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Finally, a celebrity memoir worth reading

January 28, 2014

The 18-year-old Anjelica Huston, directed by her father, makes her screen début in A Walk with Love and Death as the 14th-century French aristocrat Claudia, fleeing the savagery of the Jacquerie

Angelica Huston recounts her interesting childhood, often beautifully, in A Story Lately Told.

By Lewis Jones.

First published in The Spectator, 4 January 2014.

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 The Addams Family, 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 The African Queen — 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 Chinatown.

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 onion), Holland Park. 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 Vogue, 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, Watch Me, covering her life in Hollywood, is to be published next year. A Story Lately Told augurs well.

A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London and New York Anjelica Huston

Simon & Schuster, pp.254, £16.99, ISBN: 9780857207425

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. David Platzer permalink
    January 28, 2014 9:10 am

    I do like the description of theNew York’s Chelsea Hotel (where I spent a week in 1985) as smelling ‘of bad luck’.

  2. Lemora Martin permalink
    February 1, 2014 2:57 am

    I am currently reading “A Story Lately Told,” and –it is almost a month overdue at my library– savoring it; not wanting it to end. Having lost my mother about five years ago, I find Angelica Huston’s loving evocations of her ‘mum’ especially compelling. I was lucky enough to have mine around until the age of 91 (hers, that is.) I can’t remember where I read about Leigh-Fermor joining the Galway Blazers on a hunt, and nearly getting himself beaten to death when he drunkenly asked them if it was true that they buggered their foxes. I think John Huston had to intervene. AH doesn’t mention this in her book, so maybe I got that from “In Tearing Haste.” It always makes me chuckle. And I love AH as Morticia. I was in the Chelsea Hotel once, in 1985. Very seedy.

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