That circumstance foreshadows an extraordinary childhood with
an often absent father that Huston, who won the best supporting
actress Academy Award in 1986 for "Prizzi's Honor" — a film
directed by her father, shares in her memoir, "A Story Lately
Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York."
If a storytelling gene exists, Huston, 62, inherited one from
her father, the Oscar-winning director John Huston, and another
from her mother, the ballet dancer Enrica Soma, who nurtured in
her children a love of books and a gift for observation.
Huston spoke to Reuters about her childhood, growing up in a
rambling 18th-century estate in Ireland that her father had
purchased, and writing her memoir by hand.
Q: In your memoir you quote an excerpt from one of your
mother's letters. "The sky has blazed blue, the remaining few
Beech leaves are brazen against the sky," she writes to your
father. She was a wonderful writer.
A: Yes, her language is so beautiful — and so unusual.
It's incredibly reminiscent of her. That's why it was such a
pleasure to be around her and have her point things out to us.
Q: Her exceptional gift for language seems to have
A: I certainly hope so. I think it came from both of my
parents, my mother and also my father, who wrote on every
screenplay that he directed. He was tremendously aware of
language and a very literate person.
My mother, though, was there much, much more during my childhood
than my father. She nurtured me and my love of literature and
books and poetry. She had a great sense of humor and made great
selections. She really formed the way that I think and respond
to things. ... She was always telling us, "Look at this. Look at
that." Life was a big feast for her and she really enjoyed it.
Q: What were some of the books you read as a young girl?
A: "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" was huge.
"Grimm's Fairy Tales," "Orlando (The Marmalade Cat)," the
Madeline books, the Tolkien books, though I never responded to
"The Hobbit." I was a Louisa May Alcott girl: "Little Women,"
"Little Men," "Jo's Boys," "An Old-Fashioned Girl." Also,
Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Secret Garden." I loved those
My mother gave me the French writer Colette when I was 13. "The
Vagabond," "Cherie," those were my coming-of-age books. That was
a rare and wonderful thing.
[to top of second column]
Q: It was interesting to read how your
parents restored the estate in St. Clerans (in Craughwell, County
Galway) and the care your mother took designing its interior. Given
her own theatrical experience as a dancer in the New York City
Ballet, it almost seems as if she was designing a stage set.
A: What's slightly extraordinary in
retrospect was her deep understanding of period, of color, of
contrast. How did she know how to do all of that? I don't know
because she didn't have any training in that area. She made the most
beautiful house for my father. It was a set, but it was more than
that. The house was really comfortable and luxurious.
Q: You wrote your memoir in longhand. Why?
A: There's something about the brain-to-hand connection that
really works for me. The amount of time it takes for a thought to
transfer to my hand is good timing. The brain-to-hand thing is a
little bit of a dance. It works. It's rhythmic, and it flows.
Q: How did you deal with your father's long work schedule?
A: We hated it when he left. I remember my
brother and I dreading when that awful day would come. Usually it
was around Christmas because that's when we'd see him. If we were
lucky — and he'd finished the movie he was directing — we'd get a
glimpse of him in the summer. But when he left after coming home for
Christmas, it was connected to the sadness of Christmas being over.
I remember us clinging to his legs as he made his way to the car,
which would take off down the driveway and we would hear that gravel
crunch. It was really upsetting. We hated it. And you'd be in a funk
for a day. ... His absence made it seem as if the shine had gone off
Q: You recount that Peter O'Toole visited your home when you
were a child. You recently met him again. Now that he has died, what
do you remember most about him?
A: The remarkable vulnerability of those blue eyes, the soul
of a poet and one of the most beautiful voices in the English
(Editing by Eric Kelsey, Patricia Reaney
and Leslie Adler)
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