Photo Kurt Iswarienko/Trunk Archive
Anjelica Huston and I grew up as what we called god-sisters, because we liked the legend that John Huston was my godfather and Jules Buck was her godfather. We shared her room at St. Clerans in Ireland, and then my room in London, along with her dog, my dog, and my family of mice. Ricki, her mother, was an extraordinary woman who showed us the magic, the beauty, and the humor in everything, and gave us the freedom to play.
We haven’t stopped playing, in Ireland, England, Paris, Milan, New York, and Los Angeles, and points in between. We take turns being terrified on airplanes. We’ve never stopped laughing, unless we were fighting like sisters who can’t believe the other is actually a separate person. But we have never, ever been out with the same man.
We’ve traded places, though—I was a child actress, she was a teenage actress; I went to British Vogue, she was a model; I was WWD’s correspondent in Italy, she was Jack Nicholson’s girlfriend; I got married, she went to acting class; I wrote my first novel, she played Maerose in Prizzi’s Honor; I got divorced, she bought a ranch; I wrote my second novel, she won an Oscar; I had love affairs, she got married; I edited French Vogue, she directed her first movie. And now she’s beaten me to the memoir— the first volume, A Story Lately Told, came out a year ago, and this week, part two, the moving Watch Me is published by Scribner’s. I’m still at the manuscript stage.
This winter she’ll be on Broadway in Love Letters. She made sure she’d be onstage on Valentine’s Day.
JJB: Anjelica, you remember things in such beautiful detail in your memoir, and now I’m going to ask you to remember a whole lot more. When we met, I was 11, you were 8, and your perfume was Blue Grass.
AH: Blue Grass. Wonderful, Elizabeth Arden, with a sketch on it of a small child riding a horse with its mane tumbling with blue roses.
JJB: Admit it, it was the horse that got you…
AH: It was a maiden on a horse, and maybe she was sprinkling the blue petals. But it was a lovely image and I liked the clear, fresh scent of Blue Grass. It was the first perfume my mother ever gave me.
JJB: Did we go and buy perfume at Woolworth’s in Galway?
AH: Undoubtedly. My favorite was—it was in a dark blue bottle…
JJB: I don’t remember
AH: No, it was really important. You know what, I think I might even have the bottle. Can you hold on a second?
JJB: That’s typical. A bottle that’s almost 60 years old?!
AH: Yes. Hold on: Soir de Paris! Soir de Paris! In the cobalt blue bottle.
Soir de Paris perfume.
JJB: Oh my god. And we got it at Woolworths?
AH: It was in the exalted dish, the one furthest away from your creepy crawly little hands, where they could watch you, because it was really quite expensive.
JJB: I didn’t wear perfume at that point.
AH: I wore it rather heavily I think. Like makeup, you know. You’ve always been quite modest about makeup.
JJB: I did have the period of Blanc de Chanel. If you don’t start with a clown mask you’re not getting ready for the evening.
AH: Yes, that’s still one of my favorite principles. It’s a canvas on which to play.
Sometimes Joan overdid the white makeup. New Year’s Eve, 1995.
JJB: In the bathroom in Ireland we’d make cosmetics by mixing toothpaste and calamine lotion.
AH: I think that was your concoction. Mine always had to do with things that got in your eyes, like lemons and peppers. I remember getting blinded by my own concoctions rather frequently.
JJB: And then of course, I had acne and you did not.
AH: That’s why the toothpaste and calamine. You were doing extractions I think.
JJB: Then there was the tragic moment when you got taller than me.
AH: There was a brief moment when we were the same height and then suddenly I spun out of control.
JJB: And those legs kept getting longer. And even though your feet got bigger than mine, you could wear my size six and a half shoes.
AH: I’ve always had telescopic feet, particularly if I like the shoes. I did that at my wedding. I wore size 7 1/2 shoes at my wedding, whereas I’m actually a 9 1/2.
JJB: How much agony…?
AH: I can pretty much curl up those toes and make my feet fit. I wouldn’t fit into a 6 and a half anymore, but I could tuck them into an 8.
JJB: And what about the pain?
AH: Unbelievable. Like, mind numbing.
JJB: So how do you get over the foot pain?
AH: Well you don’t do that anymore. There are certain things you don’t do, I’ve learned in time.
JJB: Was this one of the things you learned as a model, to ignore foot pain?
