A gentleman in Hollywood sounds like a contradiction in terms. yet ‘gentleinanly‘ is the only adjective that will begin to do justice to the charms of'l'ony Huston.
'l'he son ofJohn. and talented author of the screenplay for "l'he Dead’. 'l‘ony Huston lopes elegantly round his flat in London. rather tall. and shaking hands with something of the old-fashioned friendliness of a young James Stewart. ‘Is your recorder happy there or would it like a chair'.". he enquires as we sit down. and even the voice seems vaguely Stewart‘s. mellowly American as he goes on to promise faithfully that he won't be repeating all the things he‘s told the other journalists that day. We talk. and the furrowed brow. the measured. hesitant responses. the unrehearsed feeling. all testify that this is indeed a conversation.
’l‘ony‘s most recent project was of course a momentous one. Not only is The Dead a remarkable film in itself. but it was the last film to be directed by his father. and the only film on which they worked together. ‘It was probably the most important thing that has happened to me. . . lwas a struggling screenplay writer and dad
'Iissentially creative ‘ came over to work on a film with my brother and we began to collaborate. Although I had acted in a film with him when l was a child. I had never collaborated with him as an equal and particularly in the light ofthe fact that I had been writing by myself. to suddenly find myselfwith him as my mentor. one ofthe great geniusesoftwentieth century film-making. . . and also on a personal and emotional level . . .’ He pauses. weighing up what it meant to him. ‘l'd never really been that close to dad. and one really saw dad in the best light when you were working with him. He wasn't somebody who was easy. I mean he wasn’t a natural father. but when you were working with him. he was able to inspire. He was essentially a creative person; he liked to give you an idea so that you could then rumble it. Like a master craftsman with an apprentice. I was able to make use of his vast
10The List 11 Dec 1987—7Jan 1988
As John Huston‘s masterful film ofJames Joyce‘s story The Dead reaches Scotland Stephanie Billen talks to his son. Tony Huston. who wrote the screenplay. Allan Hunter profiles John Huston and Cairns Craig sets Joyce‘s original in its context.
POTAITS r THE ARTISTS
Emotionally it was a strangely therapeutic experience. ‘()ne became closer to him in a kind of lateral way. You didn't get close to dad by going up and hugging him or something: you became close as you shared sympathy. in the Italian sense. with something removed from you. If you and dad liked the same book or the same painting then you felt an affinity. and also you shared an essential belief in the value ofart. which dad held profoundly — he originally wanted to be a painter. . . uh'.’ well. yes I do paint. but one does a lot of things. not all ofthem seriously. . .'
Huston is happy to take a back seat to talk about his father. ‘He wasn‘t a perfectionist exactly. . . lmean—I don‘t know if you‘ve ever read Plato‘s Dialogues." No matter. ‘Well. Plato had a great influence on dad as a young man and the Socratic method ofexamining something and
‘He would quality control‘ testing something for weaknesses was dad‘s way. If you gave dad a piece ofwork. he would kind of quality control it. he would try and pull it apart and he did this with people as well. Various people
HUSTON AND THE DEAD
John Huston was a marvelloust larger-than-life figure, whose reputation as an adventurer, a womanizer and a drinker transformed him into a legendary figure reminiscent of a character from the pages of Hemingway.
The son of character actor Walter Huston, he had been a boxer, a painter and a journalist before arriving in Hollywood in the 19308. As a director, screenwriter and actor he proved himself a man of protean talents, capable of excelling in all areas of genre filmmaking. His first accomplishment as a director was the superbly realised detective yarn The Maltese Falcon (1941) and over half a century he imprinted his distinctive abilities on thrillers, westerns, adventures, warfilms, comedies and even a musical.
Huston celebrated the virtues of nobility, courage, tenacity and stoicism, encouraging new peaks of rugged achievement from the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Sean Connery and Richard Burton. Again and again, he focused on man‘s basic greed and folie de grandeur, as individuals obsessively chased a pocketful of dreams only to find their quest revealed as a pointless errand for
fool’s gold. His most ambitious exercise in this area, The Treasure 0f Sierra Madre (1948), won him twin Oscars forwriting and direction.
A love of literature led him to translate many classics to the screen; a roistering version of Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King (1975) and Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood (1979) were notable successes although his Moby Dick (1956) and Under The Volcano (1984) rest less easily in the memory. Appropriately enough, his last completed film The Dead (1987) allowed him to acknowledge the inspirational qualities of James Joyce, the writer who had influenced him most.
Huston died last September at the age of 81 whilst working on a film of Thornton Wilder's Theophilus North directed by his son Danny. Married five times, he was a fatherol five, including Tony, the screenwriter on The Dead, and Angelica, an Oscar-winner in his autumnal black satire Prizzi‘s Honour (1985).
An inimitable raconteur and huntsman, Huston was also an actor of some force and skill, notably in The Cardinal (1963), Winter Kills (1979) and as the chillingly evil patriarch in Chinatown (1974). His legacy to the cinema world is some forty films, among them The African Queen (1951), Moulin Rouge (1952), The Misfits (1960), The Night of the Iguana (1964) and Fat City (1972). At his best, he told
spellbinding stories in celluloid,
creating classics of the American cinema.
looked upon this characteristic as being a destructive quality. But what he was really trying to do was to get to the essence of something. to make certain that it was sea-worthy. and the only way to do that was to rigorously examine it and make use ofcreativc doubt .‘
'l‘ony gives the impression that the Socratic eye did not make any exceptions for relations. “as Huston confident of his son‘s screen-writing abilities'.’ ‘Again. he didn‘t give me any indication and I didn‘t take my working with him for granted. The way he was. he had tremendous energy and he demanded the utmost of everyone he worked with. and he would not dream ofsparing himself.‘ l’ar from a dictator. 'I'ony claims his father was always willing to receive ideas. ‘but he made you feel you should think carefully about the idea before you came to him. otherwise you’d get fifty people coming up to him on the set with nonsense.‘
Happily father and son shared ‘sympathy' with both the author and the setting of The Dead. As a young boy 'I‘ony I luston collected first editions ofJoyce. inexpensive at the time and unobtrusively sitting in a bookshelf by his side as we speak. Born in California. 'l'ony grew up with his sister Angelica. (iretta in the film. in (ialway on the south west coast of Ireland. where he revelled in the “whole environment‘ which he says his mother created for them. When he was twelve. they moved to London. where he went to
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