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My three minutes with John Huston

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You may think that Hollywood is too preoccupied with image and success to care much about the individuals who get caught in the cogs of its industry. But here's the story of how I walked into a producer's party as an up-and-coming publicist for the stars and walked out knowing who I really was.

It was the fall of 1985, two years after I'd moved to Los Angeles from a small town in Oregon. Amid the stacks of Broadway and Hollywood trade publications those at my firm had to read every morning, I discovered an invitation for an unusual Malibu party. Shortly after I arrived, I was on the phone with one of my more dashing clients, an actor I'll call Mr. A.

"They're honoring John Huston at a luncheon for documentary filmmakers," I told him. "Believe me, it's worth the $75. There will be tons of directors there and good press. Don't worry; I'll be there. I know the media. No, I don't know Huston, but trust me. I'll find a way to introduce you."

Although he was a producer, writer, and actor, Huston was most famous for directing films like "The Maltese Falcon" (1941), "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948), "The African Queen" (1951), "The Night of the Iguana" (1964), and "Prizzi's Honor" (1985). Now he was being honored for his lesser-known but fairly controversial World War II documentaries that the United States Army Signal Corps had commissioned in the 1940s. When the International Documentary Association scheduled an advance screening of three of the documentaries, we obliged ourselves to attend as part of our homework.

In "Report from the Aleutians" (1943), Huston showed the human reality of war, which caused a great amount of turmoil between him and the Army. The footage had nothing to do with the propaganda for which it was commissioned. Instead, Huston reported on Allied planes being downed over the Japanese-held island of Kiska.


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