Thursday, July 29, 2010

Muse: Anjelica Huston

Most of the femmes picked for the Muse post are either long deceased or are now living cloistered away far from the spotlight. Anjelica, in my opinion, is as bewitching as she was during her it-girl peak in the 70s and role as Bob Richardson’s muse. I've been eyeing the Bob Richardson bio  on Amazon for a while now, and the price and rarity has increased over the years, sadly.   I've flirted with the idea of it, but not clicking that ‘add to cart’ link.  These scans below have pushed me over the edge: I’m definitely moving the book from wishlist to cart, and inspired to post on Ms. Huston in the meantime.

She the daughter of a film director and Prima ballerina, (of course… can’t you tell?)  Huston is the third generation of her family to earn an oscar (first grandfather, then father).   She spent her early childhood in the UK, relocating to the US after her mother died in a car accident.  In the US she began pursuing a modeling career, and lived as the much older Bob Richardson’s romantic partner and muse (she was near her early 20s at the time, while he was in his 40s).  

I’m not sure I can imagine the often-mentally tormented Bob Richardson and a very young Huston picking up a young, denim-clad, yet pre-mustachioed, TERRY RICHARDSON (Richardson’s son from a previous relationship, now famous photographer) for family outings.   After the relationship with Richardson ended, she broke into acting exclusively.  Her filmography includes Casino Royale, One flew over the Cuckoos Nest, Spinal Tap, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Prizzi’s Honor.  She’s been romantically linked to Jack Nicholson, Bob Richardson, David Bailey, and the dreamy Ryan O’Neal.   Her noted recent films include Wes Anderson’s Royal Tennebaums, Darjeeling Ltd, and The Life Aquatic in all of which she shines with a stately elegance and cool distance stare rarely captured by actresses today (not to forget her other work as Mortitia in the Addams Family).  

The recent Bob Richardson biography is said to feature all the remaining negatives from his backlog that he hadn’t destroyed (most were originally featured in fashion mags such as French vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Italian Vogue), Polaroids, and commentary from his son, Huston, and an edit of the 2003 autobiography he penned just before his death that remained unpublished until now.  The book seems to detail that Huston’s life with Richardson was intimate, it was a personal and working relationship, though tumultuous.  Richardson battled mental illness since the 60s, and was prone to fits and anger.  Anjelica told the New York Times,

“It was the early 70′s — just after Visconti’s “Damned” came out — when Bob had the idea of doing this tremendously decadent, very Roman look for Valentino. It was very scary to walk through the streets of Rome with a Nazi. People were very aware, and I kept waiting for them to throw bottles at us.  I think Bob to a certain degree was a shock artist, and this reflected his inner turmoil. I remember an Irish series we did for French Vogue. He had me flung over the side of a bridge, carrying a gun, with blood coming from my chest. This was when the I.R.A. was in full force. His pictures always had a subtext — they were about his state of mind, about him.  I was 18 when we met. I was not a model as such, but understudying in New York. I had come over from London, where I had done a few editorials with Dick Avedon. It was the time of great photographers — Avedon, Irving Penn, Hiro, Sarah Moon, David Bailey, Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, Chris Von Wagenheim — Bob was up there at the top of the list. He was a brilliant photographer, but he destroyed most of his work, so it gives the impression that his career was short-lived. It wasn’t. He was actually photographing for a long time.  We were together for years. I remember we would take Terry on the weekends. He was like an angel, the coolest-looking kid, dressed up in denim, with shoulder length hair all blond and curly.”

After Huston and Richardson parted ways, Richardson delved further into mental illness, drug abuse, and was eventually living homeless in LA. Many of his negatives were destroyed or lost during this period.  Later, in the 90s, Terry helped his father out of homelessness and lived with him in NYC.  They began working together closely, and Bob helped his son as he was building what would become another landmark career in photography.  His son, now renowned photographer, says about his dad, 
“In the early 90′s I came to New York to get some work, and Dad was here and wanted to teach. We were totally broke and worked together doing little beauty pages for Mademoiselle and Glamour. As you can imagine, working together was pretty interesting. He would always say: “You have to really make an impression on people. You have to set yourself apart and do a number on them.” So we would grab a 70′s slide projector, a screen and a boom box and take the subway up to Condé Nast. We’d walk in to see Linda Wells at Allure, and blast “Head Like a Hole,” by Nine Inch Nails, and give them a slide show — some of his old pictures, some of mine, some we did together — like 10 people would run out of the room, looking at us like we were insane.  We did that for like six months until Vibe gave us a fashion story, and I called Dad and said, “I can’t do it with you, I have to do it on my own,” and he said, “You can’t do it without me, I won’t speak to you again.” So I showed up for the shoot the next day, praying he wouldn’t show up.” 

