Anjelica Huston opens up about Jack Nicholson, Ryan O’Neal and Hollywood
Editor’s note: Kelly Wallace is CNN’s digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two girls. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.
(CNN) — Most of us haven’t lived enough to fill one memoir, let alone two, but then again most of us have not lived the life of Anjelica Huston, the Academy Award-winning actress and daughter of late legendary director John Huston.
Huston set out to write a book about her life, but it started to become a “tome” at 900-plus pages in length, she said with a laugh during a recent interview, so she was advised by her agent to do two books.
Her second and newest memoir, aptly titled “Watch Me,” begins with her start in Hollywood, and just seven pages in, she gets to the “juicy” stuff, she admits, the start of her 17-year-relationship with one of the biggest stars at the time, Jack Nicholson.
‘Instantly in love’
She was 21 and had just been living in California for about two months, she said, when her stepmother brought her along to a party at Nicholson’s house.
“The door of this sort of ranch house opened and there was that smile,” she said with a smile. “And, of course, I fell instantly in love.”
There were “lots of up and downs,” she said, especially because her “seriously handsome” companion happened to be one of the most sought-after men in the world.
She describes being at the Cannes Film Festival when a beautiful young woman came up and offered Nicholson a ride on her motorbike. “He’d go, ‘Well, why not? That’s great. Bye, Toots,’ and off he goes,” said Huston. “I’d be kind of left in the dust like, ‘What happened?’ And so I had to negotiate that, and it was extremely hard at first. Then you develop more of a sense of humor about it.
“People also say to me, ‘Well, why did you hang on?’ Oh, why not, you know. I was in love, and I think maybe in a few cases I took those infidelities more seriously than he did,” she said.
A message for women
Huston, in her memoir, also opens up for the first time about a very troubling time in her life, when she claims her then-boyfriend, actor Ryan O’Neal, physically assaulted her.
They were at a party together when O’Neal couldn’t find her and abruptly left, she said. She followed him and called after him. “And he turned around and gave me what the English describe as a ‘nutter,’ which is when you take somebody’s head in your hands and smash it against your own,” she said.
Although O’Neal had a temper, Huston said she doesn’t want to “characterize him as somebody who beats up women. But I don’t think it’s something that men should get away with.”
After that incident, Huston stopped dating O’Neal. She has a message for any women who finds herself in an abusive relationship.
“Move. Get out. Don’t stick around. Any man who lifts a hand against a woman is a coward in my book.”
Calls to O’Neal’s representative seeking comment were not returned.
Huston had plenty more to say in our interview, including her thoughts on the way Oscar night used to be; her first Broadway role, beginning in January, starring in “Love Letters” with Martin Sheen; and the continued challenges for women in Hollywood.
These highlights of our conversation have been edited for length and clarity.
On how Oscar night used to be
“Nobody wears clothes anymore. … They’re wearing very long brassieres. And I think it’s great to look back on old Oscar footage … and some of the dresses people came up with. … People made great mistakes. It was a lot of fun. Things have gotten very much more, sort of, conventional.”
On aging in Hollywood
“For me, it’s getting better, because I’m able to laugh at it, and I don’t take it as seriously as I used to. … I think we develop a sense of humor about these things that we go through. We can laugh at them. … You don’t have to fret so much about how you look. You look the way you look. Hopefully, you’re happy.”
On the challenges for women in Hollywood
“I just wish ladies got better parts in movies these days. I wish we could see more of them … young and old. … I remember going to a ‘women in film’ meeting. God, it’s got to be 25 years ago, and all the women there were, some of them were saying, ‘Oh, things are so much better for women.’ And the others were saying things were worse for women. Well, I think they’re worse. I honestly do.”
On her first Broadway role starring in “Love Letters” opposite Martin Sheen in January
“I’m nervous and excited and thrilled, and it’s going to be great for me. It’s a brand new thing. I love to do new things. I hope it’s all going to go well. … I’m sort of terrified of live audiences … but it’s a good time to challenge myself. Why not?”
On @anjelicahuston recently joining Twitter
“I’m looking forward to having nice conversations and meeting my fans. … I think it’s pretty wonderful in an ideological way. The idea that people can contact each other and contact you, and you can all have a kind of massive conversation I think is probably what’s going to save the world.”
On the story behind the title of her new memoir, “Watch Me”
“I guess I was about 28, 29 years old, and I’d been dabbling around the outskirts of show business for some time, doing little parts here and there. … And I was at a party, and the director Tony Richardson was there, with whom I’d worked years before … and he said, ‘Oh, Anjelica, come over here. Sit on my lap, poor little you. You’re never going to do anything with your life. You have so much talent and so little to show for it.’ And I looked at him with love and just a little bit of hate, and I thought, ‘Watch me.’ ”
And we’ve been watching her and loving her on the big and small screen ever since!
What do you think of Anjelica Huston’s reflections in her new memoir? Share your thoughts with Kelly Wallace on Twitter or CNN Living on Facebook.