John Huston – American Film Institute

John Huston

11th AFI Life Achievement Award Honoree

John Huston

John Huston has stamped his colorful personality on a rich and adventurous variety of films as director, writer and actor. The description of Humphrey Bogart by Sydney Greenstreet in THE MALTESE FALCON applies equally well to Huston: “By Gad, sir, you are a character. There’s never any telling what you’ll say or do next, except that it’s bound to be something astonishing!”

A vital force in the film industry for more than fifty years, Huston is a master storyteller with a restless creative temperament. He has made some of the screen’s greatest adventure films (THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, THE AFRICAN QUEEN, THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING), one of the finest documentaries to emerge from World War II (SAN PIETRO), sophisticated adaptations of great American novels (THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE, MOBY-DICK), and a host of other films too diverse to categorize but all united by his wryly fatalistic vision.

Beginning his career as a screenwriter, Huston made a spectacular directing debut in 1941 with the classic detective movie THE MALTESE FALCON. His collaboration with Humphrey Bogart on eight films defined Bogart’s screen image and gave the actor some of his most memorably varied roles.

Many other stars have achieved career highlights through Huston’s offbeat casting and his shrewd assessment of character: among them, his father Walter Huston in THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, Katharine Hepburn in THE AFRICAN QUEEN, Sterling Hayden in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe in THE MISFITS, and Sean Connery and Michael Caine in THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING.

Huston has also had fruitful collaborations with some of the finest contemporary writers, including W.R. Burnett, James Agee, Truman Capote, Ray Bradbury, Arthur Miller, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Tennessee Williams. His lifelong interest in painting is reflected in the bold visual style of these films and his striking experiments with color in such films as MOULIN ROUGE, MOBY-DICK, and REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE.

A romantic, a maverick, a moralist who cloaks his fables as entertainment, Huston is one of the grand individualists of American films. Because of their unconventionality, not all of his best films were immediately successful, but new audiences continue to delight in the vitality of John Huston’s work, which, like its creator, has triumphantly weathered the test of time.




The AFI Life Achievement Award — the highest honor for a career in film — was established by the AFI Board of Trustees on February 23, 1973 to celebrate an individual whose career in motion pictures or television has greatly contributed to the enrichment of American culture.

The award is given to a “recipient whose talent has in a fundamental way advanced the film art; whose accomplishment has been acknowledged by scholars, critics, professional peers and the general public; and whose work has stood the test of time.”

In 1993, the AFI Board of Trustees extended the criteria to encompass individuals with active careers and work of significance yet to be accomplished.