‘Love Child’ memoir writer Allegra Huston talks about her two families
For years, Allegra Huston was encouraged to write her memoirs. But the magazine journalist and screenwriter turned a deaf ear to all requests.
“I was not interested in ‘poor me,’ ” says the 44-year-old Huston, relaxing in the living room of a friend’s home in Venice. Resting on a table nearby are copies of her recently published autobiography, “Love Child.”
Huston did have a sad early life. When she was 4, her mother, ballerina Ricki Soma, died in a car accident. The 39-year-old estranged wife of director John Huston, Soma was the mother of Tony and Anjelica Huston. The identity of Allegra’s father, though, was shrouded in mystery.
After Soma’s death, Allegra was adopted by John Huston and spent the next 11 years living with him and various relatives. She was 12 when she was finally introduced to her birth father, the British historian John Julius Norwich, who was married with two children. As an adult, she realized how special her circumstances were.
“One morning I woke up and decided to write this magazine piece about my two fathers and how lucky I felt to have them both,” she says.
The article, which appeared in the British edition of Harper’s Bazaar, inspired her to rethink writing a memoir about her nomadic, singular life.
“I had something to say -- a story with a happy ending,” she says. “I wouldn’t have written it if it didn’t have a happy ending.”
Huston has never been into the idea of marriage -- she lives in Taos, N.M., with her boyfriend, white-water rafter Cisco Guevara, whom she refers to as her husband, and their 6-year-old son, Rafael. She says the only reason she would have wanted to marry was to have a party “because it would mean all these fragments of the family would have to come together.”
But the Hustons and the Norwiches did come together for her son’s christening. “We had this extraordinary, very silly and very serious event on the banks of the Rio Grande,” she recalls. “We had this magical three or four days.”
And she had her happy ending.
“I think you have to stand for something,” Huston says, “and what I wanted to stand for was the possibility of making a fractured whole, bringing happiness out of sadness and the blessings and the gifts in loss and tragedy -- to sort of hold up the candle for what can be if you keep your heart open and rise above resentment and tragedies and pull the pieces together.”
Even though she shuttled among her actor-director father’s residence in Ireland, her maternal grandparents’ home in Long Island and the Los Angeles home of her father’s fifth wife, Cici, Huston says she always felt loved.
“Nobody was horrible to me,” she says. “I felt that I was a problem from a practical point of view -- where is Allegra going to live and who is going to look after her? I was a problem that nobody was quite able to solve until I got old enough to live on my own, so that’s why I have lived on my own since I was 15. I finished high school two years early.”
John Huston wasn’t a teddy bear of a father. In fact, Allegra Huston remembers only two times when he was affectionate -- once when he stopped by her bedside when she was ill and another when she asked him to take some tangles out of her hair.
But she didn’t miss a more demonstrative relationship. “I had nothing to compare it to,” she says. “I think that is part of my luck too. I was just taking it at face value. I wasn’t feeling the lack of difference.”
And Huston didn’t “ride” her or her brother Danny, who was his son with girlfriend Zoe Sallis, as hard as he did Tony and Anjelica.
As for her older sister, says Huston, “I virtually met her for the first time when I was 8. I didn’t have memories of her when I was little in London.”
Once she settled into Los Angeles in the 1970s, however, she and Anjelica were thick as thieves.
“She didn’t have to include me in her life a tenth as much as she did,” says Huston. “She wanted me to be part of her life. . . . Writing this book, I realized I wasn’t the only one who lost my mother; she did too. I think she very much wanted to re-create that sense of family we had lost.”
Anjelica Huston’s boyfriend at the time, Jack Nicholson, also showed nothing but kindness, even taking her and his own daughter Jennifer as his dates to the Academy Awards. But Huston has far less respect for Ryan O’Neal, who briefly was Anjelica’s boyfriend as well. According to Huston’s memoir, O’Neal snorted coke and threatened them with violence.
“He is the most charming, delightful person in the world when he is Dr. Jekyll,” she says of O’Neal, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to felony possession of methamphetamine.
"[No violence] ever happened. It was all a threat. But when he told me, ‘I will throw you down the stairs,’ I genuinely thought he would.”
Huston has only a few fleeting memories of her mother, who died 40 years ago.
“I was always kind of envious, not so much of Anjel but of the friends who knew Mum,” Huston says. “She was this unicorn, this perfect, mythical creature of extraordinary beauty and perfection who was adored by everyone. But that’s not very human.”
She felt more of a connection to her mother while preparing for the book by reading correspondence from her maternal grandfather, as well as her mother’s letters to Norwich. And she was knocked “sideways” when she discovered that Soma lost her own mother when she also was 4.
“Finding those connections between the two of us, I don’t feel like I know her any differently, but I feel much stronger threads of connections,” says Huston. “I still think she was one of the most extraordinary women ever -- so sensitive, so beautiful, so tender.”