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Anjelica Huston Tells Her 'Story' Of Growing Up With A Director Dad

In a new memoir, Anjelica Huston recounts her childhood in Ireland, her teen years in London and her coming of age in New York.
Robert Fleischauer
Courtesy of Scribner
In a new memoir, Anjelica Huston recounts her childhood in Ireland, her teen years in London and her coming of age in New York.

Anjelica Huston is best-known for her performances in Prizzi's Honor, The Grifters, The Addams Family, The Royal Tenenbaums and the TV series Smash. But her new memoir about her early life, A Story Lately Told, ends just as her successful acting career begins. That part of her life will be in a second volume, now in the works.

Huston is the daughter of John Huston, who directed nearly 50 films, including 1941's The Maltese Falcon, 1948's The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, 1951's The African Queen and 1985's Prizzi's Honor, for which Anjelica won an Oscar.

But things didn't work out so well when Anjelica was a teenager starring in her father's 1969 film, A Walk With Love And Death, which turned out to be a disaster for their relationship and her early acting career.

"It seemed to me that he didn't want me to be who I was," Huston tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "and that was very difficult. ... I felt at that time that he didn't like me, he didn't like who I was, he didn't like the way I dressed, the way I looked. He was very critical of all of that."

Huston temporarily abandoned acting and embarked on a successful career as a model.

Before Huston was born, her mother, Ricki, had given up a promising career as a ballet dancer when she married Huston's father. She was 18; he was 43. When they married, she was pregnant with Anjelica's brother Tony. Soon after Anjelica was born, Ricki found out her husband was cheating on her. John Huston moved the family to Ireland, where Anjelica grew up on an estate called St. Clarens.

Interview Highlights

On what her father was like

He was an adventurer. He lived in a grand style, and everything around him and everything he did was a grand gesture

On her mother's marriage to her father

I think, ideally, it must have seemed like a wonderful, glamorous union with my father, but of course he was not a very faithful person, and I think that must have been a big low for her, knowing my mother as I did. She was romantic and naive in a way, and I think that must have been a big shock to her.

On her father having a child, Danny, with another woman

The other woman wasn't just another woman. The other woman and I were very friendly. I had made friends with her a couple of years before at St. Clarens. I loved her. Her name was Zoe Sallis and she was beautiful, Indian, exotic. She had those Morticia Addams eyes.

Zoe Sallis (clockwise from upper left), Danny Huston, John Huston, Anjelica Huston and Allegra Huston celebrate John's 81st birthday on Aug. 6, 1987.
Kal Roberts / AP
Zoe Sallis (clockwise from upper left), Danny Huston, John Huston, Anjelica Huston and Allegra Huston celebrate John's 81st birthday on Aug. 6, 1987.

And my father called from Rome when he was making The Bible and told my mother he wanted my brother, Tony, and I to go to Rome, that he wanted to tell us some news. I remember saying to my mother, "I don't want to go to Rome." And she said, "Why not? Is it because of Zoe?" And I said, "Zoe? Why should that have to do with anything?" And she didn't really reply.

And Tony and I showed up in Rome and walked into the Grand Hotel and my father clapped his hands and said, "Sit down kids, I have some great news." So we sat down in silent anticipation. And he said, "You have a little brother." And I go, "How is that possible? My mother wasn't pregnant!" Then we were taken to see this baby who was in an apartment building somewhere on the other side of town, and lo and behold, Zoe was the baby's mother, so I was very shocked by that.

And the baby was a toddler, he was crawling around on the floor on all fours pretending to be a little dog ... and Dad was patting him on the head telling him what a good little dog he was. And I sat there in horrified silence for a while. And then it came time to say goodbye to the little dog and my brother kissed him and Danny kissed him back, and Dad said to me, "Kiss Danny goodbye." And I looked at this baby with sort of unconcealed hatred and Danny held up his right hand — his little, tiny, fat, pudgy, toddler's hand — like a little claw and growled at me. And I fell madly in love with him.

On hearing, at 17, the news of her mother's death

I was having a dream that my spine was being pulled out of my body, as if someone had their hand around my coccyx bone and was extracting my spine. And as I was dreaming this, I was shaken awake and it became part of the dream and when I woke up I saw someone who used to be a tutor of mine, who was also a good friend of my mother's. But I didn't know why he was sitting on my bed and shaking me awake. And before I was fully awake he said, "You're mother's dead. She was killed in a car crash." So the news came to me before I was even fully conscious.

On how her view of her father changed after working with him on Prizzi's Honor

He was tough on everybody, and particularly as a director he was no pushover. [When I was young] I think I personalized everything, particularly at that age. I thought it was all about me, [that] he had it in for me. But I saw him get tough on other people too and although that doesn't really diminish the effect that it has on one when one's talent or one's behavior is called into question, at the same time there was something vaguely comforting about knowing that I wasn't the only one to suffer criticism.

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