John Huston (1906–1987)Actor | Director | Writer

Date of Birth 5 August 1906, Nevada, Missouri, USA
Date of Death 28 August 1987, Middletown, Rhode Island, USA  (emphysema)
Birth Name John Marcellus Huston
Height 6' 1" (1.85 m)

An eccentric rebel of epic proportions, this Hollywood titan reigned supreme as director, screenwriter and character actor in a career that endured over five decades. The ten-time Oscar-nominated legend was born John Marcellus Huston in Nevada, Missouri, on August 5, 1906. His ancestry included English, Scottish, and Scots-Irish. The age-old story goes that the small town of his birth was won by John's grandfather in a poker game. John's father was the equally magnanimous character actor Walter Huston, and his mother, Rhea Gore, was a newspaperwoman who traveled around the country looking for stories. The only child of the couple, John began performing on stage with his vaudevillian father at age 3. Upon his parents' divorce at age 7, the young boy would take turns traveling around the vaudeville circuit with his father and the country with his mother on reporting excursions. A frail and sickly child, he was once placed in a sanitarium due to both an enlarged heart and kidney ailment. Making a miraculous recovery, he quit school at age 14 to become a full-fledged boxer and eventually won the Amateur Lightweight Boxing Championship of California, winning 22 of 25 bouts. His trademark broken nose was the result of that robust activity.

John married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Harvey, and also took his first professional stage bow with a leading role off-Broadway entitled "The Triumph of the Egg." He made his Broadway debut that same year with "Ruint" on April 7, 1925, and followed that with another Broadway show "Adam Solitaire" the following November. John soon grew restless with the confines of both his marriage and acting and abandoned both, taking a sojourn to Mexico where he became an officer in the cavalry and expert horseman while writing plays on the sly. Trying to control his wanderlust urges, he subsequently returned to America and attempted newspaper and magazine reporting work in New York by submitting short stories. He was even hired at one point by mogul Samuel Goldwyn Jr. as a screenwriter, but again he grew restless. During this time he also appeared unbilled in a few obligatory films. By 1932 John was on the move again and left for London and Paris where he studied painting and sketching. The promising artist became a homeless beggar during one harrowing point.

Returning again to America in 1933, he played the title role in a production of "Abraham Lincoln," only a few years after father Walter portrayed the part on film for D.W. Griffith. John made a new resolve to hone in on his obvious writing skills and began collaborating on a few scripts for Warner Brothers. He also married again. Warners was so impressed with his talents that he was signed on as both screenwriter and director for the Dashiell Hammett mystery yarn The Maltese Falcon (1941). The movie classic made a superstar out of Humphrey Bogart and is considered by critics and audiences alike--- 65 years after the fact--- to be the greatest detective film ever made. In the meantime John wrote/staged a couple of Broadway plays, and in the aftermath of his mammoth screen success directed bad-girl 'Bette Davis (I)' and good girl Olivia de Havilland in the film melodrama In This Our Life (1942), and three of his "Falcon" stars (Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet) in the romantic war picture Across the Pacific (1942). During WWII John served as a Signal Corps lieutenant and went on to helm a number of film documentaries for the U.S. government including the controversial Let There Be Light (1946), which father Walter narrated. The end of WWII also saw the end of his second marriage. He married third wife Evelyn Keyes, of "Gone With the Wind" fame, in 1946 but it too lasted a relatively short time. That same year the impulsive and always unpredictable Huston directed Jean-Paul Sartre's experimental play "No Exit" on Broadway. The show was a box-office bust (running less than a month) but nevertheless earned the New York Drama Critics Award as "best foreign play."

Hollywood glory came to him again in association with Bogart and Warner Brothers'. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), a classic tale of gold, greed and man's inhumanity to man set in Mexico, won John Oscars for both director and screenplay and his father nabbed the "Best Supporting Actor" trophy. John can be glimpsed at the beginning of the movie in a cameo playing a tourist, but he wouldn't act again on film for a decade and a half. With the momentum in his favor, John hung around in Hollywood this time to write and/or direct some of the finest American cinema 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, including Moby Dick (1956), The Unforgiven (1960), The Misfits (1961), Freud (1962), The Night of the Iguana (1964) and The Bible: In the Beginning... (1966) were, for the most part, well-regarded but certainly not close to the level of his earlier revered work. He also experimented behind-the-camera with color effects and approached topics that most others would not even broach, including homosexuality and psychoanalysis.

