Anjelica Huston Shares Her Literary Loves

Growing up on an idyllic Irish estate as the daughter of legendary director John Huston and prima ballerina Enrica Soma, Anjelica Huston was virtually predestined to become an artist. Her new memoir, A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York, reflects on her unconventional and culturally dynamic upbringing before she became the Academy Award-winning actress and director audiences know today. On Monday, December 9, ALOUD presents a special evening with Huston in conversation with Irish writer Colm Tóibín at the historic Wilshire Ebell Theatre. From her love of fairy tales to her friendship with John Steinbeck, we caught up with Huston about the literary side of her life before her upcoming ALOUD appearance, which will include readings, song, and rare Huston family footage.

In one of the anecdotes from your childhood, you wrote that you lived in the storybooks your mother gave you such as Grimm’s Fairy Tales. How do you think these imaginative tales shaped the way you think about storytelling today?
Huston:
I was very influenced by Arthur Rackham’s illustrations in my early copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and imagined that fairies and elves lived in the roots of the hawthorn trees, and had banquets where they misbehaved and had wings like butterflies. I think that those images along with Grimm’s text shaped my imagination and the way I saw things from once upon a time to happily ever after.

 

What books besides the Grimm’s Fairy Tales did you love growing up in Ireland?
Huston:
Madeline, Orlando the Marmalade Cat, T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Fattypuffs and Thinifers, Little Women, Jo’s Boys, Little Men, An Old Fashioned Girl, The Secret Garden, The Owl and the Pussycat.

You also write about knowing John Steinbeck and exchanging letters with him over the years. Can you talk a little more about this relationship? What was he like? Do you still have these letters?
Huston:
John Steinbeck was engaging and warm; from the moment we met (I was about 8) he and I hit it off.  He liked to tell me stories and spoke to me as an equal, not condescendingly, as to a child. We became good friends. I think my father was slightly mystified, but delighted we had forced this bond. He asked me later to see the letters John sent to me, sadly they became misplaced when Dad was living in Mexico.

From your mother and father to their friends (like Edna O’Brien writing a screenplay for your father), you were around many “working” artists. What did you learn about craft or the process of making art from these artists?
Huston:
Morris Graves was a fascinating man; a friend of my parents and a beautiful artist. I remember drawing with him and his helping out with a great fancy dress costume for our pug, Pansy. Likewise, the artist Jaqueth Hutchinson who made collages with me. But craft was something I was not aware of until later on.  My father’s work was a serious business but he was also a painter, and I sat for him on quite a few occasions.  I looked at a lot of art books—Dad and Mum loved to talk about painting and art.

Did you spend any time in libraries as a child? Or do you have any connections to libraries in your work today?
Huston:
No, I grew up in rural Ireland, and I did not have access to a library.  Later, when I was living in London and going to school there, I began to use a library. I’ve been a part of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles’ Gregory Peck Reading Series since it began. In 2010, I participated in the National Library of Ireland’s Summers Wreath festival in Dublin to celebrate W.B. Yeats’ birthday and their Yeats collection. 

The second installment of your memoir will focus on your move to Los Angeles… are there any sneak peeks you can give Angelenos to look forward to?
Huston:
My second book, Watch Me, will take me through my years in Los Angeles, my relationship with Jack Nicholson, my work as an actress and director, and include stories from my life and marriage to the late sculptor, Robert Graham.

Get tickets to the ALOUD program here.

Moby Dick and SoCal Culture: A New Film at the Broad

From the ArcLight Cinemas to the mural-covered overpasses, from the farmers markets to the secret staircases, Los Angeles is a city alive with storytelling. While this city where the land meets the sea is a breeding ground for surfers, artists, and environmentalists who share an obvious kinship with Moby Dick, the connection to this story has fascinated all walks of Angelenos for decades.

