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Anjelica Huston's memoir touches on early years

  • Anjelica Huston in her Central Valley home, 2010. (Paul Jasmin)

MIAMI — When Anjelica Huston was born on July 8, 1951, in a hospital in Los Angeles, her renowned father, John Huston, was deep in the heart of the Belgian Congo filming “The African Queen” with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.

The famously intrepid director was sent a note announcing the birth of his daughter. In her memoir “A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London and New York” (Scribner, $25), the author recounts her dad’s typically no-nonsense reaction.

“When the messenger handed the telegram to my father, he glanced at it, then put it in his pocket. Katie Hepburn exclaimed ‘For God’s sakes, John, what does it say?’ and Dad replied ‘It’s a girl. Her name is Anjelica.’”

And then production resumed.

A lot of Huston’s book, which recounts the first 22 years of her life, centers on her legendary father, who received 15 Oscar nominations (and won two) for such films as “The Treasure of Sierra Madre,” “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Night of the Iguana.”

“Over the years, I’ve heard my father described as a lothario, a drinker, a gambler, a man’s man, more interested in killing big game than in making movies. It is true that he was extravagant and opinionated. But Dad was complicated, self-educated for the most part, inquisitive, and well read. Not only women but men of all ages fell in love with my father, with that strange loyalty and forbearance men reserve for each other. They were drawn to his wisdom, his humor, his magnanimous power; they considered him a lion, a leader, the pirate they wished they had the audacity to be.”

Speaking via telephone from Los Angeles, Huston, now 62, remembers her father fondly, even though he was capable of extremes — writing her a letter from the set of “The Bible” filled with drawings of animals to striking her violently without warning when he disapproved of the way she walked as a teenager. Her mother, Enrica, was a ballerina who had studied under George Balanchine and danced on Broadway for Jerome Robbins but gave up her career after marrying John in 1950 in Mexico — the same day he divorced his previous wife, Evelyn Keyes.

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