Right up to the end, despite overwhelming fatigue from emphysema, he continued to make
movies. Connected by plastic tubes to the bulky breathing apparatus that kept him alive, 81-year-old American director John Huston would arrive in a wheelchair at the Newport, R.I., set of his latest project, Mr. North. After a day’s work as producer of the film, which he co-wrote, Huston even played poker and drank an occasional shot of tequila. “He knows all this keeps him going,” his daughter Anjelica Huston, a star of Mr. North, said recently. But last week human frailty prevailed over his restless creativity: the hard-living director of such classics as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen died in his sleep.
A former boxer, competition horseman, journalist and art student, Huston followed his Toronto-born father, Walter, into movies. His 1941 directorial debut, The Maltese Falcon, is one of a dozen acknowledged Huston classics. His output as a director—he also acted in several films—includes 40 pictures ranging from a musical, Annie, to an excursion into writer Malcolm Lowry’s alcohol-saturated hell, Under the Volcano. “If there’s a pattern to my work, it’s that I haven’t made any two pictures alike,” he once said. “I get bored too quickly.” Still, Huston’s directing style was unfailingly efficient. He was renowned for getting the right shot in just a couple of takes. While making Prizzi's Honor, Huston got the footage he wanted for one scene while actor Jack Nicholson was rehearsing.
The six-foot, two-inch director pursued pleasure as vigorously as he did excellence: he married five times and caroused with such figures as Ernest Hemingway and Errol Flynn. Toward the end, however, he sought out the company of his five children—often through work. Earlier this year he directed The Dead, scripted by his son Tony and based on James Joyce’s novella. “I realized the qualities that had made me apprehensive about Dad were also the key to his genius,” Tony said about their collaboration. “The analytical ability he used to strip those close to him was responsible for his finest work.” At the end, only death could thwart the artistry of the master.
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