge all of the feelings — to, if possible, draw a conclusion by which you can move forward and forgive yourself, forgive others and move on. I think writing a memoir is very much about sharing who you are, who you were, claiming it and in a way setting it free.
You seem to have a knack for landing in places at just the right moment in history: London in the ’60s, New York in the ’70s. Is that coincidence, or did something draw you to those places?
I think it was coincidence, although I consider myself sort of the Zelig of my time. There were certainly fortunate aspects to landing in New York in the ’70s and living at the Chelsea Hotel and kind of encountering all those characters.
New York was not a great place to not have money. At the same time, I’m glad
that I was at the cusp of all that interest and activity, that I exposed myself
to it. If given the chance, I think it’s better to open oneself up to the
vagaries of life. It’s easy to hide from all of that stuff, so I’m grateful in
retrospect that I embraced it.
Many people think of you as an actress first and foremost, but you didn’t embrace acting until later in life.
I’d made a film with my father when I was 17 years old, “A Walk With Love and Death.” It was an unpleasant experience for both of us, and I wasn’t crazy about the idea of putting myself up for more of that. I was feeling pretty fragile at the time: My mother had been killed in a car crash, I was suddenly on my own, by my own volition. My father was a strong, imposing man, and at the time I felt that he was critical and that he was not happy with my evolution, and so it was really a self-protective act as much as anything else that I went into modeling and didn’t continue acting at that point.
Why did you decide to tell your story in two parts?
Initially, I think it was just there was too much information [for one book]. So it sort of naturally fell in place. By the time I came to Los Angeles, that was a big change in my life. It was where I was to live for the next 35 years or so, and this seemed to be a very natural kind of cutting-off point. It’s still the same book as far as I’m concerned, just a continuation, really... with another cast of characters.
Dec. 6, 2013
Anjelica Huston has led a remarkable and often turbulent life. Her father was the great film director John Huston. Her mother, Enrica (Ricki) Soma, was a ballet dancer and famous beauty 18 years younger. The day his daughter was born in 1951, Huston was in the Congo, on the set of "The African Queen." "When the messenger handed the telegram to my father, he glanced at it then put it in his pocket," she writes. "Katie Hepburn exclaimed, 'For God's sakes, John, what does it say?' and Dad replied, 'It's a girl. Her name is Anjelica.' "
Ms. Huston went on to become a model and an acclaimed actress, winning an Oscar for "Prizzi's Honor" (1985), starring in the "Addams Family" series and collaborating with the director Wes Anderson. The second part of her memoir, to be published next year, picks up in 1973, when she moved to Hollywood.
"A Story Lately Told" describes the first half of her life, starting with her idyllic childhood at St. Clerans, her father's estate in County Galway, Ireland. The grand Georgian manor house was filled with magnificent objects from his travels—French tapestries, dancing Indian shivas, a Rodin sculpture, Japanese screens, a Monet water lily and even a tiger he'd shot himself. Ms. Huston and her older brother, Tony, kept ponies and dogs, collected frogs, went to fox hunts, and put on shows (one of which was a botched attempt at "Macbeth" for an audience that included Peter O'Toole). But at the center of all this something was very wrong.
A flamboyant character (he once returned from a film shoot dressed entirely in black leather, an African gray parrot balanced on his shoulder), Huston had a messy private life. He spent increasing amounts of time away, while his family stayed in a smaller house on the property. "Why was Mum spending year after year restoring the Big House for Dad while she, Tony, Nurse, and I lived in the Little House?" When her father was "in residence," she writes, the Big House "would come alive, glowing from the inside, turf fires burning in every room."
Ms. Huston has a vivid memory for the houses and their décor. She doesn't speculate much, however, about her parents' lives. She writes from a child's point of view, and although a child can have penetrating insights, she offers few interesting observations. The memories are mostly flat, frozen like snapshots.
Her parents never said they were separating, but in 1961 Ricki moved to London with the children. There were many other things the children weren't told. In 1964 John returned from one of his absences with the announcement, " 'I've got some great news!' . . . After a long dramatic pause a heroic grin lit up his face. 'You have a little brother!' It hung on the air for a moment like a dead fish."
