The life and loves of Hollywood princess Anjelica Huston

Considered one of the most talented, sought-after and striking actresses of her time, Suzanne Harrington finds the Anjelica Huston in her autobiography without ego

The life and loves of Hollywood princess Anjelica Huston

Perhaps the greatest romantic couple in the history of cinema is Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia playing Morticia and Gomez in The Addams Family.

They remain the ultimate role models for lovers everywhere.

Huston – elegant, cultured, cheek-boned, with droll humour and perfect comic timing – was born to play the bewitching Morticia.

And yet she almost didn’t become an actor.

Rotten reviews for an early film role in her teens, followed by the death of her adored mother in a car crash when Houston was just 19, derailed her confidence almost as much as her penchant for getting involved with unsuitable older men.

Huston’s father John, the film director, was controlling and dominant, married five times and a serial philanderer.

You don’t have to be Freud to anticipate repeat pattern chaos within his daughter’s earlier relationships, before she found true love with the late sculptor Bob Graham, to whom she became engaged in Ireland in 1991, and remained married to until his death in 2008.

While still in her early 20s, Anjelica worked successfully as a model (“Diana Vreeland had taken a liking to me”), but was too insecure to pursue an acting career.

Until a pivotal moment when, at a party, the director Tony Richardson told her how she had “so much talent and so little to show for it. You’re never going to do anything with your life.”

Inside her head, something snapped, and she thought, “Watch me.”

Before long, she had won an Oscar in 1986 for her role in Prizzi’s Honour. She never looked back.

Watch Me is the title of Huston’s second memoir, which begins in 1973, and follows on from A Story Lately Told, about her childhood in Ireland, London and New York.

Her life has been such that it has needed two volumes – there was too much to squeeze into one. And here’s the best bit – Huston writes beautifully, with a spare lyrical elegance and total lack of sentimentality that allows her fascinating story to be told with the minimum of fuss.

Obviously there is plenty of fuss in the story itself, as it encompasses Hollywood, European bohemia, art, culture and family.

And relationships. Lots of relationships, many of them disastrous.

Photographed by David Bailey and Richard Avedon, styled by Grace Coddington, directed by her father John Huston, kissed and headbutted by Ryan O’Neal, loved and cheated on by Jack Nicholson, and befriended by everyone from Marlon Brando to Marianne Faithfull, it would be easy for Huston’s memoir to be a cloying romp through jaded privilege, but despite her extraordinary life, she writes with a cool detachment and self-awareness.

And surprisingly lack of ego, despite descriptions of a life so other-wordly that it almost sounds made up: “Whenever I fly to London I try to stop at Sabrina Guinness’s cottage in Hampshire on the way into town. I love to work in her garden, dig in the wet earth. They say it helps you get over jet lag.”

Of her earlier relationships with men, she writes, “For a sophisticated girl, I could be tragically gullible.”

Once, walking down the street in LA, she saw a woman wearing an item of her clothing, given away by her boyfriend Jack Nicholson, who was terminally unfaithful and yet “adept at covering his tracks.”

Not so adept that she would not find love notes and items of jewellery littered around their home, but for a long time, she chose to put up with it.

Despite her charmed, gilded upbringing, considerable talent and earning power, Huston was almost victim-like in her intimate relationships, before she finally met and married her soulmate.

She and her brother Tony were the children of her father’s fourth marriage to a much younger ballet dancer Ricki Soma, who was mostly left alone with the two babies.

When Anjelica was born in LA in 1951, her father was in the Congo filming The African Queen with Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. Ricki, cultured and clever, suffered from serious post natal depression.

Her father moved the family to a country estate first in Kildare, then Galway, where she grew up with her Irish nanny Kathleen Shine, rode thoroughbreds, watched as her mother had Chanel make her suits in Paris out of country tweed, and remembered feeling lonely, despite the stream of interesting people that came to visit their father.

“The famous combat photographer Robert Capa was one of the first to take pictures of Tony and me as toddlers, wide eyed, like two little birds that had fallen out of their nests,” she remembers.

Later, when Marlon Brando came to visit, “there was great excitement among the girls in the kitchen”, who squeezed orange juice in their eyes to make them brighter, but it was Anjelica to whom he gave a tortoiseshell ring and invited to Tahiti. She didn’t take him up on his offer.

Peter O’Toole also popped by, and Carson McCullers.

When her parents finally split, and her father moved on to wife number five, Angelica and her mother and brother moved to London where their Maida Vale household became a hub of affluent Sixties bohemia.

Both of Huston’s memoirs are chockablock with famous names – these were just the people she grew up around. No big deal, hanging out with people like David Bailey, who proposed marriage almost instantly.

She declined, but enjoyed a fling with him.

Aside from her modelling and film career, and lately her literary success, Huston is also well known for her 17-year relationship with Nicholson, whom she was with on and off until 1990, when he finally left to have a baby with someone else.

Huston, despite her intellect, connections, and looks, seemed alarmingly drawn to dodgy men.

By the time she was 21, she had been living for four years with photographer Bob Richardson (father of photographer Terry, who did the Miley Cyrus Wrecking Ball video) .

Richardson was a quarter century her senior, and their relationship was so volatile it only ended when she slashed herself with a razor.

She moved straight onto Nicholson, sleeping with him with the encouragement of her dad’s fifth wife Cici, the first time they met.

Next day he sent her home in a taxi, and broke their second date as he had remembered a “prior engagement” – a date with someone else, as she discovered when she ran into him at a restaurant.

And so the pattern continued.

When she did leave him, she moved to Ryan O’Neal, in a relationship that started romantically but ended with O’Neal violently assaulting her.

She went back to Nicholson, who continued to cheat on her for year and years. And then, with Bob Graham, she found love, and for 18 years they lived in great happiness until he died suddenly in 2008 from a rare illness.

“The room was filled with the people he loved,” she writes.

“It was as ceremonial as a wedding….. If death weren’t what it is, it would be magic.”

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