THE HOUSTON’S by Lawrence Grobel

THE HOUSTON’S by Lawrence Grobel

A book I thoroghouly enjoyed was Lawrence Grobel's book:  Houstons The life and times of a Hollywood dynasty. There are many parts of this book worth telling about, but here are a few that I found particularly interesting.

Mr. Grobel writes of John Houston's admiration of the heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey. Dempsey had Firpo come out of a small mining town to become a world famous fighter. Dempsey became the heavyweight champion in 1919 shen he knocked out Jess Willard in the third round after knocking him down seven times in the first round. By 1921 he was fighting in boxing’s first million-dollar gate. It was publicized as the "battle of the century" but Dempsey knocked out his opponent George Carpenter in the fourth round. Houston attended the famous fight between Dempsey and Luis Angel Firpo on September 14, 1923 at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Firpo was one of the top heavyweights of the world and was nicknamed "El Toro de las Pampas" (the wild bull of the pampas) Some 80,000 fans paid to see the fight live. At the start of the first round Firpo dropped Dempsey to one knee with a right handed punch. After recovering,  Dempsey rushed Firpo and knocked him down seven times in the first round. There was no rule requiring the fighter to return to a neutral corner so Dempsey stood over Firpo and as he got up, knocked him down again. Towards the end of the first round Firpo hit Dempsey while he was against the ropes, so hard that Dempsey fell through the ropes and on top of the sports writers who promptly pushed him back through the ropes into the ring as the referee reached the count of four. Dempsey survived until the bell. In the second round Dempsey charged out and knocked Firpo out fifty seven seconds into the round.  Dempsey later lost his title to Gene Tunney in the "long count fight" and after time in the military opened a restaurant in New York. He died in 1983.

When Houston shot the movie that treasure of the Sierra Madre Mexican authorities were concerned about Houston the movie company hiring locals and their pay. When Houston asked how much it was for an extra on foot it was 15 pesos. When he asked how much for one who falls from a horse, it was 25 pesos. Houston offered to double the price. The agent said "For 50 pesos, Senor, you can shoot them in the arms and legs. But mind you no killing"

At Walter Houston’s funeral of the Academy president, Charles Brackett, said: "Walter Houston died last Friday. And if you could have listened as the news went out over the wires and airwaves, you would’ve heard America catch a long and painful breath at the loss of a beloved friend." Spencer Tracy said: "Walter Houston had a gentle mind and he had the only thing that makes such a virtue endurable. He had enough strength to quietly oppose the things that were wrong. He had a unique copyright on kindness. There was a gentleness and Walter Houston. Certainly he gave to this craft some splendor it did not have before."

Houston was a hard drinker. While making a film in Italy the actor Ossie Morris went to John’s room to check on him because he was late getting to the set. Morris later said he could smell burning wood. He found the room with a fire in it from an electrical short. He went to John and yelled: "John, John, it’s Ossie. Houston mumbled "How are you kid?"  Morris said: "I’m fine John, but your bedroom is on fire" to which Houston replied: "Oh, how I love the smell of burning wood" and turned over to go back to sleep.

The director Otto Preminger asked John to act in a movie called The Cardinal. John said: "Otto didn’t realize how he could upset people" and one actor, Tom Tryson, was so nervous and high strung that he was visibly shaking. I told Otto to take it easy on him, that he’d get a better performance that way. So on the next scene, Otto walked up behind him and shouted at him: "Relax!" Which nearly gave Tryson a nervous breakdown right there.

John Houston gave advice to John Millius about directing: "Never raise your voice, never get excited on the set. First, it looks really bad for the crew; second, the actors can see that you can get angry; and third, it takes a lot of energy. Always sit down when there is a scene. Remember that you are trying to conserve energy, because you’ve got to have more than anyone else." Once when asked what it was like  being a director Houston said: "You will confer with generals, you will dine at the table with Kings, and you will sleep with titled women. All of this you will do well being dead broke. That’s what being a director is."

Nan Sunderland had been married to Walter Houston. A friend of man’s said: "When Walter died, she died with him, although it took earn nearly 25 more years."



0 thoughts on “THE HOUSTON’S by Lawrence Grobel

  1. Paul, this is Pat Adams. Nick Petrich told me about this blog and I really liked reading about your family. Your Dad and my folks did business for years. They rented from him for years and my brother Bill bought the house he lives in, across from the Anacortes American, from your Dad. He still lives in it. God Bless you Paul and have a wonderful lent.

  2. Thanks Paul, have a wonderful Lent.  Please pray for my great nephew, Adam Nelson,  He had a brain tumor partialy removed yesterday.  It doesn't look good.  He is 40 with a wife and two kids.  
    Yours in 
    Pat Adams

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