A richly flavorful biography of John Huston, great director and bona fide man’s man.
Highly prolific biography Meyers (Orwell: Life and Art, 2010, etc.) presents a comprehensive life of Huston, a filmmaker of unusual range and power and a protean figure in real life, a renaissance man whose passions ran toward beautiful women, hunting, art and literature, gambling and general derring-do. The son of celebrated actor Walter Huston, John pursued painting and writing in his youth, accumulating a Hemingway-esque aura living rough in Mexico and London before embarking on his wildly successful Hollywood career. Huston was in fact a close friend of Hemingway’s, and Meyers goes to some length explicating the similarities of the men; both were passionate individualists, obsessed with macho notions of masculinity. The author is at least as interested in Huston’s persona—grandiloquent, casually cruel or generous, prone to boredom and constitutionally unable to practice monogamy—as he is in the man’s work. This pays dividends in descriptions of his friendly, competitive relationships with tough guys like Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum, and in Meyer’s accounts of the appalling bullying suffered by meeker collaborators such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Ray Bradbury. However, the copious cataloging of his many complicated love affairs and marriages becomes tediously repetitive and ultimately depressing. Meyers is informative and insightful about Huston’s film triumphs (including The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen) and flops (Annie), providing fresh anecdotes about their production and astute analysis of Huston’s laissez-faire directorial style (he believed in honoring the text and leaving the actors alone), making a strong case for Huston as one of cinema’s most accomplished and significant creators.
The author is perhaps a bit overly enamored with his magnificent monster of a subject (and indulges a weakness for strained puns and clumsy humor), but this biography is a serious, intelligent, highly readable reckoning with Huston’s outsize legacy.