"Working with a legend like John Huston (Fat City, Judge Roy Bean) was one of the great highlights of my career. Jeffrey Meyers has captured the essence of this extraordinary man, whose appetite for life and art was unparalleled. A must-read for all incurable romantics and lovers of film." --Stacy Keach, legendary Hollywood actor
"A deft study of one of history's finest film masters and greatest egoists. Meyers' masterfully orchestrated journey through Huston's life and work--a constant contest between genius and cruelty--is neither hagiography nor indictment. Meyers presents a portrait of the artist that both seduces and appalls." --Guy Gallo , screenwriter, Under the Volcano
About the Author
Jeffrey Meyers, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, has recently been given an Award in Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Thirty of his books have been translated into fourteen languages and seven alphabets, and published on six continents. He lives in Berkeley, California.
Is this really the first formal, full-length biography to be written (solely) about John Huston, over 20 years after his death? I don't know why it took so long, but despite my misgivings about the result I'm glad that the prolific biographer Jeffrey Meyers has finally filled the gap.
COURAGE AND ART begins oddly, with an entire chapter comparing Huston to Hemingway. This struck me as pointless, but it turned out to be a perfect demonstration of Meyers' technique. Throughout the whole book, whenever Meyers introduces a colleague or friend - be it the jockey Billy Pearson or the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre - he runs through a tedious list of characteristics the person shared with Huston.
Meyers also has an amusing habit of amply quoting his previous biographical subjects, such as Wyndham Lewis, Joseph Conrad, and George Orwell, none of whom ever met Huston or had anything to do with him. Meyers isn't one to waste research.
Even so, the book manages to entertain - how couldn't it? In between films, Huston indulged in painting, boxing, fox hunting, art smuggling, drinking, gambling, and womanizing. He genuinely loved danger and exotic locales. He led a principled stand against McCarthyism. He respected literature. Like many larger than life monsters who are called self-destructive, he enjoyed a very long and fruitful career. He directed his last, first-rate movies (PRIZZI'S HONOR and THE DEAD) from a wheelchair, sucking on oxygen.
I have many more nits to pick about Meyers' plodding manner, but why dwell on the negative? I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from learning more about Huston. This is a responsible, straightforward biography of an important, fascinating artist who led an amazingly adventurous life. If you want to *feel* what it was like to know Huston and fall under his spell, read Peter Viertel's classic roman a clef WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART. If you want the facts of Huston's life, COURAGE AND ART will do.
I am currently reading the Huston bio, and Jeffrey Meyers really tries my patience. I have read the Viertel books, and Huston's own autobiography "An Open Book", and most of the books listed in Meyers' bibliography throughout the years. There isn't really a lot that's new here. I especially find Meyers' comments and quotes from his previous writings really irritating. I mean, what does D. H. Lawrence have to do with Huston? That's kinda cheap. And the Hemingway Prologue is 15 pages too long.
Still, I am slogging through it skipping the aforementioned boring parts (and glad I got it from the library instead of paying for it!). If you've never read anything about Huston before, this is as good a book as any. One other thing, is Meyers wearing a fez in his photo?
In these times of economic distress is it too much to ask of an author who is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a publisher of Crown's repute to simply proof read a book before printing and selling it? This book is replete with errors of fact and unrewarding critical asides - and I have never run into as many non sequiturs in the course of reading a book as I have done with this one. Where were the editors? The proof readers? Where was the author with a red pencil himself? The sloppiness of the work is one thing - but what makes it sad is that there is so little written word out there about the great John Huston. And Huston deserves much more.
This is not nit-picking. This is holding an esteemed author and an esteemed publishing house to the high standard to which they should and must be held. Especially when their product retails for thirty bucks!
In casting as wide a net as possible in pointing out the factual flaws and weaknesses of personal authorial insight of this book in the limited space available here let me begin with the fact that on page 255 Meyers tells us that after THE MISFITS Montgomery Clift made only more picture - FREUD - before his death. But on page 272 we are informed by the same author that post-FREUD "Clift made only one more movie before dying of a heart attack." A mere 17 pages separate the two assertions. Which one is true? Why didn't the author or his editor or his proof-reader or someone catch this before the manuscript went to irrevocable press? The truth is that Clift made one more film after FREUD - THE DEFECTOR - and died shortly after that film was made.Read more ›
this book. I just never got a handle on it. It is quite tedious. There is a certain casual arrogance that the writer exhibits that runs through the entire book as if his accessment of a certain person or movie etc, is a foregone conclusion. There IS no other. I had a hard time dealing with that. The book isn't a total loss but I think Huston deserves better.
"Rather than moralizing about Huston's conduct, I would urge readers to take pleasure in his impressive achievements." concludes Jeffrey Meyers' introduction to Courage and Art his masterful new biography of John Huston.
Through unpublished letters and new interviews, that often questionable conduct and those many impressive achievements are deftly rendered.
The necessary task of recounting the familiar details of the numerous well known films was made surprisingly enjoyable by Mr. Myers' breezy style and often tart commentary.
Sharp observations by those who knew Huston and the presentation of facts revealing the complexities beneath Huston's amiable charming facade are expertly interwoven. Examples of womanizing, boozing, gambling, cruelty, deep friendships, artistry, endurance and acts of great generosity are chronicled providing a rich portrait of "this monster," as he was referred to by a former mistress.
Notable flourishes include a strong presentation of Huston's courageous reaction to The Red Scare of 1947 and his subsequent disillusionment with American life leading to his exile. There is also an illuminating profile of Gladys Hill his longtime mistress/assistant.
"For Huston, life was a big game and he played it the fullest." observed his third wife Evelyn Keyes. Jeffrey Meyers vibrantly captures that credo in this definative work.