An ardent supporter of human rights, he, along with director William Wyler and others, dared to form the Committee for the First Amendment in 1947, which strove to undermine the House Un-American Activities Committee. Disgusted by the Hollywood blacklisting that was killing the careers of many talented folk, he moved to St. Clerans in Ireland and became a citizen there along with his fourth wife, ballet dancer Enrica (Ricki) Soma. The couple had two children, including daughter Anjelica Huston who went on to have an enviable Hollywood career of her own. Huston and wife Ricki split after a son (director Danny Huston) was born to another actress in 1962. They did not divorce, however, and remained estranged until her sudden death in 1969 in a car accident. John subsequently adopted his late wife's child from another union. The ever-impulsive Huston would move yet again to Mexico where he married (1972) and divorced (1977) his fifth and final wife, Celeste Shane.

Huston returned to acting auspiciously with a major role in Otto Preminger's epic film The Cardinal (1963) for which Huston received an Oscar nomination at age 57. From that time forward, he would be glimpsed here and there in a number of colorful, baggy-eyed character roles in both good and bad (some positively abysmal) films that, at the very least, helped finance his passion projects. The former list included outstanding roles in Chinatown (1974) and The Wind and the Lion (1975), while the latter comprised of hammy parts in such awful drek as Candy (1968) and Myra Breckinridge (1970).

Directing daughter Angelica in her inauspicious movie debut, the thoroughly mediocre A Walk with Love and Death (1969), John made up for it 15 years later by directing her to Oscar glory in the mob tale Prizzi's Honor (1985). In the 1970s Huston resurged as a director of quality films with Fat City (1972), The Man Who Would Be King (1975) and Wise Blood (1979). He ended his career on a high note with Under the Volcano (1984), the afore-mentioned Prizzi's Honor (1985) and The Dead (1987). His only certifiable misfire during that era was the elephantine musical version of Annie (1982), though it later became somewhat of a cult favorite among children.

Huston lived the macho, outdoors life, unencumbered by convention or restrictions, and is often compared in style or flamboyancy to an Ernest Hemingway or Orson Welles. He was, in fact, the source of inspiration for Clint Eastwood in the helming of the film White Hunter Black Heart (1990) which chronicled the making of "The African Queen." Illness robbed Huston of a good portion of his twilight years with chronic emphysema the main culprit. As always, however, he continued to work tirelessly while hooked up to an oxygen machine if need be. At the end, the living legend was shooting an acting cameo in the film Mr. North (1988) for his son Danny, making his directorial bow at the time. John became seriously ill with pneumonia and died while on location at the age of 81. This maverick of a man's man who was once called "the eccentric's eccentric" by Paul Newman, left an incredibly rich legacy of work to be enjoyed by film lovers for centuries to come.

Spouse (5)

Celeste Shane (8 August 1972 - 21 July 1975) (divorced)
Enrica Sonia Soma (10 February 1950 - 29 January 1969) (her death) (2 children)
Evelyn Keyes (23 July 1946 - 10 February 1950) (divorced) (1 child)
Lesley Black (3 October 1937 - 7 April 1945) (divorced)
Dorothy Jeanne Harvey (17 October 1926 - 18 August 1933) (divorced)

Frequently gave his father Walter Huston a small role
Frequently cast Humphrey Bogart
Often cast his daughter Anjelica Huston
Hardboiled mysteries and thrillers
Gravelly smoke-burnished voice

