As much as anyone – and perhaps more, John Huston was a literary filmmaker. Thirty-four of his thirty-seven films adapted important novels, stories or plays. In fact, Huston got his start as a journalist and short story writer (published by H.L Mencken, no less) before moving on to the movies and work as a screenwriter.
Among the films he wrote before he turned to directing wereJezebel (1938), Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940) – for which he received an Oscar nomination, Sergeant York (1941) – for which he again received an Oscar nomination, and High Sierra (1941). Huston’s success as a screenwriter led directly to his work as a director. He then made an auspicious debut with a film based on a novel, The Maltese Falcon (1941).
Huston’s subsequent films include The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The African Queen (1951), The Red Badge of Courage (1951), Moby Dick (1956), The Misfits (1961), The Night of the Iguana (1964), Under the Volcano (1984), Prizzi’s Honor (1987) and The Dead (1987).
Fittingly, Huston’s life story is recounted by a literary scholar, Jeffrey Meyers, in a fine new biography,John Huston: Courage and Art (Crown). Throughout the book, and this is where its strength lies, Meyers perceptively describes how Huston transformed the written word into the cinematic image. Meyers’ briskly told biography of the director, writer, actor (Chinatown), and Hollywood bon vivant details one of the more colorful lives of the 20th century.
Though he didn’t finish high school, Huston was accomplished as a painter, playwright, director of plays on Broadway and operas at La Scala, autobiographer, and political activist who crusaded against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anticommunist witch hunts. Huston lived much of his life abroad – in Ireland and Mexico, and was a discerning collector of art, a raconteur, sportsman, and a connoisseur of literature, food, wine and women who successively married five younger wives.
Huston’s career as a filmmaker spanned some fifty-seven years (he started as an actor in the 1920s) and yielded thirty-seven feature films. Remarkably, as a member of one of the most acclaimed families in Hollywood history, Huston directed both his father Walter and daughter Angelica in Oscar winning performances. Huston himself won two Oscars, after having been nominated 15 times.
Today, Huston remains one of the most intelligent and influential of all filmmakers. With equal attention given to his impressive artistic output as well as his tempestuous personal relationships,John Huston: Courage and Art presents a vivid narrative of the director’s rich creative life.
Meyers is an East Bay writer, an independent scholar and the author of numerous books. They include well regarded biographies of writers Ernest Hemingway (Huston’s friend), F. Scott Fitzgerald, D.H. Lawrence, and Edgar Allen Poe – as well as cinema figures like Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, and Errol Flynn.
More info: Meyers will be making a handful of appearances around the Bay Area to promote John Huston: Courage and Art. On Friday, September 30th, Meyers will be in conversation with Oscar-nominated screenwriters David & Janet Peoples (Blade Runner, Unforgiven, Twelve Monkeys) at Book Passage in Corte Madera. On October 3rd, Meyers will introduce a screening of The Maltese Falcon at the Lark Theater in Larkspur. And on October 5th, Meyers will discuss his new book at Books Inc in Berkeley. The start time for each event is 7 pm.
Thomas Gladysz is an arts journalist and film buff, and the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the legendary film star. Gladysz has contributed to books, organized exhibits, appeared on television and radio, and introduced the actress’s films around the world. He writes about movies, books, and popular culture for various print publications and blogs.