That same year Ricki delivered her own surprise when she gave birth to Ms. Huston's half-sister, Allegra. The father was not Huston but the English historian John Julius Norwich, who was already married with two children.
Ms. Huston's writing comes alive when she describes London in the 1960s: "Vetiver, Brut, and Old Spice for the boys; lavender, sandalwood, and Fracas for the girls; unwashed hair, cigarettes." Now 17, she was working as an understudy to Marianne Faithfull in "Hamlet" when she heard that her mother had been killed in a car crash. John Huston took in the 4-year-old Allegra and raised her as his own. (Allegra didn't learn who her real father was until she was 12. Her 2009 memoir, "Love Child," is much more revealing and perceptive about the family saga than her half-sister's.)
Ms. Huston went to New York, where she moved into the Chelsea Hotel with Bob Richardson, a fashion photographer 23 years her senior. (You don't need an analyst to figure this one out.) He was prone to violent rages, driving her to the brink of suicide. She was unable to leave him until her father came to the rescue. A few days before the breakup, Huston offered her a memento from St. Clerans, which he had sold without telling her. She chose the Rodin. "A man, woman, and child molded as one in bronze, the perfect family that never was."
—Ms. Hodgson is the author of "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: My Adventures in Life and Food."
The first volume of actress Anjelica Huston's memoirs, “A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York,” is a niche book distinguished by above-average prose. Its breeziness will register as a virtue to anyone who's had to slog through a windbaggy celebrity memoir; however, the same breeziness results in a lack of self-interrogation. The book never makes that leap, essential to good memoirs, where the "a" falls away from "a life."
Perhaps the problem is limited scope: "A Story Lately Told" covers only the first 20-odd years of Huston's life, ending more than a decade before her acting career took off. (A second volume is slated for fall 2014.) It's a book about privileged girlhood — with horses, private schools and tutors — that gradually becomes a book about the life of an aspiring model in the post-Twiggy, pre-supermodel world of fashion. As such, its ideal reader is either a person who is more interested in an actor's pre-fame life than her work, or one who will read anything set in the age of cultural capitals — the pre-Internet era, when being somebody meant being somewhere in the company of other somebodies.
"A Story Lately Told" is packed with those somebodies. Like many memoirists, Huston occasionally succumbs to list-mania, devoting paragraphs to naming all of the famous people who were part of a given cultural scene. As an inevitable side effect of her cosmopolitan upbringing, she can sound insider-y even when she's trying to be inclusive.
Regardless, Huston's writing produces some rich passages. "The scents of London in the sixties — Vetiver, Brut, and Old Spice for the boys; lavender, sandalwood, and Fracas for the girls; unwashed hair, cigarettes," has a telegraphic rhythm, olfactory imagery unspooling with each comma and semicolon. Huston can be perceptive when describing others; of her father, director , she writes: "His eyes were brown and inquisitive, like monkeys' eyes, with a keen intelligence."
was on location directing "The African Queen" when his daughter was born, and his absences become a marker of time: "Dad was making 'Freud' in Munich," "Dad was making 'The List of Adrian Messenger' at Bray," "Dad disappeared for many months to make 'Night of the Iguana' in Mexico," "Dad, who was in Japan making 'The Barbarian and the Geisha,'" and so on. Though Huston's descriptions of her father are fond ("a warm voice like whiskey and tobacco") and repeatedly draw attention to his intelligence and independence, they lack the intimacy of her descriptions of her mother, Enrica Soma, who was 24 years her husband's junior and died at 39 in a car accident.
Huston's prose resists self-exegesis, so when, soon after her mother's death, the author begins a relationship with Bob Richardson — an intelligent, independent-minded photographer who is 24 years her senior — readers are left to draw their own conclusions.
The book's final 50 pages deal with Huston's tumultuous four-year relationship with the mentally ill Richardson. At this point, her prose begins to gunk up with hackneyed similes and mixed metaphors. A sentence like "I never felt so fragile or vulnerable as when Bob became demonic and flew into a rage, or, worse, when afterward he retreated into his shell" signifies emotions without evoking them. Ironically, the book's major weakness is its author's treatment of herself. When dealing with her own complicated feelings, she writes in clichés and thereby robs her own experiences of meaningfulness. The result is a good collection of autobiographical tidbits in a not-quite-good memoir.