At one time he kept a pet monkey. His wife of the time, Evelyn Keyes, became fed up with the noise and the mess and told Huston that either she or the monkey would have to leave. "Honey," replied Huston, "it's you!"
Son of Walter Huston.
Son Tony Huston appeared with him in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963).
Appeared with daughter Anjelica Huston in A Walk with Love and Death (1969).
Interred at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery (now called Hollywood Forever), Hollywood, California, USA.
Became an Irish citizen in 1964.
He is the only person to have ever directed a parent (Walter Huston) and a child (Anjelica Huston) to Academy Award wins.
Father-in-law of Pat Delaney.
Father of Danny Huston, from his relationship with Zoe Sallis.
A licensed pilot . . . and a prankster. He once flew over a golf course and dropped 5,000 ping-pong balls while a celebrity golf tournament was in progress.
Was voted the 13th Greatest Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945." Pages 484-493. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
After he and wife Ricki separated, she became pregnant by another man. When she died, Huston brought her daughter, Allegra Huston, to live with him and adopted her.
Father of Tony Huston and Anjelica Huston, from his marriage to Ricki Soma.
While shooting The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) in Mexico during his marriage to Evelyn Keyes, he befriended a boy named' Pablo Albarran'. Pablo came to spend the night at Huston's hotel one evening, and Huston discovered the next morning that the boy was a homeless orphan. Huston decided that he had no choice but to bring him back to the US and adopt him. He wrote in his autobiography that he met his wife Evelyn Keyes at the airport and surprised her by introducing her to their new son. She was in shock, but from then on did her best to be a good mother. He eventually married an Irish girl, had three children, then deserted his family and became a used-car dealer.
Directed 15 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Sydney Greenstreet, Walter Huston, Claire Trevor, Sam Jaffe, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, José Ferrer, Colette Marchand, Deborah Kerr, Grayson Hall, Susan Tyrrell, Albert Finney, Anjelica Huston, Jack Nicholson and William Hickey. Bogart and Trevor won Oscars for their performances, as did Huston's father Walter Huston and daughter Anjelica Huston
He and his father Walter Huston are the first Oscar-winning father-son couple. They are also the first father-son couple to be Oscar-nominated the same year (1941) and the first to win the same year (1949).
Once described Charles Bronson as "a grenade with the pin pulled".
Former father-in-law of Virginia Madsen.
Was known to have a mean streak when handling actors, and reportedly irritated John Wayne (who was slightly taller than Huston and much more massive) so much while filming The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958) that Wayne lost his temper and punched Huston, knocking him out cold.
Although Huston was often described as being 6' 4" tall, his actual measured height at his peak was 6' 2".
Appears in The Return of the King (1980), which was remade as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) with Sean Astin. Astin's father John Astin appeared in The Addams Family (1964) television series, playing Gomez Addams. The Addams Family films starred Anjelica Huston as Gomez' wife Morticia.
There are three generations of Oscar winners in the Huston family: John, his father Walter Huston and his daughter Anjelica Huston. They are the first family to do so, the second family were the Coppolas--Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia Coppola, Nicolas Cage and Carmine Coppola.
His WW II documentary Let There Be Light (1946) was one of the first, if not the first, films to deal with the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD; at the time called "shell shock") of soldiers returning from the war. Huston actually said that, "If I ever do a movie that glorifies war, somebody shoot me." This documentary was based on his front-line experiences covering the European war and what he saw soldiers go through during and returning from the war.
Born in Nevada, MO, but raised in Weatherford, TX, until his family moved to Los Angeles, CA.
Was amateur lightweight boxing champion of California.
Mother was newspaper reporter.
Maternal great-grandfather was Col. William P. Richardson who led the 25th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War.
He was first considered to star as the blind monk Jorge De Burgos in The Name of the Rose (1986). He accepted the part but had to leave due to his bad health.
Accidentally struck and killed a Hollywood dancer, Tosca Roulien, while driving on Sunset Boulevard on September 25, 1933. Walter Huston appealed to MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer to use his influence with the LAPD regarding any questions of alcohol being involved. A subsequent inquest absolved Huston of any blame for the accident.
