Movie director John Huston is ''daring, unpredictable, maddening, staggeringly inventive,'' according to his Hollywood peers. ''And,'' according to mistress of ceremonies Lauren Bacall, ''probably the most charming man on earth.''
Such stars as Zsa Zsa Gabor, Paul Newman, Ava Gardner, James Mason, along with countless others were paying impressive tribute to him with words, words, words during the American Film Institute Salute to John Huston (airing CBS, Wednesday, 9-11 p.m.)m. He was presented with the AFI's 11th Annual Life Achievement Award.
It was all love and kisses, tinsel-town style, which means enough saturated flattery to butter every bag of popcorn sold in movie houses throughout America. Star after star stood up and challenged one another in a kind of never-ending panegyric duel. It was a glorious display of star-spangled, on-camera respect and affection with enough thrown and blown kisses to start a monsoon.
In between the encomiums, there were great flashes of genius in the series of film clips from such Huston masterpieces as ''The Treasure of Sierra Madre,'' ''The Maltese Falcon,'' ''Beat the Devil,'' and ''The African Queen.'' Producer George Stevens Jr. was kind enough not to show any clips from ''Annie.'' However , ''Annie'' star Aileen Quinn was there, and she said, ''I love him a whole bunch.''
All in all, it was a good show of its kind . . . if ''roasts'' are on your TV menu. Especially if you like to see dazzling stars stand up and read carefully manicured tributes from a teleprompter.
The only praise I thoroughly believed came from John Huston's daughter, Angelica Huston. ''Dad,'' she said, ''I'm very very proud of you. I love you very much.''
John Huston smiled and looked uncomfortably embarrassed as he did throughout most of the gala evening.