There was a shrine in my mother's bedroom when I was growing up. The built-in wardrobe had a mirror on the interior of both doors and a bureau inside, higher than I was, with an array of perfume bottles and small objects on the surface and a wall of burlap stretched above it. Pinned to the burlap was a collage of things she'd collected: pictures that she'd torn out of magazines, poems, pomander balls, a fox's tail tied with a red ribbon, a brooch I'd bought her from Woolworth's that spelled "mother" in malachite, a photograph of Siobhán McKenna as St. Joan. Standing between the glass doors, I loved to look at her possessions, the mirrors reflecting me into infinity.
I was a lonely child. My brother Tony and I were never very close, neither as children nor as adults, but I was tightly bound to him. We were forced to be together because we were on our own. Although I knew he loved me, I always felt that Tony had it in for me, a bit, and that, a year older than I, he was always having to fight for what he had. We were in the middle of the Irish countryside, in County Galway, in the west of Ireland, and we didn't see many other kids. We were tutored, and my life was mostly fantasy — wishing that I were Catholic so that I could have a Holy Communion, and wearing my mother's tutus on the front lawn, hoping a husband would come along so that I might marry him.
I also spent quite a lot of time in front of the bathroom mirror. Nearby there was a stack of books. My favorites were The Death of Manolete and the cartoons of Charles Addams. I would pretend to be Morticia Addams. I was drawn to her. I used to pull my eyes back and see how I'd look with slanted eyelids. I liked Sophia Loren a lot. I'd seen pictures of her, and she was my ideal of female beauty at the time. Then I would pore over the photographs of the great bullfighter Manolete, dressed in his suit of lights, praying to the Madonna for her protection, taking the cape under his arm, preparing to enter the bullring. The solemnity, the ritual of the occasion, was tangible in the pictures. Then the terrible aftermath — Manolete gored in the groin, the blood black on the sand. It mystified me that even though he obviously had won the fight, there were also photographs illustrating the subsequent slaughter of the bull. I felt it was a gross injustice, and my heart wept for both the bull and Manolete.
I found that I could make myself cry, very easily. Tony began to question whether I wasn't using this ability to my advantage. I think he had a point. But for me, it was always about feeling. People often think that looking in the mirror is about narcissism. Children look at their reflection to see who they are. And they want to see what they can do with it, how plastic they can be, if they can touch their nose with their tongue, or what it looks like when they cross their eyes. There are a lot of things to do in the mirror apart from just feasting on a sense of one's physical beauty.
I was born at 6:29 P.M. on July 8, 1951, at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, in Los Angeles. At eight pounds, thirteen ounces, I was a big, healthy baby. The news of my arrival was cabled promptly to the post office in the township of Butiaba in western Uganda. Two days later, a barefoot runner bearing a telegram finally arrived at Murchison Falls, a waterfall on the Nile, deep in the heart of the Belgian Congo, where The African Queen was being filmed.
My father, John Marcellus Huston, was a director renowned for his adventurous style and audacious nature. Even though it was considered foolhardy, he had persuaded not only Katharine Hepburn, an actress in her prime, but also Humphrey Bogart, who brought along his famously beautiful wife, the movie star Lauren Bacall, to share the hazardous journey. My mother, heavily pregnant, had stayed behind in Los Angeles with my one-year-old brother, Tony.
When the messenger handed the telegram to my father, he glanced at it, then put it in his pocket. Katie Hepburn exclaimed, "For God's sakes, John, what does it say?" and Dad replied, "It's a girl. Her name is Anjelica."
Excerpted from A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York, by Anjelica Huston. Copyright (c) 2013 by Anjelica Huston. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.