November 23, 2013
'A Story Lately Told': Anjelica Huston chronicles the first part of her fabulous life
"A STORY LATELY TOLD: COMING OF AGE IN IRELAND, LONDON, AND NEW YORK"
By Anjelica Huston, Scribner
For women of a certain age, many can fondly recall a youthful obsession with all things "mod" -- thanks to the Beatles and Twiggy.
That's why it was so much fun to read actress Anjelica Huston's new memoir. She was right there, living in London at the height of this fashion/culture trend. Spotting icons on the street was a daily occurrence: models, actors, rockers.
Riding the wave of the British invasion on its home turf, Anjelica and her best girlfriend Emily were young teens when they saw early performances by the Yardbirds, the Kinks, Traffic, Cream, Eric Burdon and the Animals, and many more.
One day she passed model Jean Shrimpton and actor Terence Stamp walking in Piccadilly, and "literally gasped at their collective radiance," she tells us.
Later as a budding actress, she would get the chance to understudy the part of Ophelia in "Hamlet" for Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger's girlfriend. Once, when invited to the actress-singer's flat, Jagger walked in. "I thought he was amazing -- rail thin, and sexy, insolent eyes and full lips. Having admired him as a schoolgirl, I found meeting him in person quite surreal."
The daughter of legendary film director John Huston, a teenage Angelica was about to audition for Franco Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet" (1968) when her father announced he had other plans for her -- to star in his own film, the forgettable "A Walk With Love and Death."
So unpleasant was the experience that she temporarily swore off acting and became an accomplished fashion model, working for a time with some of the greatest fashion photographers in the world.
London of the 1960s only takes up about one-fourth of her book, but it is my favorite part. With this passage I felt like a school chum exploring the city with her: "... Brut and Old Spice for boys; lavender, sandalwood, and Fracas for the girls; unwashed hair, cigarettes ... fish and chips and vinegar, tobacco, patchouli, curry ... cider and beer. Up and down the Kings Road, the beauties in rumpled silk and denim would be out in force on Saturday afternoons."
The first half of the memoir consists of scenes from her idyllic childhood in County Galway, Ireland, where her father had purchased a 110-acre estate on which to raise his family. The children enjoyed a privileged life in the country, riding horses, having private tutors, etc. There was still plenty of time for playing make-believe, or surveying the natural environment.
Her father, according to Ms. Huston, was brilliant, short-tempered, demanding, controlling and charming. He was also absent for long periods of time while he worked on movie shoots. Evidently none of his five wives made him happy for very long.
Anjelica's mother, Enrica "Ricki" Soma, was an 18-year-old ballerina when she married John Huston (in his 40s) while pregnant with Anjelica's brother Tony. She and her brother are just 15 months apart.
While that marriage quickly turned into more of "an arrangement," Ricki was a devoted mother and raised her children with affection and conviction, until her death at 39. For an adolescent girl to suddenly lose her mother -- Anjelica compares it to "an abduction" -- scarring is inevitable.
Structured in short, colorful vignettes, "A Story Lately Told" shows off Ms. Huston's fabulous memory, keen observations and lovely use of language. As you might expect there's plenty of name-dropping -- not to impress -- but because that was her normal life.
Famous actors, writers, and artists were a constant presence from the day she was born. To say she's led an interesting life would be an understatement, and yet there's far more to this journey. Ms. Huston's memoir ends in New York City, 1973, as she's reconsidering her life choices. The book jacket explains the second part, entitled "Watch Me," will be published in the fall of 2014. Can't wait.
