Candice Bergen’s book, KNOCK WOOD (reviewed in my last post), was one of too many biographies/autobiographies I’ve been reading lately. I read them because I’m into trying to get a handle on the “real” human being beneath the public persona of past legendary creative/performing artists I’ve “known.”
Take JOHN FORD, director of such classic Westerns as Stagecoach, Fort Apache, My Darling Clementine, Rio Grande and The Searchers. Did I really need to find out (in a book titled COMPANY OF HEROES) that he was a real horse’s ass in the way he treated others — not just the actors and subordinates he “treated like children” and often directed like a sadistic drill sergeant, but in his personal life? Well, some might say that Hollywood filmmaking was a cutthroat industry and Westerns are violent by their very nature, so it goes with the territory.
But Ford wasn’t always thoughtless, nor did he direct only shoot ’em ups. His 50 year directorial career included such (relatively) non-violent gems as Judge Priest (Will Rogers’ finest film), The Grapes Of Wrath, Young Mr. Lincoln, How Green Was My Valley, The Quiet Man (in which fists flew, but not bullets) and Mister Roberts. Go figure. A complex fellow, Mister Ford.
And then there’s JOHN HUSTON, who made only a few Westerns, but, like Ford, was an egoist, womanizer and “larger-than-life” figure. In his book JOHN HUSTON: COURAGE AND ART, author Jeffrey Meyers paints a picture of a man who was an “extraordinary director, writer, actor, and bon vivant who made such iconic films as The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre [in which his father, Walter Huston, co-starred], The Asphalt Jungle and The African Queen.” He also directed Anjelica Huston, his daughter by the fourth of his five wives.
John Ford. John Huston. Orson Welles. Billy Wilder. Vincente Minnelli. Woody Allen. And more. Too many biographies/autobiographies? I plead guilty. But I can’t stop. They’re addictive.