Anjelica Huston has packed in enough living to fill four memoirs, but thus far she's wrapped up only two. Her second installment Watch Me: A Memoir continues in the charming and intimate tone of last year's A Story Lately Told, but with gobs of ink about everyone's favorite Bad Boy Jack Nicholson, and how processing her father John Huston's death brought some surprising insights.
Over sea bass and chardonnay, she talks about navigating the wild streets of Venice, a treasured daybed and her enviable skills with a fish knife.
Q: So, after detailing some pretty crazy stuff, is Jack still talking to you?
AH: (Laughs) Yes! We haven't talked much about it but I think he takes it all with grace.
I am extremely stubborn! I know it made my father crazy. He couldn't understand my resistance. I remember when my father would have definite ideas about who I should be or what I should do or what school I should go to. I dug in my heels very firmly and just wouldn't go along with his ideas. Which he thought were much better.
He must have been frustrated with you, but secretly respectful that you stood up for who you wanted to be, no?
Ultimately he had no choice! (laughs) He wanted to see who was stronger in the end. But he went on to see he wouldn't win in the end, either!
Tell me about falling in love with your husband, Robert Graham.
Oh, I could talk to him for hours. He was very provocative and very funny. The waiters would be scared to come over and ask what we wanted to eat because I was so incredibly involved with what he had to say. What his impressions were; his knowledge. Bob was encyclopedic about art history. To go to Rome with Bob and walk around the Vatican and hear exactly who made what, when and why. To go to the Chartres Cathedral -- he would point things out that you would never have even considered. It was such a privilege. So he was also a great teacher. Just an utterly creative person.
You've said "to bore people is one of the primary sins;" I think it's safe to say your memoirs put you in in the Pantheon of fascinating raconteurs. These are both dedicated to your parents. What do you want them to hear?
First of all, despite a rather unusual upbringing and the fact that there was a lot of coming and going - and I would say childhood confusion -- there were also incredibly grounding moments. The love of beauty that both of my parents share, their love of the arts, their determination that we should have opinions. Not to the point of being obnoxious, but they required that you thought about things. I think that's very important. I remember a seminal moment when I was nine. An image of death-row kidnapper Caryl Chessman caught my eye on the cover of Time and I asked my mother about him. I remember her explaining very precisely who Caryl Chessman was and what he was up to. And I remember having a profound sense of what was serious at a young age. Even though I grew up in remote country in Ireland, I still had a sense of the possibilities of outside. Possibilities of the human spirit and other existences.
Your mother Enrica Soma was an extraordinary beauty and iconoclast in her own right. Was she the inspiration for your personal style?
My mother and also my best friend Joan Buck who was 2 years older than I and was very involved in fashion growing up. She sort of turned me on to fashion magazines. But my mother had a very powerful and unusual fashion sense.
Ok, we all know you are a Vanity Fair Best Dressed Hall of Famer, but your skill de-boning fish would blow Daniel Boulud out of the water! Where did you learn that?
(Laughs) Well my brother Tony is a fisherman -- a very good one. We used to fish trout out of the river and I learned to de-bone them very early. And those are tricky little fish! There are a lot of small bones in them. Actually one of the things I never liked dealing with is meat, but I can really gut a fish!
Your Venice house was spectacular. The street it was on, not so much. How did you deal with the craziness?
Although there were challenges, there were elements of Venice I was really grateful for that were really humanizing. Kinda forced me -- at a time when I could easily have gone the other way and become more reclusive -- it sort of forced me to be more social. And I made a lot of friends out there. There are some fantastic people out there in the real world! (laughs) The nature of "Hollywood" is that you lose touch with the rest of the world. You get in your car and you get out to do your shopping or whatever, but you don't really interact much with strangers or people on the street. To live in Venice was at once difficult, particularly when Bob became ill -- the noise was intense -- often woke us up at night, but also very congenial. OMG, sometimes at night you didn't know if they were throwing firecrackers or shooting at each other. And then the bars would let out at 2:00 a.m., so from 2:00 to 3:00 there would be this cacophony outside on the street and all kinds of madness. Then around 4:00 a.m. everything would stop. Silence would come back. But it was sort of a fortress on the outside and a garden on the inside. It was a pretty fabulous building.
You have a mind-boggling collection of very significant art (including of course, your husband's work), but tell me about the daybed that belonged to Rousseau!
It's been in my family for as long as I can remember. My mother had it in London. It was kind of red, green and yellow striped canvas -- very chic in its London days. Then I brought it to America and it became blue velvet in the 70s. Now it's wearing a Fortuny outfit from the 90s. And at one point, Morris Graves a lovely artist friend of my mother's decided it needed swan feet to match the curved neck of the swan. So he made some cardboard feet that my mother had carved into wood.
I also have a nice really big pair of Mermen from a Mexican church that my father had in Ireland and brought back and forth across the ocean a couple of times. But I'm a bit like a traveling circus. I do that to every hotel room I'm in. Like one of those old hippies that throws scarves on the lamps and burns incense. I was a model you know, that's how we lived.
What do you think is the essence of a life well lived?
Squeezing the last drop out! I had dinner the other night with my brother Danny and my nephew Jack and some dear friends and we closed the restaurant. And that's what it's like. We always close the restaurant. I don't know, we just think we're so funny... It feels really good. Part of feeling like a clan and sharing this crazy wonderful background that we have.
Photos courtesy of the Anjelica Huston Collection (Captions: With Jack Nicholson at her 35th birthday party. With her father John Huston at home in Mexico. With her mother Enrica Soma, London late 1960s. At her engagement to Robert Graham in Ireland. Anjelica, Enrica, Tony & John in Tobago, 1954.)