Although not diagnosed with emphysema until 1978, it is widely believed he was already developing the lung disease while directing The Misfits (1961), following decades of heavy smoking.
Clint Eastwood's White Hunter Black Heart (1990) is about the making of Huston's movie The African Queen (1951). The movie is based upon a screenplay by Peter Viertel, Huston's assistant during the making of "The African Queen". The character Eastwood plays is based upon Huston.
Mike Nichols, in the director's commentary on the Catch-22 (1970) DVD, recalled that one day he was shooting street scenes at Rome's Studi di Cinecittà when he saw Huston at a pay phone. He was at Cinecittà helming The Kremlin Letter (1970), considered by many to be the nadir of his directorial career. Nichols says that Huston was on the phone placing bets with his bookie back in the US while the red light of the soundstage in which "Kremlin" was being shot was on. This meant that Huston's movie was being shot, but that it was not being directed by him. Such is the strange way by which movies were made, Nichols explains cryptically.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives." Volume Two, 1986-1990, pages 446-448. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.
Got the D.W. Griffith Career Achievement Award in 1985.
Became an Honorary Doctor of Literature at the Trinity University in Dublin, Ireland in 1964.
Was awarded the "One World Committee Award" in 1949.
Was originally supposed to direct Quo Vadis (1951), but walked out following arguments about the script. He was replaced by Mervyn LeRoy.
Producer Walter Mirisch complained that Huston acted unprofessionally in the post-production period after shooting Sinful Davey (1969). The initial preview of Huston's cut of the film in New York was disastrous, and Huston refused to cut the film after attending another preview, informing Mirisch via his agent that he "liked it just the way it is." Huston's agent informed Mirisch that his client "didn't see any reason to be present at previews." United Artists, which financed the film, was upset over the previews and demanded a re-edit. Huston refused to re-cut the picture, and the re-editing process was overseen by Mirisch. "Sinful Davey" was a failure at the box office after it was released. In his 2008 memoir, "I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History," Mirisch writes that "John Huston, in his autobiography, said that he was aghast when he saw what I had done in the re-editing of his picture. Responding to preview criticism, I had tried to make it less draggy and more accessible to American audiences . . . I saw John Huston again on a couple of occasions, many years after the release of 'Sinful Davey', and he was very cold, as I was to him. I thought his behavior in abandoning the picture was unprofessional." The two, who had worked together on Huston's 1956 adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1956), never collaborated again.
In his 2008 memoir "I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History," producer Walter Mirisch says that he vetoed Huston's desire to use his daughter Anjelica Huston as his leading lady opposite John Hurt in Sinful Davey (1969), the story of a Scottish rakehell. Mirisch was worried that the inexperienced Angelica, who had appeared in only one other film at the time, A Walk with Love and Death (1969), also directed by her father, would have to adopt a Scottish accent for the role. In addition, Mirisch felt that ". . . her appearance was rather more Italian than Scottish, and in stature she towered over John Hurt. John [Huston] and I then had a serious falling out about casting Angelica." (For the record, Angelica is officially listed as 5'10" tall and Hurt at 5'9".) The producer and his director butted heads over Huston's insistence that his daughter play the female lead, but Huston finally capitulated, and Pamela Franklin was cast instead (Angelica appears in the finished film in an uncredited bit part). The picture flopped, but Mirisch believed that the casting of the leading lady had nothing to do with it.
Is one of the few people to receive at least one Oscar nomination in five consecutive decades (1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s).
In the fifth edition of "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" (edited by Steven Schneider), nine of Huston's films are listed: The Maltese Falcon (1941), San Pietro (1945), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The African Queen (1951), Beat the Devil (1953), Fat City (1972), Prizzi's Honor (1985) and The Dead (1987).
Grandfather of Laura Huston and Jack Huston.
Daughter Anjelica Huston was born while he was shooting The African Queen (1951) in Africa. He received the news of her birth by telegram.
