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John Huston

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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John Huston (August 5, 1906 – August 28, 1987) was an American film director, screenwriter and actor. He wrote most of the 37 feature films he directed, many of which are today considered "classics": The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The African Queen (1951), Moulin Rouge (1952), The Misfits (1960), and The Man Who Would Be King (1975). During his 46-year career, Huston received 15 Oscar nominations, winning twice, and directed both his father, Walter Huston, and daughter, Anjelica Huston to Oscar wins in different films.

Huston was known to direct with the vision of an artist, having studied and worked as a fine art painter in Paris in his early years. He continued to explore the visual aspects of his films throughout his career: sketching each scene on paper beforehand, then carefully framing his characters during the shooting. In addition, while most directors rely on post-production editing to shape their final work, Huston instead created his films while they were being shot, making his films both more economical and more cerebral, with little editing needed.

Most of Huston's films were adaptations of important novels, often depicting a “heroic quest," as in Moby Dick, or The Red Badge of Courage. In many films, different groups of people, while struggling toward a common goal, would become doomed or "destructive alliances,” giving the films a dramatic and visual tension. Many of his themes also involved some of the "grand narratives" of the twentieth century, such as religion, meaning, truth, freedom, psychology, colonialism and war.

Before becoming a Hollywood filmmaker, he had been an amateur boxer, reporter, short-story writer, portrait artist in Paris, a cavalry rider in Mexico, and a documentary filmmaker during World War II. Huston has been referred to as "a titan," "a rebel" and a "renaissance man," in the Hollywood film industry. Author Ian Freer describes him as "cinema's Ernest Hemingway," — a filmmaker who was "never afraid to tackle tough issues head on."[1]

Contents [hide]
1 Early life
2 Early career as writer
3 Screenwriter and director
3.1 The Maltese Falcon (1941)
3.2 Army years during WWII
3.3 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
3.4 The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
3.5 The Red Badge of Courage (1951)
3.6 The African Queen (1951)
3.7 HUAC period
3.8 Moby Dick (1956)
3.9 The Misfits (1961)
3.10 Freud: the Secret Passion (1962)
3.11 The Bible: In The Beginning (1966)
4 Movie themes
5 Directing techniques
6 Academy Awards
7 Personal life
8 Filmography
8.1 Director
8.2 Screenwriter
8.3 Actor
9 References
10 External links


[edit] Early life
John Huston was born on August 5, 1906, in Nevada, Missouri. He was the only child of Walter Huston and Reah Gore. His father, who was of Scots and Irish descent, was an actor, initially in vaudeville, and later in films. His mother, of English and Welsh background, initially worked as a sports editor for various publications but gave it up after Huston was born. Similarly, his father gave up his stage acting career for steady employment as a civil engineer, although he returned to stage acting with a few years. He would later become highly successful on both Broadway and then in motion pictures.

Huston's parents divorced in 1913, when he was 6, and as a result much of his childhood was spent living in boarding schools. During summer vacations, he traveled with each of his parents separately – with his father on vaudeville tours, and with his mother to racetracks or other sports events. The young Huston benefited greatly from seeing his father act on stage, as he was later drawn to the world of acting.[2] Some critics, such as Lawrence Groble, surmise that his relationship with his mother may have been the cause for why he married five times, and why few of his relationships lasted. Groble writes, "When I interviewed some of the women who had loved him, they inevitably referred to his mother as the key to unlocking Huston's psyche."[3] According to actress Olivia de Havilland, "she [his mother] was the central character. I always felt that John was ridden by witches. He seemed pursued by something destructive. If it wasn't his mother, it was his idea of his mother."[3]

As a child, he was often ill, and was treated for an enlarged heart and kidney ailments. He recovered after an extended bedridden stay in Arizona, and moved with his mother to Los Angeles, where he went to Lincoln Heights High School. He dropped out of high school after two years in order to become a professional boxer, and by the age of 15 was already a top-ranking amateur lightweight boxer in California. He soon ended his brief boxing career after suffering a broken nose.[2] He also "plunged" himself into a multitude of interests, including abstract painting, ballet, English and French literature, opera, and horseback riding. Living in Los Angeles, he became "infatuated" with the new film industry and motion pictures, but as a spectator only. To Huston, "Charlie Chaplin was a god."[4]

He moved back to New York to live with his father, who was then acting in a off-Broadway productions, and he obtained a few small roles.[5] From watching his father rehearse, he remembers being fascinated with the mechanics of acting:

What I learned there, during those weeks of rehearsal, would serve me for the rest of my life.[4]
After a short period acting on stage, and having undergone surgery, he traveled on his own to Mexico. During his two years there, among his other adventures, he got a position riding as an honorary member of the Mexican cavalry. He returned to Los Angeles and married a girlfriend from high school, Dorothy Harvey. But their marriage only lasted a year.

