An­jel­ica Hus­ton’s A-list mem­oir has gossip and scan­dal but lit­tle depth, says

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

AN­JEL­ICA Hus­ton does not merely name-drop in her lat­est au­to­bi­og­ra­phy — she del­uges the reader with so many men­tions of celebri­ties and “dear friends” that you won­der whether she is wav­ing or drown­ing in the Hol­ly­wood jacuzzi. But Hus­ton’s eye for weird de­tail and her can­did re­count­ing of the grit in the glitter go some way to mak­ing up for the breath­less “and then ...” nar­ra­tive fea­tur­ing this cast of thou­sands.

The Os­car-win­ning ac­tress’s re­la­tion­ships with Jack Nicholson and Ryan O’Neal are re­counted in some depth, but many of her other friend­ships come and go in the shal­lows, swifter than you can say Swifty Lazar. Prince Charles and his then girl­friend Sab­rina Guin­ness are name-checked on a trip to London, along with Mick Jag­ger and Jerry Hall, as Nicholson made The Shin­ing with Stan­ley Kubrick at Pinewood Stu­dios. Hus­ton’s writ­ing has a limited at­ten­tion span for each sub­ject and, de­spite juicy chunks, soon starts to feel like an over­dose of vin­tage Hello! mag­a­zines.

Born in 1951 in Santa Mon­ica and raised in Ire­land and London, Hus­ton is the daugh­ter of the great film di­rec­tor John Hus­ton and bal­le­rina En­rica Soma. Her pre­vi­ous au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, A Story Lately Told, left off when she was 22.

Watch Me re­sumes as Hus­ton ar­rives in Los An­ge­les in 1973. Within weeks she is in­vited to a party at Nicholson’s house: “... it was his birth- day and Jack loved pretty girls”. (My fem­i­nist radar bleeped but I de­cided to give Hus­ton a mo­men­tary pass, it be­ing the still-swing­ing 1970s.)

Hus­ton sus­pects she fell in love with Nicholson while watch­ing Easy Rider, long be­fore she met him. She danced with him for hours and then stayed the night.

This was the be­gin­ning of a 17-year on-off re­la­tion­ship, for which the term “sha­gadelic” might have been in­vented. Nicholson had end­less af­fairs, while Hus­ton bed­ded pho­tog­ra­pher David Bai­ley on a Euro­pean fash­ion shoot. The evening after, Hus­ton re­ceived flow­ers from both men, and by break­fast was in Paris “in a Co­lette state of mind”. Yet Nicholson and Hus­ton re­mained friends. He bought her a Mercedes, which she im­me­di­ately crashed, a Tiepolo draw­ing and jew­els.

It would ap­pear that through­out her 20s, Hus­ton re­lied on the kind­ness of her fam­ily or lovers for in­come. Lack­ing a se­ri­ous ca­reer, she wor­ried about her re­flec­tion in oth­ers’ eyes, was beaten by O’Neal and put up with con­stant trou­ble from Nicholson, once dis­cov­er­ing another of his lovers wear­ing her jacket in the street. Hus­ton be­rates her­self from not recog­nis­ing him as “a world-class phi­lan­derer”, even though War­ren Beatty was one of his friends. Duh.

Such be­hav­iour seemed stan­dard for Hol­ly­wood in that era. Hus­ton re­calls an in­ci­dent from Grou­cho Marx’s 82nd birth­day: “He sang An­i­mal Crack­ers and made a pass at me be­fore he tem­po­rar­ily lost con­scious­ness.”

A par­tic­u­larly creepy (and cu­ri­ously un­der­writ­ten) part of the book men­tions Hus­ton meet­ing Ro­man Polan­ski as she comes into Nicholson’s house on her own and the di­rec­tor ap­pears with a girl he has been pho­tograph­ing. “She was wear­ing plat­form heels and ap­peared to be quite tall,” writes Hus­ton, care­fully. The night after, de­tec­tives raid the house, take Hus­ton in for hav­ing a gram of co­caine and some mar­i­juana, and ar­rest Polan­ski. Soon, he was charged with the sex­ual as­sault of a 13-year-old girl and is still wanted for the crime. “I had wit­nessed noth­ing un­to­ward,” adds Hus­ton, be­fore mov­ing swiftly on.

Hus­ton’s ca­reer took off in 1985 with Prizzi’s Honor, star­ring Nicholson and di­rected by her fa­ther. De­spite the ini­tial nepo­tism, her tal­ent was recog­nised with an Academy Award for best sup­port­ing ac­tress. Calls then came from other direc­tors, in­clud­ing Stephen Frears for The Grifters. Many also re­mem­ber her gothic looks find­ing their right­ful place as Mor­ti­cia in The Ad­dams Fam­ily.

Hus­ton’s own fam­ily re­mains a con­stant in the book and her fa­ther’s long ill­ness makes many ap­pear­ances, as does her deep af­fec­tion for her younger half-sis­ter Al­le­gra, who at 13 sen­si­bly ad­vised An­jel­ica to leave the vi­o­lent O’Neal. Later, Hus­ton de­scribes her joy in her own mar­riage to pony­tailed sculp­tor Robert Gra­ham.

Watch Me loses its deca­dent Lear­jet headi­ness in the sec­ond half, as Hus­ton set­tles down and ma­tures (some­what tardily). She is of­ten per­cep­tive and there is another, bet­ter book un­der­neath the whirl­wind. You wish an ed­i­tor had sat with her, ask­ing for more depth, more anal­y­sis and more de­scrip­tion. As a romp down Rodeo Drive, how­ever, it is most en­ter­tain­ing.

An­jel­ica Hus­ton

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