John Huston Biography

Actor, Director, Film Actor (1906–1987)
American motion-picture director whose dramas, including The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen, are some of the most popular films of all time.


Actor/director John Huston was born on August 5, 1906, in Nevada, Missouri. His first work as a film director was the classic hard-boiled detective tale The Maltese Falcon (1941). His other classic films include The Asphalt Jungle and The African Queen, the latter of which starred Humphrey Bogart and earned the actor his only Academy Award. Huston also acted in several films, notably playing villain Noah Cross in Roman Polanski's Chinatown. He died in Rhode Island in 1987.

Early Years

John Marcellus Huston was born in Nevada, Missouri, on August 5, 1906. His father was noted actor Walter Huston, and John spent his youth traveling with his family in vaudeville circles. He dropped out of school at the age of 15 to pursue a boxing career, but after getting his nose broken, John Huston, a true Renaissance man, quit boxing and enrolled in Los Angeles' Smith School of Art to pursue painting.


After taking up writing, Huston became a journalist for the New York Daily Graphic. He also got married during this time—his first of five marriages—and soon moved to L.A. and became a writer for the movies, initially with Samuel Goldwyn. Not long after, he moved to Universal Studios and worked on scripts for such films as Murders in the Rue Morgue and A House Divided (both released in 1932), the latter of which starred his father.

It was around this time that Huston killed a female pedestrian in a car accident, and though he was not charged with a crime, he was deeply affected by the incident and moved to London. After moving back to the United States, he married again and threw himself headlong into a new writing position with Warner Bros., which led to his first Academy Award nomination, for Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940). His writing continued to impress, and in 1941 he was handed his first directing responsibilities, on The Maltese Falcon. The film starred Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, a hard-boiled detective, and the huge success of the project ensured Huston's new career.

The Director

After The Maltese Falcon, Huston directed two more hits, In This Our Life (1942) and Across the Pacific (1942), before helping with the war effort by making documentary military films. Postwar, Huston's output was both prolific and impressive. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) earned Huston Oscars for writing and directing (and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his father), and The African Queen (1951) earned Huston two Oscar nominations and won Bogart his only Best Actor Oscar.

Huston continued to make Hollywood heavyweight films, including Moulin Rouge (1952) and Moby Dick (1956). He also acted, winning a Golden Globe Award for his work in The Cardinal (1963) and notably appearing as villain Noah Cross in the 1974 Roman Polanski film Chinatown.

In all, Huston directed more than 40 Hollywood films, wrote more than 20 and acted in nearly 30. And he, father Walter and daughter Anjelica represent the only family to win Oscars in three successive generations. Anjelica Huston starred in her father's last film, The Dead, in 1987, and he died later that year, on August 28, in Newport, Rhode Island, of complications from emphysema.

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