'A Story Lately Told': Anjelica Huston chronicles the first part of her fabulous life

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For women of a certain age, many can fondly recall a youthful obsession with all things "mod" -- thanks to the Beatles and Twiggy.

That's why it was so much fun to read actress Anjelica Huston's new memoir. She was right there, living in London at the height of this fashion/culture trend. Spotting icons on the street was a daily occurrence: models, actors, rockers.

Riding the wave of the British invasion on its home turf, Anjelica and her best girlfriend Emily were young teens when they saw early performances by the Yardbirds, the Kinks, Traffic, Cream, Eric Burdon and the Animals, and many more.

By Anjelica Huston.
Scribner ($25).

One day she passed model Jean Shrimpton and actor Terence Stamp walking in Piccadilly, and "literally gasped at their collective radiance," she tells us.

Later as a budding actress, she would get the chance to understudy the part of Ophelia in "Hamlet" for Marianne Faithfull, Mick Jagger's girlfriend. Once, when invited to the actress-singer's flat, Jagger walked in. "I thought he was amazing -- rail thin, and sexy, insolent eyes and full lips. Having admired him as a schoolgirl, I found meeting him in person quite surreal."

The daughter of legendary film director John Huston, a teenage Angelica was about to audition for Franco Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet" (1968) when her father announced he had other plans for her -- to star in his own film, the forgettable "A Walk With Love and Death."

So unpleasant was the experience that she temporarily swore off acting and became an accomplished fashion model, working for a time with some of the greatest fashion photographers in the world.

London of the 1960s only takes up about one-fourth of her book, but it is my favorite part. With this passage I felt like a school chum exploring the city with her: "... Brut and Old Spice for boys; lavender, sandalwood, and Fracas for the girls; unwashed hair, cigarettes ... fish and chips and vinegar, tobacco, patchouli, curry ... cider and beer. Up and down the Kings Road, the beauties in rumpled silk and denim would be out in force on Saturday afternoons."

The first half of the memoir consists of scenes from her idyllic childhood in County Galway, Ireland, where her father had purchased a 110-acre estate on which to raise his family. The children enjoyed a privileged life in the country, riding horses, having private tutors, etc. There was still plenty of time for playing make-believe, or surveying the natural environment.

Her father, according to Ms. Huston, was brilliant, short-tempered, demanding, controlling and charming. He was also absent for long periods of time while he worked on movie shoots. Evidently none of his five wives made him happy for very long.

Anjelica's mother, Enrica "Ricki" Soma, was an 18-year-old ballerina when she married John Huston (in his 40s) while pregnant with Anjelica's brother Tony. She and her brother are just 15 months apart.

While that marriage quickly turned into more of "an arrangement," Ricki was a devoted mother and raised her children with affection and conviction, until her death at 39. For an adolescent girl to suddenly lose her mother -- Anjelica compares it to "an abduction" -- scarring is inevitable.

Structured in short, colorful vignettes, "A Story Lately Told" shows off Ms. Huston's fabulous memory, keen observations and lovely use of language. As you might expect there's plenty of name-dropping -- not to impress -- but because that was her normal life.

Famous actors, writers, and artists were a constant presence from the day she was born. To say she's led an interesting life would be an understatement, and yet there's far more to this journey. Ms. Huston's memoir ends in New York City, 1973, as she's reconsidering her life choices. The book jacket explains the second part, entitled "Watch Me," will be published in the fall of 2014. Can't wait.

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