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« In Which We Are The Huston of Our Dreams »

The Girl Who Would Be Queen

Anjelica is the fiercest, baddest, Jack Nicholson-beatingest, betch ever. And like Tess Lynch, she is Irish as fuck.

For Saint Patrick’s Day, Joan Juliet Buck interviews her childhood friend Anjelica Huston about her Irish roots, branches and leaves.

JJB: Let’s talk about Ireland.

AH: Remember that Irish is a slow language; all vocal exchange is introduced by at least 7 minute’s opening dialogue about the weather. No conversation is complete without this introduction. It’s like looking at a horse’s teeth. From this initial exchange one can deduce age, demeanor and provenance.

JJB: So how is the weather by the beach in Venice California?

AH: It’s as cold as a witch’s tit, the wind is whipping up the palm trees, the seagulls are slapping against my windows, there are whitecaps way out to sea. Lots of teenagers on roof tops, on cell-phones, with their hair flying.

JJB: Can we start now? Have we done the weather?

AH: Sure.

taken by Bob Richardson (father of Terry), Anjelica's then BF

JJB: Do you cook Irish food?

AH: Yes I make Soda Bread! I make Irish Stew!

JJB: What Irish qualities do you wish you had?

AH: Extraordinary resilience when it comes to suffering. Musicianship. Patience.

JJB: What Irish qualities are you glad to have?

AH: I’m up for a good time. I make friends easily. I like to dance. I feel good around the color green.


JJB: So just how Irish are you? You grew up there, starred as Gretta in your father’s The Dead from the James Joyce story, directed the Irish movie Agnes Browne What did Ireland give you?

AH: Without my Irish childhood I would —— not know the names of the plants and flowers in my mother’s garden, would not know how to ride a horse, walk in the rain, sing plaintive songs about the country I miss and love the most. I would not know you. I would not understand the vagaries and the delights of nature, the clouds racing overhead, the smell of turf and sheep’s wool, the cold, the black bogs, growing up with dogs, The Sisters Of Mercy, fairies, and the best Christmases in the world.

JJB: I remember your nanny, who looked just like Katharine Hepburn.

AH: That was Nurse— a firm calm presence, dedicated to my Mother, whom she called ‘Madam’. There was Molly, who was exceptionally fun when she dropped her false teeth, and held a flashlight under her chin, and chased us up and down a dark hall near the back stairs . There was Josie, who always brought Dad his breakfast. He said she was like watching the sun come up in the morning. There was Paddy Lynch, our Groom, who taught me how to ride like an Irishwoman. I still ride. I have nine horses at my ranch up north.

JJB: You were terrifyingly good on horseback. The Pony Club , and you hunted with The Galway Blazers …

AH: Who had the reputation of being hell for leather. Big stonewall country…I was blooded on my first outing—they smeared fox guts on my face. I hunted side-saddle from the age of 12 to please my Father.

Anjelica and her father John Huston

JJB: It seemed so out of time, so far from everywhere

AH: The West of Ireland! The Big house, as we called it , was at one end of a fork in the avenue, across a waterfall, surrounded by meadows and a ha-ha, a sort of hidden ditch, which allowed an uncluttered view of grazing horses. It was Georgian, built of limestone, it was a good size, three storied, not huge.

JJB: And you and your mother and Tony lived in The Little House.

AH: The Little House was at the other end of the fork, across the river. It was sweet, cozy, like a limestone cottage. The walled garden behind The Little House was hundreds of years old, and at one time the explorer Burke had brought back many plant specimens from his travels abroad, and planted them in this garden. There were wonderful, mysterious trees there, some very rare. The woman who owned the property, Mrs. Burke-Cole, was concerned that Dad would tear down a Norman Castle –-the tower that stood behind the stable yard — and so it remained in her possession surrounded by a tall fence. Remember? We used to sneak in and play there, and on one occasion, we found a primitive cannon ball, wooden, with lead sheeting nailed to its surface. And of course it was a great place for fairies.

JJB: You didn’t really like performing then.

AH: My first acting experience was the part of the Third witch in the Shakespeare play. You were the director, and you, as First witch, had the most lines. It was decided that for safety’s sake, I, being 6 at the time , should have the least. The small, glamorous 7-year-old daughter of one of my father’s visiting ex-girlfriends, Marina Habe, filled out as the Second witch. She and you had wisely chosen nightshirts of my father’s and not the Aran fisherman’s blanket I had greedily claimed as my costume. Tony was in charge of special effects, such as blinking the light switches on and off to simulate lightning, and an ample ewer of tomato juice to double as ‘Baboon’s Blood’. Our audience—remember— was comprised of my parents and yours: The Hustons, Ricki and John, The Bucks, Joyce and Jules, and glowing in the front row seats of honor, the glorious, golden pre-‘Lawrence Of Arabia’ Peter O’Toole and his beautiful Welsh wife, Sian Phillips. There were some additional well-wishers, such as Eric Sevareid and his wife Belen, and a smattering of kitchen help.