[edit] Early career as writer
During his stay in Mexico, he wrote a play entitled "Frankie and Johnny," based on the ballad of the same title. After selling it easily, he decided that writing would be a viable career, and he focused on it. His self-esteem was enhanced when H. L. Mencken, editor of the popular magazine, American Mercury, bought two of his stories, “Fool” and “Figures of Fighting Men.” During subsequent years his stories and feature articles were published in Esquire, Theatre Arts, and the New York Times. He also worked for a period on the New York Graphic. In 1931, when he was 25, he moved back to Los Angeles with his hopes aimed at writing for the blossoming film industry, where the silent film industry had given way to “talkies,” and writers were in demand.[5] In addition, his father had earlier moved there where he was already successful in a number of films.

He received a script editing contract with Goldwyn Studios, but after six months of receiving no assignments, quit to work for Universal Studios, where his father was by then a star. At Universal, he got a job in the script department, and began by writing dialogue for a number of films in 1932, including Murders in the Rue Morgue, A House Divided, and Law and Order. The last two also starred his father, Walter Huston. In addition, House Divided was directed by William Wyler, who gave Huston his first real "inside view" of the filmmaking process during all stages of production. Wyler and Huston would also later become close friends and collaborators on a number of leading films.[5]

Huston gained a reputation as a "lusty, hard-drinking libertine" during his first years as a writer in Hollywood.[2] Huston describes those years as a "series of misadventures and disappointments," however. His brief career as a Hollywood writer ended suddenly after a car he was driving struck and killed a young female pedestrian. He was absolved of blame by a coroner's jury, but the incident left him "traumatized" nonetheless, and he moved to London and Paris, living as a "drifter."[2]

By 1937, after five years, the 31-year-old Huston returned to Hollywood intent on being a "serious writer." He also married Lesley Black. His first job was as scriptwriter with Warner Brothers Studio, with his personal longterm goal of directing his own scripts. For the next four years, he co-wrote scripts for major films such as Jezebel, The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, Juarez, Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet and Sergeant York (1941).[2] He was nominated for an Academy Award for his writing both Ehrlich and Sergeant York. Huston writes that Sergeant York, which was directed by Howard Hawks, has "gone down as one of Howard's best pictures, and Gary Cooper had a triumph playing the young mountaineer."[6]:77

Huston was becoming a recognized and respected screenwriter. He was able to persuade Warners to give him a chance to direct, under the condition that his next script also became a hit. Huston writes:

They indulged me rather. They liked my work as a writer and they wanted to keep me on. If I wanted to direct, why, they'd give me a shot at it, and if it didn't come off all that well, they wouldn't be too disappointed as it was to be a very small picture.[4]
The next script he was given to work on was High Sierra (1941), to be directed by Raoul Walsh. The film became the hit Huston wanted. It also made Humphrey Bogart a star with his first major role, as a gunman on the run. Warners kept their end of the bargain, and gave Huston his choice of subject.[4]

[edit] Screenwriter and director
[edit] The Maltese Falcon (1941)
For his first directing assignment, Huston chose Dashiell Hammett's detective thriller, The Maltese Falcon, a film which had already failed at the box office in two earlier versions by Warners. However, studio head Jack Warner approved of Huston's treatment of Hammett's 1930 novel, as he stood by his word to let Huston choose his first subject.[4]

Huston kept the screenplay close to the novel, keeping much of Hammett's dialogue, and directing it in an uncluttered style, much like the book's narrative. He also did the unusual preparation for this, his first directing job, by sketching out each shot beforehand, including camera positions, lighting, and compositional scale, for such things as closeups.[5]

He especially benefited by selecting a superior ...
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