His best friend Humphrey Bogart nicknamed Huston "Double Ugly" and "The Monster.".
Has said that The MacKintosh Man (1973) (1973) is the worst movie he ever directed.
His character "Noah Cross" in Chinatown (1974) was ranked the #16 greatest screen villain of all time on the American Film Institute's 100 Heroes and Villains list.
When he married his fourth wife, Enrica "Ricki" Soma, he was 44 while she was only 20. They separated after ten years of marriage. They subsequently each had another child with other partners, but never divorced each other.
He and Orson Welles were good friends from the 1940s to Welles' death in 1985. Both men coincidentally made their spectacular debut as directors in 1941 (Welles with Citizen Kane (1941) and Huston with The Maltese Falcon (1941)). Both would eventually be directed by the other: Welles' had a cameo in Huston's adaptation of Moby Dick (1956) and Huston played the lead in Welles' unfinished The Other Side of the Wind.
In February 1933 his car collided with one being driven by 'Zita Johann' (qv. He was fined $30.
Was scheduled to direct _A Terrible Beauty" in June of 1969 and had been granted permission to film at the General Post Office in O'Connell Street, in Dublin, Ireland. The project never went through.
Was scheduled to direct Peter O'Toole and Toshiro Mifune in "Will Adams" with a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo and produced by Eugene Frenke and Jules Buck. The project never went through.
Honored on a US Postage Stamp in May 2012 (along with Frank Capra, John Ford, and Billy Wilder).
Was a Democrat.
Was hired as director on The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969) but walked off the set shortly before filming was due to start. He was replaced by Bryan Forbes.
He directed his father Walter Huston in three films: The Maltese Falcon (1941), In This Our Life (1942) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).
He directed his daughter Anjelica Huston in five films: Casino Royale (1967), _A Walk with Love and Death (1969), Sinful Davey (1969), Prizzi's Honor (1985) and The Dead (1987).
Ava Gardner was quoted as saying that her three films with Huston were "the only joy and fun I've ever had working in motion pictures.".
Two of his films, Wise Blood (1979) and Under the Volcano (1984), are in the Criterion Collection.
Directed both Katharine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn.
Preferred to film his movies on location rather than in the studio.
Was awarded with the D.W. Griffith Career Achievement Award in 1985.
Was awarded with a lifetime achievement award for his extraordinary contribution to film art at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984.
Was an avid reader.
First of three Gandalfs to also play a role in a Sherlock Holmes film. He played Prof. Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976). Michael Hordern played the older Dr. Watson in Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), and Ian McKellen played Sherlock himself in Mr. Holmes (2015).
He usually spoke kindly about his ex-wives, with the notable exception of his fifth wife, Celeste Shane, who was over 30 years his junior. This marriage lasted only three years, and in his autobiography, published some five years after their divorce, he refused to mention her by name, referring to her only as "a crocodile". On talk shows he often said it was the only one of his marriages he regretted. Curiously, his devoted daughter Anjelica Huston has said many times that she really liked her stepmother.
Late in his life he was invited to the Ronald Reagan White House for lunch (along with 20 or more other people, well-known in a variety of fields). The hostess for the occasion was the First Lady herself, Nancy Davis, who had known Huston slightly many years earlier because her stepfather, Dr. Loyal Davis, was Huston's doctor. Although he was an outspoken Democrat, Huston attended the lunch and was the soul of tact and charm until Mrs. Reagan asked him if he didn't think that her husband had turned out to be an even better President than everyone had expected. Smiling sweetly and still exuding the utmost affability, Huston replied, "Worse, my dear--far, FAR worse!" Mrs. Reagan's response is not recorded, but it was Huston's last visit to the White House.
Was very saddened by the death of John F. Kennedy.
John Huston vowed that if Ronald Reagan ever became president, he would never return to the US to live as a citizen again.
Enjoyed fox hunting when he lived in Ireland.
He was originally cast in Mr. North (1988), but was hospitalized with pneumonia. He personally requested 'Robert Mitchum' (q) to play his part in the film. Mitchum did so on a break from filming War and Remembrance (1988).
By the last year of his life he could only breathe for 20 minutes at a time before needing an oxygen mask.
Intended to be a professional painter.
John Huston wanted to adapt Ernest Hemingway's Across the River and into the Trees.