Who He? Oscar-winning, legendary tough-guy director whose offscreen exploits were as absorbing as his films. Best-known for classic films The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Asphalt Jungle and The African Queen, he practically invented a whole new style of films with The Maltese Falcon.
Almost just as well-known for chain-smoking, heavy drinking, womanizing and reckless gambling, he reportedly once lost over $50,000 in mere hours in Reno casinos. No doubt he earned his nickname, The Monster.
In addition to making films noir, Huston made war films (The Red Badge of Courage), westerns (The Unforgiven), comedies (Beat the Devil), documentaries, musicals (Annie) and most of all, adaptations of literary classics (The Bible, The Dead). Critics castigated his auteur-free approach, he responded by claiming he was "eclectic."
Huston favoured shooting films in sequence and on location. Like another legendary tough-guy director John Ford, he shot economically and edited in his head so that his financiers would have trouble cutting scenes. It may have helped but didn't prevent his battles with studio heads in Hollywood. Still, Huston teamed up with Hollywood often enough to make some enduring classics.
Born John Marcellus Huston on Aug. 5, 1906, in the tiny town of Nevada, MO. Claims his grandfather, a professional gambler, won the town in a poker game. Only child of actor Walter Huston and newspaper woman Rhea Gore.
When John is 6, mum and dad divorce so he grows up traveling the vaudeville circuit with his father and the racetracks with his sports reporter mother. Sickly as a child, he is treated for heart and kidney ailments at the age 11 or 12. Recovers when mum moves him from Texas to California.
Learns to box as a high-school student in Los Angeles. Get the sense knocked out of him and drops out at age 15. Wins 23 out of 25 fights, the California amateur lightweight boxing championship at age 18 and a broken nose.
Becomes an honorary officer in the Mexican cavalry.
Journalist mum Rhea gets him a job at her workplace, the New York Graphic newspaper. Ever the filial son, he turns in stories with big factual errors and loses his job.
1931-1932. Actor dad Walter gets him a job writing screenplays in Hollywood.
1933. Tragedy strikes when Huston kills a woman while driving his car, but a jury clears him. He leaves Hollywood and bums around London and Paris.
1937. Huston returns to Hollywood determined to succeed. He lands jobs at Warner Brothers co-writing hits such as High Sierra, Jezebel, Juarez, and Sergeant York.
1941. Makes his directing debut with The Maltese Falcon, filmed in 8 weeks for $300,000. Falcon soars to critical and commercial success. In a cheeky move, Huston casts dad Walter in a cameo as a sea captain who stumbles into Humphrey Bogart's office and drops dead with a knife in his back.
1943. Huston joins the Army Signal Corps as a captain and makes three documentaries including Report From the Aleutians, which eventually wins an Oscar for best documentary. Is promoted to major and earns the Legion of Merit medal for courage.
1945. Gets into a fistfight with matinee idol Errol Flynn at Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick's house, possibly over Huston dating Flynn's estranged wife Nora Eddington. Flynn wins, Huston gets over it and casts the faded star years later in The Roots of Heaven.
1947. Huston, who identifies himself politically as a Jeffersonian Democrat, joins the Committee for the First Amendment, a group that protests the House Un-American Activities Committee's efforts to root out communists in the film industry.
1948. Makes it all in the family while directing The Treasure of Sierra Madre.
1952. Increasingly unhappy over HUAC and "moral rot" in the United States, Huston moves to Galway, Ireland and becomes an Irish citizen in 1964.
1975. Moves from Ireland to the west coast of Mexico. Spends his time reading, painting, snorkeling, taking care of (and probably separating) his pet boas and ocelot, and whale-watching.
1978. Finally decides Irish eyes aren't smiling. Gives up his estate in Ireland because "it cost me so much to live there that I had to stay away and work all the time to afford it."
Emphysema forces him to use oxygen tanks to breathe. Some reports say that despite his failing health (and risk of exploding), Huston continues to smoke.
1985. We are family, alright. Directs Prizzi's Honour. Daughter Angelica wins the Oscar for best supporting actress.
1987. Poor health forces him into a wheelchair but can't make him quit working as he directs The Dead, based on the story by James Joyce.
July 1987. Mr. North is a family affair co-written by Huston and directed by son Danny. Huston begins acting in the film but poor health causes him to step down and old buddy Robert Mitchum to step in. Huston remains on location in Rhode Island during the film.
Dies August 28, 1987 in Middletown, RI in his sleep of complications from emphysema.
"I would spend more time with my children. I would make my money instead of spending it. I
would learn the joys of wine instead of hard liquor. I would not smoke cigarettes when I had pneumonia.
I would not marry the fifth time."
Selected Films Including Noirography