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Anjelica Huston has endured the mixed fortunes of Hollywood for years. She now resides at a level few others enjoy. Huston can finally say . . . : She Beat the House

March 21, 1993|LAWRENCE CHRISTON | Lawrence Christon is a Times staff writer

"I can't say I didn't go in with trepidation, but everyone was in a good mood for that movie," she said. "There's a lot to be said for playing comedy. Foreman had a genius for putting people together, and my father loved me to be happy. You forget that sometimes. He wasn't well, and a lot of it was about making things joyful and simple. I was enjoying him and learning from him."

If "Prizzi's Honor" had been the most precarious movie she had made as an adult, "The Dead" had to be the most satisfying to the soul; a great many things were laid to benevolent rest. In the last short story of James Joyce's "The Dubliners," John Huston was able to recapture the dream of an Ireland he had lost, and in it he created a legacy for two of his children. Tony Huston wrote the screenplay. And as Gretta Conroy, Anjelica Huston erased any doubt that she now knew how to be the specific and ambient creature a fine actor becomes. She had an ear for Gretta's elegiac music, which echoed that of Yeats' "Ephemera": "How far away the stars seem, and how far/Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart."

John Huston died shortly after, in August of 1987.

Right now, Anjelica is reprising Morticia in the sequel to "The Addams Family," which has been a huge commercial success and has put her in touch with a new audience of children and younger people.

"I like Morticia, I like playing witches," she says. " 'The Addams Family' is monetarily lucrative, which makes it possible for me to do other things. But I also like to do something different after I've taken on an emotionally demanding role. And children are the best audiences. They're unpolluted, direct. It's a rare pleasure to be in an audience of kids when they're watching something they like."

Having become one of Woody Allen's featured players, she'll also be out in "Manhattan Murder Mystery." "She's a tremendous talent," Allen says. "There's nobody like her. If you don't have Anjelica, you don't have anyone. I sent a polite note and asked if she'd be interested in doing 'Crimes and Misdemeanors.' I didn't think she'd be interested in a small part where she gets killed. But she surprised me. She's in that category of first-rateness. She has a built-in instinct. In 'Manhattan Murder Mystery' she plays an authoress. She not only has to be attractive and sexy, she has to project intelligence. And Anjelica has that. More than me."

She also appears in HBO's upcoming "And the Band Played On," based on Randy Shilts' book about AIDS, a topic of personal grievousness. "The situation is very dire," she says. "It seems I've lost everyone I worked with from my New York days; and friends have dropped off in alarming ways. These are difficult days for this country. In the '80s the money went out of Medicare, so that now we're treating the situation with a band-aid. I like to think of myself as someone with a heart and a conscience. I support any effort to counter ignorance towards issues like Amnesty International, or child abuse. Everything's been reduced to a charity. One has to take a stand."

Huston's recent marriage to Los Angeles sculptor Robert Graham has, ironically, reprised the image of a socially prominent couple who always seem to be in the right place, pictorially speaking. But she points to sturdier underpinnings.

"He's there for me at the end of the day. He knows and understands movies and even remembers more than I do--he's got a photographic memory. But our disciplines are not so different. There are days that go well and days that don't; he understands the devastation you feel then."

Graham views her similarly. "The reason we get on so well is that she understands the artistic temperament as something fragile," he says. "You see people and their work from the outside as one thing. But the center of an artist's life is fragile. And as far as celebrity is concerned, I know we're in a time when it's become more important then achievement, but she doesn't buy that for a minute."

"I realize now that I have as many years behind as I do ahead," Huston said, by way of discussing her future. "I'd like to go on to the coming years with renewed energy. I would love to have a child. Robert and I cohabit very well. There's no flimflam there. I'd like to hold on to a certain innocence. I was happy about the tone set by the inauguration. Sometimes it's good to drop your cynicism and smell the possibilities again, once you realize there's no place you can hide."

She stood up to say goodby, and her chair pinned a large vase against the French window. " 'As she rose to leave, she knocked over a potted plant,' " Huston offered by way of comic narrative, as if to say, "See what I mean?"

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