Director John Huston dies of pneumonia at age 81 on this day in 1987, after a lifelong career in entertainment.
Huston was the son of actor Walter Huston, a vaudeville performer who began appearing in films in 1929. John Huston performed on the vaudeville circuit from age three. As a teenager, he became an amateur boxer, quitting high school and eventually becoming the California lightweight champion.
Huston drifted in his 20s and 30s, working as a stage actor before moving to Mexico and joining the U.S. Cavalry. He wrote short stories and plays, worked as a reporter, and collaborated on several screenplays, including Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932). Finally, in 1937, he settled down and focused on screenwriting, then directing. He made his directing debut with The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart. The film was a critical success, and Huston continued directing even during his stint in the army, during World War II, when he made several documentaries.
After the war, he directed another Bogart film, Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), which featured Walter Huston in a supporting role for which he won an Oscar. The film also won Best Screenplay and Best Director.
John Huston is known for courageously standing up to the House Un-American Activities Committee when it began persecuting suspected communists. He helped form the Committee for the First Amendment and eventually left the country as the practice of blacklisting suspected communists spread. Huston settled in Ireland with his third wife, Ricki Soma, and their children. Daughter Anjelica Huston was raised in Britain, but her father later moved to Mexico. He continued, however, to direct. Among his best-known films are The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The African Queen (1951), and Prizzi’s Honor (1985), for which Anjelica Huston won an Oscar.
Huston continued to work throughout his 70s, despite suffering from emphysema, which required him to use an oxygen tank.