Sunday 15 December 2013
A Story Lately Told by Anjelica Huston – review
The first volume of Anjelica Huston's memoirs is compelling, thoughtful, starry reading
As the third generation of one of Hollywood's most famous dynasties, you'd expect Anjelica Huston's memoir to be rich in stories from the golden days of cinema, but what's particularly enjoyable about her story is the rhapsodic way that she beautifully describes that bygone world. Her director father John dominates much of the book, as she describes her childhood in shabby splendour on the west coast of Ireland, where the likes of John Steinbeck ("I loved him… he was kind and generous and treated me as an equal") and Peter O'Toole were dinner guests, and where life consisted of hunting, adventuring and elaborately staged amateur dramatics, although the young Anjelica loathed the experience at the time.
As the story moves first to 1960s London, and then to New York, and she tells the story of her torrid love affair with the photographer Bob Richardson, the focus shifts away from her remarkable family, especially after her mother's death, and more towards her nascent career, which she describes with clear self-awareness; an early appearance in her father's film A Walk with Love and Death led to her receiving "some breathtakingly negative reviews", and nearly led to her abandoning the business altogether.
Yet it is the flawed men in her life who are the most compellingly sketched. Richardson's talent went hand in hand with his insecurity, mood swings and mental health issues; as Huston writes: "I thought of Bob as a wounded soul and believed it was my mission to save him." And as for her magnificent bastard of a father, it comes as no surprise that Huston noted at a young age that, as he rose from bed and threw off his clothes without a care who saw him, "he was extremely well endowed". A second volume of the book promises to continue the story from 1974 onwards; on this evidence, it should be beguiling stuff.
Published: Sun, December 1, 2013
I must confess, Anjelica Huston has never convinced me as an actress: for example her Morticia Addams and the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella pastiche, Ever After.
Both performances categorise her as a lucky girl with an influential father. He was John “African Queen” Huston, one of the truly great filmmakers.
Somehow there is something missing at the heart of this book, in the same way as the feeling of a creative vacuum in her acting.
She was born in 1951 at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles, weighing 8lb 13oz, a fairly hefty infant. Great wealth led the Hustons, including John’s fourth wife Ricki (a former dancer), to Ireland, at that time a European playground for wealthy Americans.
They settled in the St Clerans 110-acre estate with Anjelica, her baby brother Tony, and domestic help living in the Little House on the estate, with the Big House reserved for John.
The Big House was supposedly a working bolthole but in reality was a luxurious love nest.
Anjelica’s childhood sounds truly idyllic; privately educated, devoted to horses and pampered by aristocracy and international film stars alike.
As she grew older she maintained a cool acceptance of her parents’ on/off relationship and the almost feudal lifestyle at St Clerans but something had to give.
Anjelica loosened up after her parents’ inevitable split, almost as if during her growing years she was holding her breath in anticipation.
In 1961 we find Anjelica and Co in Kensington, London, but no sign of Dad.
Enthusiastically embracing the decade’s heady Flower Power, Anjelica decided on a modelling career and had her heart broken by actor James Fox, “tall, blond, remarkably handsome”. She then moved to Paris and the fashion pages of Vogue magazine.
On a photographic shoot she met top photographer Bob Richardson, who was 23 years her senior. It is easy to say she fell hopelessly in love with a replacement father but Richardson’s brilliance with a camera was balanced, not with artistic genius but drink, drugs and violence.
Leaving him behind after four years of trying to make it work, she ended up in Los Angeles with her father’s fifth wife Cici Shane, while her father made films.
Another factor that leaves the reader more than a little frustrated by this book is the lack of photographs. Beyond tiny black and white passport-sized snaps introducing each chapter, there are no pictures.
And this a book dealing with a life at the heart of Hollywood’s last hurrah, with a father producing masterpiece after timeless classic, with stars like Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe.
Apparently this is the first part of Anjelica’s autobiography; let us hope next time she will be bolder about the picture plates.
By JANE SHILLING
When Anjelica Huston was born on July 8, 1951, at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, Los Angeles, it took two days for the news to reach her father, John Huston. He was deep in the heart of the Belgian Congo at the time, filming The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. A barefoot runner appeared, bearing a telegram, which Huston glanced at, and stuffed into his pocket without comment.
‘For God’s sakes, John,’ exclaimed Katharine Hepburn. ‘What does it say?’
‘It’s a girl,’ replied Huston. ‘Her name is Anjelica.’
