Authors: Anjelica Huston
Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Entertainment & Performing Arts, #Women, #Personal Memoirs
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For Mum and Dad
One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a wedding
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a story lately told
—Traditional children’s nursery rhyme about magpies
Anjelica in the yew tree at St. Clerans, age seven
here was a shrine in my mother’s bedroom when I was growing up. The built-in wardrobe had a mirror on the interior of both doors and a bureau inside, higher than I was, with an array of perfume bottles and small objects on the surface and a wall of burlap stretched above it. Pinned to the burlap was a collage of things she’d collected: pictures that she’d torn out of
magazines, poems, pomander balls, a fox’s tail tied with a red ribbon, a brooch I’d bought her from Woolworth’s that spelled “mother” in malachite, a photograph of Siobhán McKenna as St. Joan. Standing between the glass doors, I loved to look at her possessions, the mirrors reflecting me into infinity.
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. Although I knew he loved me, I always felt that Tony had it in for me, a bit, and that, a year older than I, he was always having to fight for what he had. We were in the middle of the Irish countryside, in County Galway, in the west of Ireland, and we didn’t see many other kids. We were tutored, and my life was mostly fantasy—wishing that I were Catholic so that I could have a Holy Communion, and wearing my mother’s tutus on the front lawn, hoping a husband would come along so that I might marry him.
I also spent quite a lot of time in front of the bathroom mirror. Nearby there was a stack of books. My favorites were
The Death of Manolete
and the cartoons of Charles Addams. I would pretend to be Morticia Addams. I was drawn to her. I used to pull my eyes back and see how I’d look with slanted eyelids. I liked Sophia Loren a lot. I’d seen pictures of her, and she was my ideal of female beauty at the time. Then I would pore over the photographs of the great bullfighter Manolete, dressed in his suit of lights, praying to the Madonna for her protection, taking the cape under his arm, preparing to enter the bullring. The solemnity, the ritual of the occasion, was tangible in the pictures. Then the terrible aftermath—Manolete gored in the groin, the blood black on the sand. It mystified me that even though he obviously had won the fight, there were also
photographs illustrating the subsequent slaughter of the bull. I felt it was a gross injustice, and my heart wept for both the bull and Manolete.
I found that I could make myself cry, very easily. Tony began to question whether I wasn’t using this ability to my advantage. I think he had a point. But for me, it was always about feeling. People often think that looking in the mirror is about narcissism. 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 it looks like when they cross their eyes. There are a lot of things to do in the mirror apart from just feasting on a sense of one’s physical beauty.
Tony Veiller, Anjelica and Mindy, Ricki with Shu-Shu, Seamus, Joan Buck, John Huston, and Tony Huston with Moses and Flash, the Big House lawn, St. Clerans, Whitsun, 1962
Ricki with Anjelica, age three months, New York City
was born at 6:29
. on July 8, 1951, at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, in Los Angeles. At eight pounds, thirteen ounces, I was a big, healthy baby. The news of my arrival was cabled promptly to the post office in the township of Butiaba in western Uganda. Two days later, a barefoot runner bearing a telegram finally arrived at Murchison Falls, a waterfall on the Nile, deep in the heart of the Belgian Congo, where
The African Queen
was being filmed.
My father, John Marcellus Huston, was a director renowned for his adventurous style and audacious nature. Even though it was considered foolhardy, he had persuaded not only Katharine Hepburn, an actress in her prime, but also Humphrey Bogart, who brought along his famously beautiful wife, the movie star Lauren Bacall, to share the hazardous journey. My mother, heavily pregnant, had stayed behind in Los Angeles with my one-year-old brother, Tony.
When the messenger handed the telegram to my father, he glanced at it, then put it in his pocket. Katie Hepburn exclaimed, “For God’s sakes, John, what does it say?” and Dad replied, “It’s a girl. Her name is Anjelica.”
• • •
Dad was six feet two and long-legged, taller and stronger and with a more beautiful voice than anybody. His hair was salt-and-pepper; he had the broken nose of a boxer and a dramatic air about him. I don’t remember ever seeing him run; rather, he ambled, or took long, fast strides. He walked loose-limbed and swaybacked, like an American, but dressed like an English gentleman: corduroy trousers, crisp shirts, knotted silk ties, jackets with suede elbows, tweed caps, fine custom-made leather shoes, and pajamas from Sulka with his initials on the pocket. He smelled of fresh tobacco and Guerlain’s lime cologne. An omnipresent cigarette dangled from his fingers; it was almost an extension of his body. His tone was carefully unstudied and casual. His tastes were eclectic. At work he wore bush jackets and khakis, as if going to war.
Over the years, I’ve heard my father described as a Lothario, a drinker, a gambler, a man’s man, more interested in killing big game than in making movies. It is true that he was extravagant and opinionated. But Dad was complicated, self-educated for
the most part, inquisitive, and well read. Not only women but men of all ages fell in love with my father, with that strange loyalty and forbearance men reserve for one another. They were drawn to his wisdom, his humor, his magnanimous power; they considered him a lion, a leader, the pirate they wished they had the audacity to be. Although there were few who commanded his attention, Dad liked to admire other men, and he had a firm regard for artists, athletes, the titled, the very rich, and the very talented. Most of all, he loved characters, people who made him laugh and wonder about life.
Dad always said he wanted to be a painter but was never going to be great at it, which was why he became a director. He was born in Nevada, Missouri, on August 5, 1906, the only child of Rhea Gore and Walter Huston. His mother’s side of the family was of English and Welsh descent. Rhea’s grandfather William Richardson had been a general in the Civil War as well as attorney general of the state of Ohio, and had lost an arm at Chancellorsville. A silver sword presented to him by his regiment was later passed down to my brother Tony. William’s daughter, Adelia, had married a prospector, John Gore, who started up several newspapers from Kansas to New York. A cowboy, a settler, a saloon owner, a judge, a professional gambler, and a confirmed alcoholic, he once won the town of Nevada in a poker game.
After Rhea was born, in 1881, Adelia became the editor of one of John Gore’s publications, but she had already decided she would have to leave him. Sent to a convent school, Rhea consequently underwent a spiritual crisis, having made a pact with God to sacrifice her life so that her parents might continue to live together.
As a young woman, Rhea, like her parents, was drawn to
journalism. She began writing freelance newspaper articles in St. Louis and was able to obtain free passes to shows and plays as a reviewer. When a show called
The Sign of the Cross
came to town, she went backstage to interview the leading man, Wilson Barrett. She noticed someone who appeared to be an older actor, wearing a full beard and carrying a staff, but with the air of a much younger man. It was Thanksgiving a few days later when she returned to the lobby of her hotel, feeling alone in the world, and fell into conversation with a young man wearing red slippers. He told her that his name was Walter and that he was an actor. He explained that his mother had made the slippers for him, and invited Rhea to dinner. She wrote afterward, “Had it not been for a pair of red crocheted slippers, things would undoubtedly not be what they are today—their laces have tangled my life and knotted my heart strings in a way that cannot be undone.”
Walter was born in Toronto in 1884, the fourth child of Elizabeth McGibbon and Robert Houghston. His family, of Scotch-Irish descent, were educators, engineers, and lawyers. Elizabeth’s mother was a schoolteacher, and Robert’s father, Alexander, was a pioneer who had settled in Ontario, Canada. Walter was an indifferent student, but early on displayed a passion for the variety shows at the Shea Theater. He and his best friend and older cousin, Archie, were inspired to create their own shows in the basement of Walter’s house. Walter’s sister, Margaret Carrington, was a gifted opera singer, credited with being the first person in America to sing Debussy.