JJB: Anjelica -

AH: Needless to say, tension ran high. You delivered your lines with calm authority, as did Marina, but when it came time for Third witch to deliver, a weedy voice quavered to a halt on the line ‘Toad under Cold Stone….’ A clamorous silence ensued, and finally I muttered, “This is silly,” and ran from the scene in blind hysteria. This is still one of the reasons I find stage acting so hard. The constant possibility of that. I spent the rest of the night hiding behind the curtains in the study as Tony set up a hunting party to find and then flay me, and then eventually found my way to my mother’s lap where I sobbed piteously till I was put to bed.

JJB: Um… Anjelica, you were the First witch. I was the Third witch, with all my great lines at the end. That’s why I was so angry. We couldn’t do the scene until you’d been found.

AH: I’m sorry.

JJB: I’ve gotten over it. But by the next year, you’d pulled it together and were very good reciting Edward Gorey’s poem “The suicide as she is falling, illuminated by the moon”…


AH: I’d dress up in my mother’s old tutus with some tulle on my head and wait for a bridegroom to pass by. I longed for Barbie dolls, but Mum thought they were vulgar. I longed to be a princess and to have a prince of my own, with whom I would live happily ever after. We listened to Edith Piaf, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra. Tony and I favored Burl Ives, Harry Belafonte was maybe the most played down at the Little House…’Angelico’ being a favorite of mine. We also had spoken-word albums: Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Marlon Brando in Julius Caesar, Yeats reading his own poetry. And Leadbelly, Billie Holiday , Count Basie , and then the Irish music, John Mc Cormack. Jim Reeves was hugely popular. Then you introduced Chubby Checker’s ‘Let’s Twist Again’, and we were never the same.

JJB: What Irish songs stir you?

AH: ‘Galway Bay’ really gets me because I was raised in County Galway. When I was doing Lonesome Dove, Bobby Duvall had a Mariachi Band record that song to use whenever he needed to make me cry. It would be the end of a long working day, and we’d have done seven scenes, and I’d think I didn’t have a grain of emotion left in me. Bobby would play ‘Galway Bay’ on his tape recorder, and I’d be gone on a wave of tears.

JJB: What was Ireland to your parents, to John and Ricki ?

AH: For Dad, Ireland was the place he came to lick his wounds. He was happier there than anywhere else in life. For Mum? She said it was beautiful, romantic, wild, exasperating, lonely…

JJB: Was it lonely for you?

AH: Loneliness is not necessarily considered a bad thing in Ireland. Every story, every song is nostalgic, even the place itself is soft and wet…There are signs of the past everywhere, they are part of everyday life. I was very lonely when Dad would leave to go to America to work. It seemed so terribly far away. I remember holding on to his legs with Tony when he would walk out the front door to the car. I was lonely when Mum would go away on trips without us . I remember being very lonely when you would leave to go back to London in the early days. I remember hiding your passport and you getting mad at me.

Anjelica with longtime former boyfriend Jack Nicholson

JJB: Don’t you want to go back?

AH: I would like to time travel. But to go back there now? Everything has changed. The adults are no longer … my father and mother are gone. The last time I went back to St Clerans was with Bob (Robert Graham, Anjelica’s husband), before we became engaged. In fact , he proposed to me at Dromoland Castle on that visit. It was unutterably painful to go back. There is not a nook or cranny of that place that I had not committed to memory, yet everything was altered. The people who owned The Little House had bought it with winnings from a horse they owned that won at the Galway Races.

AH: I had hoped that they would be at Mass when we dropped in unannounced on the property. At the front gates of The Little House, we were spotted by a young man of about 17. He stared at me from a distance, and then approached me, looked into my eyes, and said: ‘I’ve always dreamed of the day Anjelica Huston would come back to St. Clerans’. That just about put me away. I did not have the courage to go up to the Big House. We walked in the garden..…It was almost unbearably sad. Although the idea of living at St.Clerans again is alluring, I fear it’s true that—- at least in this instance— I can never go home again. Soon after, Merv Griffin bought it, gave it a facelift, and transformed it into a boutique hotel with a sushi restaurant.

Thanks to Anjelic, the Anjelica Huston fansite.

"Return to Me" - Sparklehorse (mp3)

"Dreamt for Light Years In the Belly of the Mountain" - Sparklehorse (mp3) highly recommended

"Don't Take My Sunshine Away" - Sparklehorse (mp3)

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Reader Comments (3)

Fantastic shoulders and indomitable nose. Role model!

July 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMolly Young

She really makes me think of Adrien Brody.

August 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwinston

Deep class and timeless style! She's one of the greatest actors of all time. =)

September 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

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