Anjelica’s mother, Enrica Soma, known as Ricki, had first met John Huston when she was 14 years old. She was an aspiring dancer and he promised to take her to the ballet, but went away to war and never kept his promise.
Four years later they met again at dinner in Los Angeles, where Ricki was under contract to the movie mogul David Selznick. Huston reintroduced himself, Ricki reminded him that he’d stood her up, and on February 10, 1950, Huston got a Mexican divorce from his third wife and married Ricki the same night. He was 44, she was 18 and seven months pregnant with Anjelica’s older brother, Tony.
When Anjelica was two, Huston moved his family to Ireland, where the countryside and the social life - a vibrant mixture of aristocrats, Bohemians and the hunting set - had captured his imagination. St Clerans, a 110-acre estate in Galway, became her childhood home.
Washington IndependentTony and Anjelica spent their time running wild across the estate, raiding the kitchen gardens, hunting for blackberries and conkers, riding their ponies and enduring the attentions of the exotic procession of visitors who turned up at St Clerans.
The war photographer Robert Capa took pictures of them as toddlers; when Anjelica and her best friend Joan Buck (later the first American editor-in-chief of French Vogue) decided to entertain the grown-ups one Christmas with a performance of the witches’ scene from Macbeth, Peter O’Toole was in the audience. It was Anjelica’s first theatrical performance, and she forgot her lines. ‘Not what you’d call a very auspicious beginning,’ she comments.
Bored and lonely during John’s long absences on location and suspecting, rightly, that he was finding female company elsewhere, Ricki threw herself into decorating St Clerans in a style worthy of Huston’s remarkable art collection, which included a painting of waterlilies by Monet and a Rodin bronze sculpture of a family. The sculpture was the one thing that Anjelica kept when St Clerans was sold and its contents dispersed.
‘For me, it symbolised the thing I had most wanted as a child,’ she writes. ‘For my parents to love each other and be together.’ In 1961 that dream of a united family came to an abrupt end. ‘I can’t remember being formally told that we would be leaving Ireland to go to school in England,’ Anjelica recalls, ‘but it was a time of few explanations. I didn’t ask questions, because I was afraid of the answers.’
She was miserable at her new school, the French Lycee in London, where her class teacher, ‘a pregnant, sour-faced woman’, threw some flowers that Anjelica had brought her in the bin, complaining that they smelt of onions (‘I remember feeling sorry for her unborn baby,’ she comments).
Visits to see her father in Ireland only made life more complicated. ‘Ireland and London, like my parents, were pulling away, dividing loyalties, leaving one in a position of constant betrayal of the other side.’
Ricki bought a house in Maida Vale, overlooking Regent’s Canal. In her early teens, Anjelica ‘loved our alliance, our sweet conspiracy . . . I understood that Mum had an enormous capacity for love’.
Alas, that sense of security wasn’t to last. Ricki had an affair with historian John Julius Norwich, disliked by Anjelica, who thought him ‘cold and intellectual’. The affair produced a daughter, Allegra, in 1964, but John Julius declined to divorce his wife and marry Ricki. ‘I think her heart was broken,’ says Anjelica.
Five years later, Ricki was planning a trip to Venice with a new boyfriend. After a tricky period during which Anjelica had become ‘secretive and devious’, skipping school to spend time with the actor James Fox, who was ten years her senior, mother and daughter had a heart-to-heart and the barriers between them dissolved.
A few days later, Anjelica dreamed that ‘my spine was being pulled out of me’. When she woke, it was to the news that her mother had died in a car crash.
‘I think of my mother all the time,’ she writes, adding that a friend whose mother also died in a car crash described the loss as ‘an abduction, and so it is’. After Ricki’s death, Anjelica moved to live with her friend Joan Buck in New York. She had been understudying Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia in a production of Hamlet, but when the play transferred to New York and Francesca Annis took over the role, she had little to do and began to dabble in modelling.
Her father had cast her in his film A Walk With Love And Death, but the reviews were appalling. One critic wrote: ‘Huston’s daughter . . . has the face of an exhausted gnu, the voice of an unstrung tennis racket, and a figure of no discernible shape’. And, she adds: ‘Working with Dad had not been an experience I longed to duplicate, so I decided to give acting a rest.’
