Anjelica's Not Done Badly for a Girl with the Face of a Gnu; Her Looks Were Mocked by Critics and Her Father Was a Monster. but Anjelica Huston's Memoirs Are Witty -- and Brilliantly Written; BOOK OF THE WEEK

Daily Mail (London), January 3, 2014 | Go to article overview

Anjelica's Not Done Badly for a Girl with the Face of a Gnu; Her Looks Were Mocked by Critics and Her Father Was a Monster. but Anjelica Huston's Memoirs Are Witty -- and Brilliantly Written; BOOK OF THE WEEK


Byline: JANE SHILLING

A STORY LATELY TOLD: COMING OF AGE IN IRELAND, LONDON AND NEW YORK

by Anjelica Huston (Simon and Schuster [euro]14.99)

WHEN Anjelica Huston was born on July 8, 1951, at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, Los Angeles, it took two days for the news to reach her father, film director John Huston.

He was deep in the heart of the Belgian Congo at the time, filming The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. A barefoot runner appeared, bearing a telegram, which Huston glanced at, and stuffed into his pocket without comment.

'For God's sakes, John,' exclaimed Katharine Hepburn. 'What does it say? It's a girl,' replied Huston. 'Her name is Anjelica.'

Anjelica's mother, Enrica Soma, known as Ricki, had first met John Huston when she was 14 years old. She was an aspiring dancer and he promised to take her to the ballet, but went away to war and never kept his promise.

Four years later they met again at dinner in Los Angeles, where Ricki was under contract to the movie mogul David Selznick. Huston reintroduced himself, Ricki reminded him that he'd stood her up, and on February 10, 1950, Huston got a Mexican divorce from his third wife and married Ricki the same night. He was 44, she was 18 and seven months pregnant with Anjelica's older brother, Tony.

When Anjelica was two, Huston moved his family to Galway, where the countryside and the social life -- a vibrant mixture of aristocrats, Bohemians and the hunting set -- had captured his imagination. St Clerans, a 110-acre estate, became her childhood home.

Tony and Anjelica spent their time running wild, raiding the kitchen gardens, hunting for blackberries and conkers, riding their ponies and enduring the attentions of the exotic procession of visitors who turned up at the house.

The war photographer Robert Capa took pictures of them as toddlers; when Anjelica and her best friend Joan Buck (later the first American editor-in-chief of French Vogue) decided to entertain the grown-ups with a performance of the witches' scene from Macbeth, Peter O'Toole was in the audience. It was Anjelica's first theatrical performance, and she forgot her lines. 'Not what you'd call a very auspicious beginning,' she comments.

Bored and lonely during John's long absences on location and suspecting, rightly, that he was finding female company elsewhere, Ricki threw herself into decorating St Clerans in a style worthy of Huston's remarkable art collection, which included a painting of waterlilies by Monet and a Rodin bronze sculpture.

The sculpture was the one thing that Anjelica kept when St Clerans was sold and its contents dispersed. 'For me, it symbolised the thing I had most wanted as a child,' she writes. 'For my parents to love each other and be together.'

In 1961 that dream came to an abrupt end. 'I can't remember being formally told that we would be leaving Ireland to go to school in England,' Anjelica recalls, 'but it was a time of few explanations. …

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Anjelica's Not Done Badly for a Girl with the Face of a Gnu; Her Looks Were Mocked by Critics and Her Father Was a Monster. but Anjelica Huston's Memoirs Are Witty -- and Brilliantly Written; BOOK OF THE WEEK
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