STARRY ROMP DOWN RODEO DRIVE
Anjelica Huston’s A-list memoir has gossip and scandal but little depth, says
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.