Instead, she began to run with a glamorous crowd from Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, including the photographers Richard Avedon and Bob Richardson, who became her lover. She was 18, he was 42. ‘In time,’ she writes, ‘I learned that Bob was bipolar, schizophrenic and bisexual . . . I thought of Bob as a wounded soul and believed it was my mission to save him.’
Happily, she resisted his entreaties to get pregnant and, after a gruesome trip to Mexico with Bob, John Huston and his latest wife, Ceci, during which Bob hurled a bottle of tequila at her, she left him.
‘As Dad used to say when we were children,’ she writes in her final paragraph, ‘“Remember, you can always put your hands in your pockets and walk away.”’
It wasn’t the last time she would have to follow that excellent piece of advice, and her afterword hints that there is more to come. If so, that is good news, for Huston combines an extraordinary life with a real gift for storytelling.
Her dry wit, eloquent understatement and her vivid memory for the places, people and feelings of her childhood and early adulthood make this one of those very rare celebrity memoirs that you’ll want to read and re-read for the sheer beauty of its writing.
December 17, 2013
Reviewed by David Bruce Smith
In an unflinching memoir, the actress Anjelica Houston recounts a life -- begun in the shadow of her famous father – which was both fragmented and enchanting
John Huston was not home the day his daughter was born. The famed director was in the Congo filming The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. That oversight foreshadowed intermittent, careless parenting, which aroused daughterly melancholy and advanced tales of miscommunication. These pour out in Anjelica Huston’s memoir, A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London and New York:
“I was a lonely child. My brother Tony and I were never very close, neither as children nor as adults, but I was tightly bound to him. We were forced to be together because we were on our own …”
The siblings were reared on St. Clerans, a 110-acre estate in the Irish countryside, which they shared with myriad loyal and loving servants, horses, falcons, fish, and other wildlife. They were home-schooled, and far away from most kids.
Life was unpredictable and interrupted. John Huston—“a Lothario, a drinker, a gambler, a man’s man”—was on location for long periods; distracted at home, or not, by the mechanics of making his masterful movies: The Red Badge of Courage, Moulin Rouge, Moby Dick, The Misfits, Freud and The Bible. When John Huston was in residence, he sprawled, bombastically, in the “Big House” while his fourth wife, Ricki Soma, and their children, occupied the “Little House.”
But the beautiful Mrs. Huston—a former ballerina with a Mona Lisa face, who had vamped John Huston and adorned the cover of Life magazine in June 1947—was uncomfortable there, 34 years younger than her husband, queasy about the security of the marriage and “out of her element,” according to their daughter’s memoir.
Yet, despite their partial mismatch, there were vestiges of spousal love, and occasional household warmth. The Hustons had, for example, elegant soirées at a variety of venues for people such as Carson McCullers, John Steinbeck, Irwin Shaw, Swifty Lazar, Deborah Kerr, Marlon Brando and Peter O’Toole. Those events left residual happy memories for the author:
“It seems to me that of my father’s friends, the ones who were writers were more understanding, more interested, more engaged than the rest.”
Eventually, Huston’s habitual infidelity destabilized his wife; she left the estate for London in 1960, alone. A year later, Ricki and the children reunited in Kensington. The tutorial ritual was dropped; Tony was enrolled at the Westminster School, and Anjelica entered the French lycée:
“I found the curriculum impossible … All the classes were in French, with the exception of English literature and language. I was backward, the stupidest girl in the class. … At the end of my first year, my report card read ‘assez faible.’There’s no perfect translation. ‘Rather weak’ doesn’t quite convey the French disdain …”
Huston was not a committed student then or later. She jettisoned academics in favor of days filled with shopping, clubbing and occasional rub-ups with cultural swingers like Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones. She acted in her father’s film A Walk with Love and Death and posed for the illustrious fashion photographer Richard Avedon.
In the midst of this bustling life, the spurned Ricki planned a visit to Venice. But soon after her mother arrived in Italy, teenage Anjelica received news that Ricki had been killed in a car collision with a truck. The young jazz musician-boyfriend who was accompanying her and had been driving survived, and so did the truck driver.
