I left the white bird and heading southward, I stepped over to say hello to John Huston (August 5, 1906 - August 28, 1987). Today, August 28, the day of this posting, is the 20th anniversary of his death.
I admit it. I think his first film was his best film, but I'm partial to Dashiell Hammett and Bogart. While THE MALTESE FALCON may be my personal favorite, John Huston's films dominate my top 50 and for good reasons.
I always smile when I watch Bogart outwit Edward G. Robinson on the boat at the end of KEY LARGO. THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE moves from scenes of homicidal mania to comic humility. THE AFRICAN QUEEN brilliantly showcases the talents of its two veteran stars, Bogart and Hepburn. Thanks to Ray Bradbury and Herman Melville (not to mention Gregory Peck and Richard Basehart), MOBY DICK is a masterpiece and a perfect example of the melding of cinema and literature.
Although from time to time, I'm apt to confuse Huston's THE ASPHALT JUNGLE with Kubrick's THE KILLING (both caper films star Sterling Hayden), I can never forget the scene when Sam Jaffe's lecherous crook indulges himself for too long with the sight of a beautiful young girl dancing, only to be arrested moments later.
Who can forget the anguish of each of the lost characters in THE MISFITS, the mental and spiritual battles of Richard Burton's character in Tennessee Williams' THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, or the pain felt in the soul of of Stacy Keach's character in FAT CITY? Remember the bravado of stars Sean Connery and Michael Caine in THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING? They dominated the film in tandem.
While Huston's films orchestrate drama and comedy magnificently, this hard-drinking, chain-smoking, bad boy, prankster, devil, ladies man had his broader comic side. THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN is a delicious comedy for me, even if the musical bear sequence is an intended reproduction of a similar montage in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. Although I haven't seen WISE BLOOD in years, I remember Huston's adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's novel as an absurdist comedy in the vein of what David Lynch would later bring us. I remember being disgusted by the Brad Dourif character, but that's what Brad Dourif was good at around that time. (I liked his performance in RAGTIME better than CUCKOO'S NEST.)
My second quarter in grad school at UCLA in 1981, I got a job running the post-production office for a low budget horror film with Bo Svenson, Susan Tyrell, Jimmy McNichol, and an unknown Julia Duffy. (She showed her breasts in the movie.) After looking at the footage, they added a few extra shooting days and I wound up on the set, way up in the hills of Echo Park. When I went to the local market to get orange juice to go with the donuts I brought up from Gardena, I ran into my screenwriting teacher Richard Walters. Meanwhile, up at the location, members of the crew were digging a hole in someone's backyard and filling it with water to make it look like the side of a lake. (Think of that scene in ED WOOD when Bela wrestles with the octopus.) Inside the house, the kitchen was being dressed to match its previous incarnation during principal photography. As one of the first movie sets I was being paid to work on, I was a sponge, soaking it all in and asking for more.
Veteran director William "I Love Lucy" Asher, an incredible gentleman, was directing and his mere presence elevated the material. He was very paternal with me and I will never forget his kindness. He had been married and divorced to Elizabeth Montgomery (a sexy mother figure for me) and his son John would marry and divorce Jenny McCarthy. Regardless, William Asher seemed the kind of man you would want for a father. I'm sure John thinks so too. Lucky guy.
The sun had gone down in Echo Park before the crew got to the kitchen scenes and FAT CITY star and Oscar nominee SUSAN TYRELL had already arrived for her scenes. Two of the movie producers were from the mid-west and were concerned about Susan's tendency to drink a lot. The third producer was from New York and had perfect confidence in my ability to keep her talking and not drinking. So, I sat down on the picnic bench with Susan Tyrell and we got drunk together. I didn't sleep with her though. That's not how this story ends. (I was interested in her blonde agent who stopped by and told me her divorce saga while Susan went to work.) After a sufficent number of drinks, I asked her what it was like to work with John Huston on FAT CITY. She took the actor's obligatory pause, refilled her drink from the bottle we both shared and said, "He was a chauvinistic, son-of-a-bitch." She took another pause and sipped her drink. "But he was a genius."
We'll get back to my day trip to Hollywood, the cemetery, the lake, the birds, the bookstore, the bar, and the drive home in Part Five.
Day Trip to Hollywood - Part One
Day Trip to Hollywood - Part Two
Day Trip to Hollywood - Part Three