Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Another birthday (already past) this week. Legendary director, writer, painter, anecdotalist, "man's man" and smoker John Huston was born on August 5, 1906, and passed from this world on August 28, 1987.
I met John Huston one weekend in 1981, when I was sixteen. "Annie" (you should forgive the expression) was about to go into general release and the Directors Guild threw a "Weekend with John Huston" party aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. There were screenings of his films (all on 16mm) and q&a's with Huston himself. He wore a white jumpsuit, a white beard, and was so magnetic, charismatic and dangerous that--to my adolescent eye--most of the women on board (at least the ones that I was checking out) had eyes only for the seventy-five year old adventurer-director.
He told stories of his filmmaking past--but never in a self-aggrandizing way. Indeed, he was a curious mixture of self-love and lack of self-esteem. He was happy giving credit to everybody but himself and frequently (almost compulsively) interrupted any sort of praise by denying that he had anything to do with whatever was being praised. In particular I remember a lovely moment when a now-forgotten film he made (in the late seventies?) with Sly Stallone, "Victory", was being discussed. Somebody praised the soccer-match action sequences and began to discourse on Huston's skill, his staging, his editing...
And the great man held up a hand, silencing the speaker, and said: "That was allllllllll second unit."
One afternoon that weekend, he was coughing too heavily to continue speaking to the large audience (there was no amplification). He asked that anyone interested in continuing the q&a come to his stateroom for drinks. My parents felt that the invitation was simply a way for him to get off stage gracefully and decided not to go. But I did. To my surprise, there were only a few other people in the large suite. Huston insisted on ordering drinks before going on (probably the real reason for his stopping when he did.) I was seated next to him when the order was being taken. He asked for "a vodkatonic". I repeated
his order by rote. It was my first cocktail--and to this day I give John Huston credit for buying me my first drink.
Below is the original theatrical trailer for his first masterwork (and first film) "The Maltese Falcon". As if you didn't know.