Afterward, the churned-up 17-year-old Huston completed an understudy commitment with Marianne Faithfull in a 1969 rendition of Hamlet and hop-scotched into a romance with the much older fashion photographer, Bob Richardson, becoming his muse and protégé. Under his strategic mentoring and manipulation, she was recast as a successful model for British and Italian Vogue.When the couple relocated to New York, Huston segued into management mostly by Halston.
Meanwhile, the moods of the intermittently petulant Richardson morphed into misogynic mania. After four years, Huston terminated the liaison and departed for Hollywood.
The elegant and enjoyable A Story Lately Told concludes there. Adventures with Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and others will be divulged in the actress’s second memoir. Watch Me is to be published in the fall of 2014.
David Bruce Smith is the author of 11 books. His latest, for children, is American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States.
November 18, 2013
Anjelica Huston has lived a big, colorful life — big and colorful enough to fill two volumes of an autobiography.
The first, A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age inIreland, London and New York (Scribner), goes on sale Tuesday. It begins with her unconventional childhood and ends when she has started modeling and is in a deeply troubled relationship with fashion photographer Bob Richardson.
"It's funny," says the actress, who has won an Oscar, famously made the Hollywood scene withJack Nicholson, and most recently made a splash (literally, as cocktail-tossing producer Eileen Rand) on the now-canceled NBC series Smash.
"There are times in one's life when people start to ask you questions, like, 'When are you going to have a baby?' " says Huston, 62, who never had a child. "And in this case, it was, 'When are you going to write your book?' This idea cropped up quite a lot, particularly in the last four or five years since my husband's death, and I think actually it's been very cathartic."
Huston, who laughs easily and often, is calling from Venice, Calif., where she lives with a menagerie of cats and dogs. Her husband of 16 years, sculptor Robert Graham, died in 2008.
On this day at the beach, she reports, the sky has "that blank look that skies take on in November in California, where it's not sunny but it's not anything else either."
Huston has a way with a descriptive phrase, and it's on display in A Story Lately Told, which, unlike most celebrity books, she wrote herself. Huston began by collaborating with a ghostwriter, but quickly decided it wasn't working.
"It became evident to me that if I was going to embark on this idea that I should do it myself. Because really I don't think anyone can replicate your way of thinking," she says.
So, with her Paper Mate Sharpwriter #2 in hand (she even thanks the pencil's manufacturer in the acknowledgments), Huston set out to remember an "unusual and special" childhood, and "lay bare a few things, and put a few things to rest." Publishers Weekly calls the book a "brave account."
"She is such a fine writer. She finds language exhilarating in a way a writer finds language exhilarating," says Nan Graham, her publisher at Scribner. "She's so winning on the page."
Huston's parents were John Huston, the legendary film director and actor, and his much-younger fourth wife, Enrica Soma, who had been a ballet dancer before her marriage. John Huston was filming The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in the Belgian Congo when Anjelica was born in L.A. in 1951; two years later he moved his family to Ireland.
Huston says it probably was inevitable, considering who her parents were, that she would become a performer. "I was a showoff," she admits. She writes of staring in the mirror as a child, pretending to be Morticia Addams – a role she would later play inThe Addams Family and Addams Family Values.
In Ireland, Dad (when he was around) lived in the "Big House" ; Anjelica and her older brother, Tony, and her mother in the "Little House." There were other women for her larger-than-life father, and later, other men for her mother. Writing A Story Lately Told, Huston says, allowed her to piece together the real story of her parents' marriage. As a child, "I didn't want to press anyone for answers, because I wanted my version of the truth."
In the '60s, Huston's mother moved her children to London, which, Huston says, "I enjoyed tremendously and where I had a very good time, mostly of a non-curricular nature." At 17, she had an affair with 28-year-old British actor James Fox.
This was also the disastrous period when the teenage Huston appeared, reluctantly, in her father's 1969 film, A Walk with Love and Death. She writes that she was afraid of her dad; he had once hit her for dancing in what he considered a provocative way. When the movie came out, her performance was panned.
