John Huston biography: A man larger than life on screen and off
Some iconic movie directors’ off-screen lives seem so large, dramatic and event-packed that they threaten to overshadow their works on screen. Big, brawling, boozing, men’s-men directors such as Raoul Walsh, John Ford, Nicholas Ray and Howard Hawks boast colorful, rousing, trouble-filled private biographies that seem positively Heminwayesque in competition with their creative lives.
Certainly, John Huston is a charter member of that macho fraternity, and his rich, raucous personal and professional experiences get a thorough, entertaining chronicling in “John Huston: Courage and Art” (Crown Archetype, $30), the first complete biography of the legendary filmmaker by prolific biographer Jeffrey Meyers, author of acclaimed studies of Ernest Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper and many others.
Making ample use of original interviews with Huston’s Hollywood cronies and his children and relatives, as well as newly opened archival materials, the biographer offers up a vivid portrait of a truly great filmmaker (whose classics range through “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “The Asphalt Jungle” and “The African Queen”) and a larger-than-life adventurer and raconteur (at various times he was a champion boxer, a bullfighter, a big-game hunter and fisherman, a soldier, a gambler and a legendary womanizer).
Meyers colorfully details the Missouri-born Huston’s early life as a sickly child, son of famed actor Walter Huston, and how through sheer force of will young John one day rose from his sickbed, dove from a waterfall into a raging river and determined to pursue a strenuous life.
Though he dropped out of high school, Huston found success as an actor in the 1920s and a screenwriter in the 1930s, before making a dazzling debut behind the camera with 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon.” In a astoundingly productive directing career that yielded 37 feature films, 15 Oscar nominations and two Oscar wins (“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and Lifetime Achievement), plus directing turns that earned his father Walter (“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”) and daughter Anjelica Huston (“Prizzi’s Honor”) acting Oscars, Huston also managed to live a life off-screen that rivaled any adventures he captured on film.
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