Walter Huston

Active - 1929 - 1963  |   Born - Apr 5, 1883 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada  |   Died - Apr 7, 1950   |   Genres - Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Canadian-born actor Walter Huston enjoyed an early theatrical life of roller-coaster proportions which he doggedly pursued, despite a lifelong suffering of "stage fright." Taking nickel and dime performing jobs, quitting to pursue "real" work -- an engineering job came to an end when his inept attempts to fix a town's reservoir nearly resulted in a flood -- then returning to bit roles were all part of Huston's early days. Before 1910, Huston had toured in vaudeville, worked in stock companies, tried to maintain a normal married life, and fathered a son whose life was twice as tempestuous as Walter's: future director John Huston. The barnstorming days ended when Huston got his first major Broadway role in Mr. Pitt (1924), which led to several successful New York seasons for the actor in a variety of plays. His stage and vaudeville training made him an excellent candidate for talkies; Huston launched his movie career with Gentlemen of the Press (1929), and spent the 1930s playing everything from a Mexican bandit to President Lincoln. Returning to Broadway in 1938 for the musical comedy Knickerbocker Holiday, Huston, in the role of 17th century New Amsterdam governor Peter Minuit, achieved theatrical immortality with his poignant rendition of the show's top tune, "September Song," the recording of which curiously became a fixture of the Hit Parade after Huston's death in 1950. Throughout the 1940s, Huston offered a gallery of memorable screen portrayals, from the diabolical Mr. Scratch in All That Money Can Buy (1941) to George M. Cohan's father in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). Still, it was only after removing his expensive false teeth and trading his fancy duds for a dusty bindlestiff's outfit that the actor would win an Academy Award, for his portrayal of the cackling old prospector Howard in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), directed by his son. At the time of his death, Huston was preparing to take on the part of the "world's oldest counterfeiter" in Mister 880, a role ultimately played by fellow Oscar winner Edmund Gwenn.

Movie Highlights

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  • Worked as an engineer in electric light and water plants.
  • Performed with second wife Bayonne Whipple as a vaudeville act before marrying her.
  • Became known for singing "September Song" after performing it in the 1938 Broadway production of Knickerbocker Holiday.
  • For The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, became the first performer to win an acting Oscar for a film directed by his son.
  • Patriarch of first family to have three generations of Oscar winners: Walter and his son John (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and granddaughter Anjelica (Prizzi's Honor).