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Huston, Walter

HUSTON, Walter

Nationality: American. Born: Walter Houghston in Toronto, Canada, 6 April 1884. Education: Attended Lansdowne School, Toronto; dramatic classes at Toronto College of Music. Family: Married 1) Rhea Gore, 1905 (divorced 1913), son: the director John Huston; 2) Bayonne Whipple, 1914; 3) Nanette Eugenia Sunderland, 1931. Career: 1902–05—unsuccessful attempt at acting with road company and vaudeville; 1905–09—engineer in electric light and water plants in Montana, Texas, and Missouri; 1909—returned to vaudeville after forming a team with Bayonne Whipple, whom he later married; 1924—Broadway debut in Mr. Pitt; also appeared the same year in Desire under the Elms; 1929—film debut in short The Carnival Man; 1934—returned to Broadway for successful role in Dodsworth, later in film version; Awards: Best Actor, New York Film Critics, for Dodsworth, 1936; Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, for Treasure of the Sierra Madre, 1948. Died: 7 April 1950.

Films as Actor:


The Carnival Man (Abbott—short); The Bishop's Candlesticks (Abbott—short); Gentlemen of the Press (Webb) (as Wickland Snell); Two Americans (Meehan or Santley); The Lady Lies (Henley) (as Robert Rossiter); The Virginian (Fleming) (as Trampas); Abraham Lincoln (Griffith) (title role); The Bad Man (Badger) (as Pancho López); The Virtuous Sin (Cast Iron) (Gasnier and Cukor) (as General Gregori Platoff); The Criminal Code (Hawks)


The Star Witness (Wellman); The Ruling Voice (Lee)


A House Divided (Wyler); The Woman from Monte Carlo (Curtiz); Law and Order (Cahn); The Beast of the City (Brabin); American Madness (Capra); Night Court (Justice for Sale) (Van Dyke); The Wet Parade (Fleming); Rain (Milestone); Kongo (Cowen)


Gabriel over the White House (La Cava) (as President); Hell Below (Conway); Storm at Daybreak (Boleslawsky); Ann Vickers (Cromwell); The Prizefighter and the Lady (Every Woman's Man) (Van Dyke); How I Play Golf No. 7: The Spoon (Marshall—short)


Keep 'em Rolling (Archainbaud)


The Tunnel (Transatlantic Tunnel) (Elvey)


Rhodes of Africa (Rhodes) (Viertel); Dodsworth (Wyler)


Of Human Hearts (Brown)


The Light That Failed (Wellman)


The Outlaw (Hughes); All That Money Can Buy (The Devil and Daniel Webster; Here Is a Man; Daniel and the Devil) (Dieterle); Safeguarding Military Information (short) (as narrator); The Maltese Falcon (John Huston) (as Captain Jacoby); Swamp Water (The Man Who Came Back) (Renoir); The Shanghai Gesture (von Sternberg); Our Russian Front (Milestone and Ivens) (as narrator)


Always in My Heart (Graham); In This Our Life (John Huston) (as barman); Yankee Doodle Dandy (Curtiz) (as Jerry Cohan); Prelude to War (Capra) (as narrator); America Can Give It (as narrator)


Edge of Darkness (Milestone); Mission to Moscow (Curtiz); The North Star (Milestone); The Battle of Britain (Vieller) (as narrator); December 7th (Toland and Ford); For God and Country (Cahn—short) (as narrator); Know Your Enemy: Japan (Capra and Ivens) (as narrator)


Dragon Seed (Conway and Bucquet) (as Ling Tau); Pacific Northwest (Northwest U.S.A.) (Van Dyke—short) (as narrator); Suicide Battalion (training film) (as narrator); Knickerbocker Holiday (Brown) (as Pieter Stuyvesant)


And Then There Were None (Ten Little Niggers) (Clair); The American People (Litvak—short) (as narrator); War Comes to America (Litvak—short) (as narrator)


Let There Be Light (John Huston) (as narrator); Dragonwyck (Mankiewicz); Duel in the Sun (Vidor) (as "The Sinkiller")


Summer Holiday (Mamoulian)


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston) (as Howard)


The Great Sinner (Siodmak)


The Furies (Anthony Mann)


By HUSTON: articles—

"In and Out of the Bag: Othello Sits Up in Bed the Morning After and Takes Notice," in Stage, March 1937.

"There's No Place Like Broadway," in Stage, September 1983.

On HUSTON: books—

Huston, John, An Open Book, New York, 1980.

Grobel, Lawrence, The Hustons, New York, 1989.

On HUSTON: articles—

Grant, J., "Walter Huston Says, 'If I Were Roosevelt—,"' in Movie Classic, May 1933.

Vermilye, J., "Walter Huston," in Films in Review (New York), February 1960.

Ciné Revue (Paris), 16 October 1980.

Film Dope (London), January 1983.

Atkinson, M. "Role Models," in Movieline (Escondido), May 1993.

Nosferatu (San Sabastian), January 1996.

* * *

For most of his screen career Walter Huston was typecast as the pillar of American respectability; he was a bank manager in American Madness, a successful businessman in Dodsworth, a prison warden in The Criminal Code, a fictitious American president in Gabriel over the White House. In historical roles, Huston was very much a patriarchal figure: President Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln and Pieter Stuyvesant in Knickerbocker Holiday. Even in Yankee Doodle Dandy he is typecast as the father of that ultimate figure of American patriotism, George M. Cohan.

Playing non-Americans Huston was cast in equally conservative roles. He was suitably imperial as Cecil Rhodes in Rhodes of Africa. He was kind yet commanding as the doctor/commune head of a Soviet village in that curiously middle-American study of rural Russian life under German attack, The North Star.

Huston's performance in Dodsworth is masterly and quietly understated, with his eyes and body movements indicating the hurt that he feels at his wife's leaving him. Yet, on the whole, it is thanks to his less typical roles that Huston can be considered as great a screen performer as stage actor. He is tyrannical as the circuit preacher in Of Human Hearts and magnificently hypocritical as the "Sin Killer" bent on saving Jennifer Jones's soul in Duel in the Sun. Above all he demonstrated a surprising impish quality as the devil in the guise of Mr. Scratch in The Devil and Daniel Webster, and as the old prospector (with that wickedly gleeful dance on discovering the gold) in his son John's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

—Anthony Slide

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