Over the last month, the Library Foundation and the Los Angeles Public Library have been rediscovering the great literary masterpiece, Moby Dick, through the lens of the modern and equally mythical Southern California state of mind. And over the years, Hollywood has again and again tried its hand at Moby Dick inspired films—from John Barrymore’s 1926 silent version to the more recent T.V. mini-series with William Hurt, even Steven Spielberg says Jaws was influenced by the novel. Perhaps most famously, Los Angeles literary icon Ray Bradbury co-wrote the screenplay with John Huston for the 1956 film adaptation of Moby Dick, starring Gregory Peck (a champion of the Los Angeles Public Library). Bradbury, still haunted by the whale, later wrote a novel and a short story fictionalizing the notoriously difficult process of making the Moby Dick film.

Raymond Pettibon, No Title (His transformation is), 2009. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles ©Raymond Pettibon

Furthering the tradition of re-interpreting Moby Dick, the LAPL and Library Foundation collaboration has spawned a new film project by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, the award-winning directors of Little Miss Sunshine. Commissioned by the Library Foundation to cap off their month-long, city-wide celebration, Dayton and Faris’s new work explores the role of the whale in our current thinking in both science and literature through interviews with musician Moby (also a distant relative of Herman Melville), artist Ed Ruscha, comedian Patton Oswalt, author Mark Z. Danielewski, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, screenwriter Howard Rodman, and many other local voices.

You can catch the filmed interviews at “My Moby Dick,” this Saturday, October 5th at The Broad Stage. Learn more about tickets here.

For a preview of Dayton and Faris’s Moby Dick interviews, like the clip below with Los Angeles Times Book Critic David Ulin, visit the Foundation’s Vimeo page.

My Moby Dick Teaser: David Ulin from Library Foundation of LA on Vimeo.

Celebrating the Champions of the Los Angeles Public Library

On Sunday supporters of the Library Foundation gathered at the downtown Central Library to kick-off an evening celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Foundation. The Library was festively illuminated with pink lights growing brighter as the sun went down. After cocktails in the Maguire Garden, a marching jazz quartet led (some dancing) guests over to the California Club for dinner. For the last 25 years, the Library Awards Dinner has honored authors, philanthropists, individuals, foundations, and corporations who share a commitment to the Los Angeles Public Library. This year the Literary Award went to Salman Rushdie and the Light of Learning Award went to Sharon and Nelson Rising.


Salman Rushdie with author and board member Attica Locke and City Librarian John Szabo.

Before guests heard from honorees, the Library Foundation’s chair of the Board of Directors, Carla Christofferson, enthusiastically welcomed everyone, and reveled in the news that the dinner had raised over $1 million in funds to help support technology, educational, and cultural programs offered in all 73 libraries in the Los Angeles Public Library system.

Ken Brecher, the president of the Library Foundation, gave a touching tribute to Veronique Peck, who passed away last month. Veronique, along with her husband Gregory Peck, began the Gregory Peck Reading Series that has brought together renowned actors to read from beloved literature on the library stage. Veronique received the Light of Learning Award in 2009, and Gregory in 1996.

For this year’s Light of Learning honor, former California Senator John Tunney presented the Risings with their award for years of service to the library. Nelson, a real estate developer, first became involved when he helped with the plans for restoring the Central Library after the 1986 arson fire. Sharon, who has always loved to read and to volunteer for causes that benefit the greater good, has long been a champion of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Before the new City Librarian John Szabo presented the Literary Award, actor Bill Pullman read from Rushdie’s new memoir Joseph Anton. It did not go unnoticed that Pullman, famous for playing the President in the film Independence Day and giving a spirited monologue about freedom, was chosen to bring to life the words of a man who was forced to wage a real-life battle for his freedom of speech. Rushdie was very touched by Pullman’s performance, and joked about how his own writing (and life) seems like a plot for a Hollywood script.

In his acceptance speech, Rushdie defended the importance of libraries as the keepers of literature, although the form that books take may change, the need for stories will always exist. Even as a kid checking out comics from his lending library in Bombay, Rushdie recognized how special that exchange was—getting to learn about kryptonite was fascinating! He credits those experiences making him into the writer he is today, joining the ranks of Carlos Fuentes, Tony Kushner, Harper Lee, and Norman Mailer as past Library Literary Awardees.

Stay tuned for the video of Salman Rushdie’s ALOUD conversation with Louise Steinman, where he discusses his new memoir on his time in hiding when a fatwa had been issued against him for his novel The Satanic Verses.