Although she’s still such an alluring dark beauty, I don’t think anyone has captured Anjelica better on film than Richardson. 

“After her parents split, Huston remained in London with her mother, and the schism with her father was amplified when Soma died in a car crash in 1969, and she fled to New York. “Before I knew it, I’d taken up with a 42-year-old man, who was not only a good deal older than I was, but also had tremendous mental problems, beyond anything I’d had experience of.” That man was the photographer Bob Richardson and, instead of the safe harbour she was seeking, Huston found herself, at 18, the carer. “I didn’t know the ashtrays were talking to him at the time, but he was tremendously schizophrenic and there would be days when he would wake up and the world was worthless and everything in it, and I would think it was my fault, the way that one does when one is being blamed for everything.”
Richardson had been back from Paris for a year, opened a studio in New York and was in the process of leaving his wife when he met Huston. (She doesn’t believe she caused the split. At least, Bob never said anything like that to her.) He’d also come under the care of a doctor named Max Jacobson, the Dr Feelgood whose shots of methamphetamine and vitamins kept Manhattan’s beau monde humming. “I remember the first time we met, it was my first sitting with Bob, for Harper’s Bazaar. He picked me up in one of those little Mini cars with his big poodle in the back and we raced off to Jones Beach, where he sort of hypnotised me. He had me crying and reaching for the sun. It was very powerful. I followed his directions very precisely; he was intrigued because I was malleable, and he liked working with me.”
Getting his models to cry was something of a Richardson signature. It was a way to drag those cool, perfect beauties off their pedestals and make them fragile, emotional flesh and blood. “He created stories around these women and of course the stories were always him,” says Huston. “The photographs were always about him.” Anyone curious about those stories should look at the recent definitive monograph of Richardson’s collected work, overseen by his son Terry. There is Donna Mitchell, weeping on the rocks in Greece (the image that sparked a revolution in fashion photography). And, of course, there’s a lot of Huston, belying her years, breathtakingly beautiful but also haunted and stretched to the limit. She still finds them painful to look at.
But what a photographer! And, in Huston, Richardson found an ideal vehicle. “The pictures that I thought were particularly brilliant were the ones where he was sent off on his own without an art director or editor looking over his shoulder, and he had that freedom,” she says. “Often they were really radical, the more radical the better. We did an Irish series for French Vogue in the 1970s that had me lying in the road with blood pouring out of my mouth and a rifle in my hand. We did Visconti’s The Damned for Italian Vogue, out there in the train station in Rome with all these older Italian women looking like they wanted to stone us and screaming ‘Puta!’ at me. It was very dangerous for the time, but it was fun, like doing little plays.” 

On May 23, 1992, she married sculptor Robert Graham Jr.   Anjelica tried her hand at directing staring with Bastard Out of Carolina (1996), followed by Agnes Browne (1999), in which she both directed and starred, and then Riding the Bus with My Sister (2005).  She and Graham lived in Venice, California until his death on December 27, 2008. She owns a ranch in Three Rivers, California, which she visits often. And, since the late 2000s Anjelica has focused energies on social, animal rights, and political activism through contributions and letter writing campaigns.

Her younger sister Allegra Huston is the author of her own memoir Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost and Found, in which she describes her early life with Anjelica and scattered family roots.  Below is an article text the LATimes did on Allegra's book where Allegra discusses how she came to publish it, and her strange, lovely times with sister Anjelica and famous director John Huston's distant presence:
For years, Allegra Huston was encouraged to write her memoirs. But the magazine journalist and screenwriter turned a deaf ear to all requests. 
"I was not interested in 'poor me,' " says the 44-year-old Huston, relaxing in the living room of a friend's home in Venice. Resting on a table nearby are copies of her recently published autobiography, "Love Child." Huston did have a sad early life. When she was 4, her mother, ballerina Ricki Soma, died in a car accident. The 39-year-old estranged wife of director John Huston, Soma was the mother of Tony and Anjelica Huston. The identity of Allegra's father, though, was shrouded in mystery. 