AH: I remember being in Milan, this one awful moment on a Friday night when my agency wouldn’t pay me, and I had no money to get back to Paris and I was walking around in some piazza with these enormous Mario Valentino high heels… they were very expensive, they were like couture shoes of the highest order, they must have been 7 or 8 inch heels. I’d been given them by Mario Valentino.
JJB: When you’re in the fashion world, you’re wearing a lot of things that weren’t meant for you, but they look really fabulous, even if, in my case, they’re way too big.
AH: I remember going to visit you when you were the Redactrice-en-chef of French Vogue and you were standing in incredibly high heels, and knowing your feet intimately as I do, I was astonished. The sacrifice you were making for fashion!
JJB: One Sunday I went on a Mario Testino shoot wearing flat shoes, and he shouted at me, “Don’t ever let me see you in flat shoes again!”
AH: Oh my God.
JJB: That was probably why I stepped it up. But I was in such foot agony from those high heels that I had an American foot massage machine from The Sharper Image under my desk. And I’d sit there with my shoes off and the machine massaging my feet during Vogue meetings…They thought I was rather eccentric. Let’s go back to our childhood. We’re looking in the mirror at St. Clerans. We did quite a lot of that.
AH: We did, but we didn’t have television.
Anjelica and Joan were irresistibly draw to costume. St. Clerans, Christmas 1963.
JJB: Who got good at eyeliner first, and what was our eyeliner in the ’60s?
AH: I got into eyeliner with two of my father’s girlfriends: Min Hogg and Zoe Sallis. The mother of my half-brother Danny. Zoe had a big Max Factor compact and one fine paint brush, and that’s what she did her eyes with, and it was just one clear line. And Min too, it was the look of the day. Duck tailed at the end, slant up—Cleopatra!
JJB: I liked the Mary Quant eye goop called Hazel.
AH: Don’t forget the Mary Quant gloss that went on the apple of the cheek. It was a softly illuminating white gloss. On the eyebrows and on the cheekbones. Not that there was a cheekbone.
Mary Quant Eye Gloss ad, 1968.
JJB: Well you kind of had cheekbones…
AH: No, we were searching for cheekbones there.
JJB: And then we discovered blush and we had brown lines on our cheeks.
AH: It wasn’t to give you a healthful look, it was to make your cheeks look hollow.
JJB: And I was very fond of white lipstick.
AH: Because you had lovely full lips. But it made my lips look thin so I didn’t wear lipstick at all.
JJB: And then we attacked our eyebrows. We decided that if we plucked our eyebrows away from our noses, our noses would look smaller.
AH: As opposed to extending them in some way . Which I think it did.
JJB: Exactly, it’s the worst thing you can do…
AH: By taking out the first inch, it made them begin right above the eyeball. So it gave us a wide, astonished, doe eyed look.
Anjelica as a young woman. Photo by Philippe Halsman/Magnum Photo/Trunk Archive
JJB: We thought it was so cool.
AH: But it certainly didn’t make our noses look any smaller.
JJB: Did we talk about how our noses were growing uncontrollably?
AH: We tried to avoid the subject.
JJB: We did find comfort in the fact that we both had noses?
AH: We did. And I was always just a little bit hoping that at some point I’d be able to do something radical about my nose. But it wasn’t to be.
JJB: The something radical happened when that guy crashed into your car, and your nose broke in 20 pieces.
AH: But that didn’t really make my nose any smaller.
JJB: You write about it in the book. You said to the doctor who repaired your nose, “Don’t give me a nose job!”
AH: Yes, but initially, right after the crash, the doctor asked “What did your nose look like?” So I had my friend Greta gather all my beautifully retouched photographs from my modeling book, and bring it to the hospital to show the doctors what a perfect nose I had.
JJB: That’s brilliant.
AH: It came out really not so bad. It has a scar on it, but it’s ok.
JJB: I didn’t want to alter myself because I thought my destiny would change to something that wasn’t mine.
AH: I too am a little bit superstitious about it. And also, even if it’s very good surgery, I find myself looking at someone I didn’t know as a child, and thinking, did that nose start that way?
AH: I don’t know what it is, it’s a kind of reverse British snobbery thing. I don’t want anyone to be looking at me and thinking that.
JJB: At school, the Greek girl would come back from summer holiday looking not at all Greek , and I’d think, “Oh, why did you do that?” But at the same time I’d be so jealous. So it was both contempt and jealousy. Ok, so, our Mod time?
