MIAMI — When Anjelica Huston was born on July 8, 1951, in a hospital in Los Angeles, her renowned father, John Huston, was deep in the heart of the Belgian Congo filming "The African Queen" with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.
The famously intrepid director was sent a note announcing the birth of his daughter. In her memoir "A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London and New York" (Scribner, $25), the author recounts her dad's typically no-nonsense reaction.
"When the messenger handed the telegram to my father, he glanced at it, then put it in his pocket. Katie Hepburn exclaimed &‘For God's sakes, John, what does it say?' and Dad replied &‘It's a girl. Her name is Anjelica.'"
And then production resumed.
A lot of Huston's book, which recounts the first 22 years of her life, centers on her legendary father, who received 15 Oscar nominations (and won two) for such films as "The Treasure of Sierra Madre," "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Night of the Iguana."
"Over the years, I've heard my father described as a lothario, a drinker, a gambler, a man's man, more interested in killing big game than in making movies. It is true that he was extravagant and opinionated. But Dad was complicated, self-educated for the most part, inquisitive, and well read. Not only women but men of all ages fell in love with my father, with that strange loyalty and forbearance men reserve for each other. They were drawn to his wisdom, his humor, his magnanimous power; they considered him a lion, a leader, the pirate they wished they had the audacity to be."
Speaking via telephone from Los Angeles, Huston, now 62, remembers her father fondly, even though he was capable of extremes — writing her a letter from the set of "The Bible" filled with drawings of animals to striking her violently without warning when he disapproved of the way she walked as a teenager. Her mother, Enrica, was a ballerina who had studied under George Balanchine and danced on Broadway for Jerome Robbins but gave up her career after marrying John in 1950 in Mexico — the same day he divorced his previous wife, Evelyn Keyes.
"Both of my parents were very vivid — they were both big characters," Huston says. "They were artists, my mother as much as my father, except that her particular genius was never permitted a space around his. My father was extreme in the way dramatic people are extreme. They go from one side of the barometer to the other. He had a temper. He had several marked characteristics. He was one of the biggest animals of the jungle, if not the biggest. I respected him, admired him, was in love with him the way little girls love their fathers, but he scared me too. He had a big roar. His nature was that of a big lion, and that's how he responded when things weren't going his way. He was capable of pouncing."
Huston says she began working on "A Story Lately Told" during breaks on the set of the first season of NBC's now-defunct "Smash," encouraged by her friends Graydon Carter (the editor of Vanity Fair) and filmmaker Mitch Glazer (TV's "Magic City"). Already in a reflective state of mind after the death of her husband, Robert Graham, in 2008, she began by writing only about the incidents in her life that interested her, not necessarily in chronological order.