After Soma's death, Allegra was adopted by John Huston and spent the next 11 years living with him and various relatives. She was 12 when she was finally introduced to her birth father, the British historian John Julius Norwich, who was married with two children. As an adult, she realized how special her circumstances were. 

"One morning I woke up and decided to write this magazine piece about my two fathers and how lucky I felt to have them both," she says.  The article, which appeared in the British edition of Harper's Bazaar, inspired her to rethink writing a memoir about her nomadic, singular life.  "I had something to say -- a story with a happy ending," she says. "I wouldn't have written it if it didn't have a happy ending." 
Huston has never been into the idea of marriage -- she lives in Taos, N.M., with her boyfriend, white-water rafter Cisco Guevara, whom she refers to as her husband, and their 6-year-old son, Rafael. She says the only reason she would have wanted to marry was to have a party "because it would mean all these fragments of the family would have to come together." 
But the Hustons and the Norwiches did come together for her son's christening. "We had this extraordinary, very silly and very serious event on the banks of the Rio Grande," she recalls. "We had this magical three or four days."
And she had her happy ending. 
"I think you have to stand for something," Huston says, "and what I wanted to stand for was the possibility of making a fractured whole, bringing happiness out of sadness and the blessings and the gifts in loss and tragedy -- to sort of hold up the candle for what can be if you keep your heart open and rise above resentment and tragedies and pull the pieces together." 
Even though she shuttled among her actor-director father's residence in Ireland, her maternal grandparents' home in Long Island and the Los Angeles home of her father's fifth wife, Cici, Huston says she always felt loved. 
"Nobody was horrible to me," she says. "I felt that I was a problem from a practical point of view -- where is Allegra going to live and who is going to look after her? I was a problem that nobody was quite able to solve until I got old enough to live on my own, so that's why I have lived on my own since I was 15. I finished high school two years early."
John Huston wasn't a teddy bear of a father. In fact, Allegra Huston remembers only two times when he was affectionate -- once when he stopped by her bedside when she was ill and another when she asked him to take some tangles out of her hair.
But she didn't miss a more demonstrative relationship. "I had nothing to compare it to," she says. "I think that is part of my luck too. I was just taking it at face value. I wasn't feeling the lack of difference." 
And Huston didn't "ride" her or her brother Danny, who was his son with girlfriend Zoe Sallis, as hard as he did Tony and Anjelica.
As for her older sister, says Huston, "I virtually met her for the first time when I was 8. I didn't have memories of her when I was little in London."
Once she settled into Los Angeles in the 1970s, however, she and Anjelica were thick as thieves. 
"She didn't have to include me in her life a tenth as much as she did," says Huston. "She wanted me to be part of her life. . . . Writing this book, I realized I wasn't the only one who lost my mother; she did too. I think she very much wanted to re-create that sense of family we had lost." 
Anjelica Huston's boyfriend at the time, Jack Nicholson, also showed nothing but kindness, even taking her and his own daughter Jennifer as his dates to the Academy Awards. But Huston has far less respect for Ryan O'Neal, who briefly was Anjelica's boyfriend as well. According to Huston's memoir, O'Neal snorted coke and threatened them with violence.
"He is the most charming, delightful person in the world when he is Dr. Jekyll," she says of O'Neal, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to felony possession of methamphetamine.
"[No violence] ever happened. It was all a threat. But when he told me, 'I will throw you down the stairs,' I genuinely thought he would."
Huston has only a few fleeting memories of her mother, who died 40 years ago.
"I was always kind of envious, not so much of Anjel but of the friends who knew Mum," Huston says. "She was this unicorn, this perfect, mythical creature of extraordinary beauty and perfection who was adored by everyone. But that's not very human."
She felt more of a connection to her mother while preparing for the book by reading correspondence from her maternal grandfather, as well as her mother's letters to Norwich. And she was knocked "sideways" when she discovered that Soma lost her own mother when she also was 4. 
"Finding those connections between the two of us, I don't feel like I know her any differently, but I feel much stronger threads of connections," says Huston. "I still think she was one of the most extraordinary women ever -- so sensitive, so beautiful, so tender."


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