AH: I was more of a hippie then you were. You were always chicer, always more French influenced than I was. Because you had a good time at the Lycee Francais de Londres, where you were very good friends with the stylin’ girls of the day, including your best friend Jane Gozzett, who invented the crochet skull cap. It was an obsession with her and an obsession with you. And everywhere you went the skeins of wool overflowed from your handbags and on the floor and you’d be crocheting like crazy. And I remember going with you and Jane Gozzett to my first—you did lots of firsts for me Joan (one of them was my first real rock and roll party that I ever went to)—at a boutique. The Kinks were there.
JJB: Spice Number 1. It belonged to the manager of the Kinks.
AH: That was pretty serious. And then that whole era of soft shirts and lovely ruffly things and a lot of velvet and a lot of hippie stuff. That’s what I really loved. And very short skirts.
JJB: With your legs, you wore the shortest skirts.
AH: And then, I would hitch them up even higher.
JJB: When you came to stay with me in New York and I was a baby fashion assistant on Glamour, my greatest pleasure was dressing you up in things I couldn’t possibly wear. Like the black nylon ciré jumpsuit from Paraphernalia.
AH: It was the greatest shop. My God. They had all this stuff that really looked good on you.
Paraphernalia in New York City, 795 Madison Ave.
JJB: Well it looked good on you, that’s why I liked taking you there.
AH: Well, it must have done something for you in the first place, otherwise why were you hanging out there?
JJB: As a journalist?
AH: I don’t think you were so journalistic with your approach. I think you were more like, having it on with cute French boys.
JJB: My boyfriend whom you called “The Ant” because he was more in my proportions than yours.
AH: Did I?
JJB: He did kind of look like an ant. So when you started modeling, what did you learn about beauty and presentation of self that had never occurred to you before?
AH: When I was just starting off, I was in this weird position because I was working with Richard Avedon, the best photographer in the business, and no one else was taking my picture. Things seemed to go so slowly at the time, but it was a matter of months before I started working with other people, among them Bob Richardson.
JJB: I made sure you met him because I thought you were soul mates.
AH: It was intense, to put it mildly. But at the same time I must credit Bob with teaching me an enormous amount. He was very sure of what he wanted and how he liked me to look in front of the camera. He was right: he liked me to have bangs, he liked smoky eyes, he didn’t like the eyeliner thing, he liked when the whole eye was matte, and circled with black pencil. And he liked one to look kind of pale and disturbed, and that was pretty much how I looked for the next four years.
Anjelica by Bob Richardson, 1971.
JJB: Somehow between the time you made A Walk With Love and Death, when you were 16, and the next year when you arrived in New York, you’d developed cheek bones.
AH: If you wish for things hard enough eventually they’ll come. I remember also being obsessed with having that hollow in the crease of your eye. My mother had that, and I thought it was just the most beautiful thing. And finally it happened. Breasts occurred in my late 20’s—I never had breasts before I was 28—I’m always worried by people who have things done to their bodies when they’re very young, because your body changes.
JJB: How did that happen?
AH: It happened over the course of one summer. I was in Hawaii and suddenly I came back from that holiday with breasts! I remember eating a lot of mahi mahi, which may have something to do with it.
JJB: Mai Tais too? Or just mahi mahi?
AH: No, Mai Tais and mahi mahi. Or that other nice coconut drink.
JJB: Pina colada?
AH: Pina colada.
JJB: I was allergic to the sun; you could go in the sun, and did you ever!
AH: You had those French creams made with Nicotine and you hid. And you wore babushkas and cringed from the sun like an earthworm.
JJB: What did you put on your skin in the sun?
AH: Lots of coco butter to help it fry. There was a lovely one from Hawaii scented with ginger flowers. And Bain De Soleil, I still get excited when I smell it. The truth is, the body looks thinner and better with a suntan, especially legs.
JJB: Do you regret having sunbathed?
AH: I don’t regret sunbathing, but rather a morning after a late party when I fell asleep in the sun. I woke up with a disastrous sunburn. I think it was responsible for a basal cell carcinoma on my nose more than a decade later—an unpleasant experience, and a blow to my vanity.
JJB: Speaking of Mai Tai’s, the other big difference between us… I can’t drink, anything puts me away for days. People who love their martinis look on me as the social worker.
AH: We don’t really fault you for being a lightweight.
JJB: You’ve always ridden horses without fear, I’d rather bicycle.
AH: That’s because I trust animals more than machines.
Part 2 of Joan’s intimate conversation with Anjelica Huston coming Wednesday. More to come on beauty, love, and friendship…