"I see bits of (the movie) now and again, and I feel so terribly sorry for myself," she says with a laugh. "It's almost unbearable to watch."
Years later, her father would direct her in Prizzi's Honor (1985), a considerably more successful joint effort. Huston won a best-supporting-actress Oscar for her role as the daughter of a Mob boss.
"I think I pleased him in that one," she says of her father. "He knew I was good, I knew I was good, but the hideous hump of his ego got in the way in A Love with Walk and Death."
In 1969, Huston's mother was killed in a car crash; "Ricki" was only 39.
For Huston, it was a devastating loss. After her mother's death, Huston moved to New York, where her dark, exotic, angular looks caught the eye of fashion editors.
She met Richardson when he photographed her for Harper's Bazaar; they had an instant connection. He was 42; she had just turned 18, an age difference that echoed her parents'.
She looked to Richardson, she writes, to be her "champion and protector." And while he taught her how to respond to the camera, he also was volatile – a schizophrenic, she later discovered.
"I was very young and I had never had an experience like this," she recalls. "It was only after I'd been with him for a little while that I came up against his craziness."
Huston thinks many readers will be surprised to learn about Richardson, whom she left after four years. He died in 2005.
"Most people associate me with Jack and don't really think of me before Jack," she says.
Jack, of course, is Jack Nicholson, 76, with whom she had a storied relationship in the '70s and '80s.
Huston is now writing the second volume of her memoir, which is called Watch Me and is tentatively due out a year from now. It will cover her acting career, her years in L.A., and, she says, "meeting Jack."
They remain pals. "We've had a long and deep friendship, and Jack's somebody that I want in my life," she says. "I wouldn't be happy not having him in my life."
Nan Graham, who has read many pages of the Watch Me manuscript, says "there's a lot of Jack," in volume two.
"There will," Graham promises readers with a taste for celebrity dish, "be ample Jack”
November 20, 2013
Angelica Huston's memoir has received mainly positive reviews and is the first of a planned two-part work.
Actress Anjelica Huston’s memoir “A Story Lately Told” is garnering plenty of buzz for its Hollywood insider stories.
The first part of what will be a two-volume biography, according to USA Today, was released on Nov. 19, and details Huston's childhood and young adult life working as a model.
Huston is an Oscar-winning actress (for the 1985 film “Prizzi’s Honor”) and appeared in the films “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” and the “Addams Family” movies as well as, more recently, “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “50/50,” and the NBC series “Smash.”
Huston told USA Today she started writing her memoir with a ghostwriter but decided to go on by herself soon after.
“It became evident to me that if I was going to embark on this idea that I should do it myself,” she said. “Because really I don't think anyone can replicate your way of thinking.”
Huston’s memoir describes what it was like to work with her director father John Huston on the movie “A Walk With Love And Death.” Huston told NPR interviewer Terry Gross that the experience was not a good one.
“It seemed to me that he didn't want me to be who I was," she said. “And that was very difficult.... I felt at that time that he didn't like me, he didn't like who I was, he didn't like the way I dressed, the way I looked. He was very critical of all of that.”
However, she later worked with him on “Prizzi's Honor,” and gained a new perspective, she said. “I thought it was all about me, [that] he had it in for me” while working on “Walk,” she said. But later, working on "Prizzi's Honor," she said that she saw her father "get tough on other people too and although that doesn't really diminish the effect that it has on one when one's talent or one's behavior is called into question, at the same time there was something vaguely comforting about knowing that I wasn't the only one to suffer criticism.”
As for the second volume, Huston told USA Today there will be “ample Jack,” referring to her relationship with actor Jack Nicholson.
The memoir received a negative notice from Kirkus Reviews. The reviewer for Kirkus says the book "sags" as it goes on and that "a phone book of names assails readers, challenging both memory and interest.... Banality clutches the book tightly."
But most other reviewers disagreed. Publishers Weekly says Huston “achieves some moments of ringing clarity” and called her memoir a “brave account,” while Entertainment Weekly writer Melissa Maerz awarded the book an A- and calling it “fascinating.”
“Her lovely, novelistic writing carries the book,” Maerz writes.