Watch Me: A Memoir by Angelica Huston, book review: Living in the glare of Hollywood

 

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The Independent Culture

The second volume of Anjelica Huston's autobiography is a disconcerting book, but also an enjoyable one. Alongside the account of her on-off, on-off relationship with Jack Nicholson, a long-term lover who refused to marry her, are gossipy interludes describing the parties that Huston and her jet-setting friends attended.

These are interspersed with a look at the inner workings of Hollywood in the 1970s (including the Roman Polanski scandal) and with a moving account of the final years of her father, the director John Huston. His lungs were shot, he was on oxygen for much of the latter part of his life, in extremely frail health, and yet still managed to do exceptional work, completing his majestic James Joyce adaptation The Dead (1987) in the year of his death – somehow making a quintessentially Irish, Dublin-set story in a studio in California.

Huston makes clear how hard she had to fight to establish herself as an actress. "She has no talent. Her boyfriend is the star and her father is the director. That's the only reason we're having this conversation," one executive sneered when she first tried to get cast alongside Nicholson in John Huston's Prizzi's Honor.

Nicholson himself may not relish reading this second instalment. Huston regales us with details about how he flooded the hotel during the shooting of The Passenger because he forgot to turn off the Jacuzzi taps; how he dragged her off to watch endless LA Lakers games (The Lakers always seemed to lose); and when she threw him a surprise 50th birthday party, hiding friends in an indoor swimming pool, he "remained in a bad mood all day". What's more, Nicholson was a "world-class philanderer" who let her down many times – and yet he was still clearly one of the loves of her life.

In the 1970s, when he was cementing his reputation with films like Chinatown and One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, she could hardly get a part. In spite of her chequered start, Huston became a consummate character actress. She describes in detail her meticulous approach to her roles: the agonies she endured at the hands of the make-up department on films like The Addams Family and The Witches, her initial bemusement at Woody Allen's aloofness when he directed her in Crimes And Misdemeanours, and her relish for working with Wes Anderson.

Huston writes very frankly. There is a grim account of one boyfriend, Ryan O'Neal, allegedly beating her up. In self-lacerating fashion, she describes her feelings of inadequacy at not being able to have children: "To find oneself infertile somehow renders one useless as a woman."

At the same time, the book is breezy and anecdotal. Huston shares her father's skill for spinning a yarn and isn't ever prey to self-pity. You can't blame her for the name dropping (after all, she is describing the world she lives in) and you can't help but admire her sheer zest.

Whether describing her love for Ireland, her passion for horse riding, or her dedication to her acting career, she is perceptive, witty, enthusiastic and gossipy by turns.

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