In the first part of her memoir, 2013’s A Story Lately Told, Anjelica Huston told the story of her upbringing in rural Ireland, of her sometimes tense and sometimes distant relationship with her father John Huston, of her mother’s death in a car crash, and, with incredible elegance and pathos, of her long and brutal romantic involvement with the violently disturbed photographer Bob Richardson. The second part of Huston’s rememberings, Watch Me, out now from Scribner, is the tale of that same pluckish young Irish lass coming into her own, of the eventual Hollywood legend in her ascendency, and of an ambitious and startlingly innocent girl trying to become a women while subject to the unpredictable forces of the big, brutish and sometimes brilliant men in her life—including her father and her longtime lover Jack Nicholson.
Befitting a proper Hollywood memoir, Watch Me is littered with jewels, some familiar, some startlingly first-run: Huston, utterly unawares, was the only other person on Nicholson’s property when Roman Polanski allegedly raped the then 13-year-old Samantha Geimer in a back house. When the police came to investigate a few hours later, they questioned her and found cocaine in her purse, which would have forced her to testify if Polanski hadn’t copped a plea deal and fled the country. Later, during a romance that seems to be motivated, at least in part, to get back at Nicholson for his serial infidelities, Huston had a dalliance with Ryan O’Neal who, on one horrible night, punched her in her head.
At a couple of points in the glittery proceedings, with household names coursing through the scenery, Huston pauses to consider, with touching depth and honesty, the loss of some of the men in her life: first, again, her father, and then her late husband, the great sculptor Robert Graham. And, although she does tell how she rose to become an Academy Award winning actress, the powerful, central current of this story is the narrator’s own path toward personal actualization. The title, Watch Me, comes from her rather indignant reply to her friend, Tony Richardson, saying of her, “so much talent and so little to show for it.”
Following a kind of awakening—which happened with great dramatic irony, considering both her mother’s loss and her own eventual career during a car crash that wrecked Huston’s face, requiring plastic surgery to repair her nose—young Huston determined to wrest control back of her life from the men who had been shaping it, to take the wheel and drive it herself. I asked her if she’d been successful.