With the writers’ strike hopefully at close-to-resolution point in the US, we’ll still be showing solidarity by focusing on screenwriters in the Unsung Auteurs column. When it comes to film directors, few have the cache and larger than life mythic status of the late John Huston. Named a “lusty, hard-drinking libertine” by writer Peter Flint in The New York Times, Huston’s list of films (The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, The African Queen, The Misfits, Fat City) would be enough to qualify the man for legend status, but when you add in his off-screen activities (an early boxing career; WW2 service in the military; a talent for painting and acting; a variety of wives; a compulsion to shoot elephants in Africa; loud protest at the persecution of left-leaners in 1950s Hollywood), this writer/director towers with even greater imposition.
Wedged in amongst the John Huston legend are a number of support players (regular star Humphrey Bogart; daughter Anjelica Huston; ersatz biographer Peter Viertel; and more), and one of the least discussed but most potentially interesting is late screenwriter and actress Gladys Hill, who remains enshrouded in mystery but played a major role in Huston’s later career. Born in 1916, Hill began her Hollywood career in 1946 as a dialogue director on Orson Welles’ The Stranger, which led to a similar behind-the-scenes role on John Huston’s 1949 political drama We Were Strangers starring John Garfield and Jennifer Jones.
Obviously taken with Gladys Hill, John Huston employed the screenwriter as his assistant and associate from 1962 on his biographical drama Freud, which starred Montgomery Clift as the pioneering psychiatrist. Hill remained essential to Huston’s creative process right up until her death in 1981, serving as assistant/associate on fascinating mid-and-late career works like The Night Of The Iguana (1964), Fat City (1972), The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean (1972) and even the somewhat baffling Annie (1982). Huston penned many of the screenplays to his films, and it is safe to presume that as a dialogue director, Hill assisted the filmmaker with his work, and likely played a major role in shaping the movies that Huston made.
On several notable occasions, however, Gladys Hill’s involvement was so significant that she received on-screen credits for her writing work with Huston. Hill was co-credited with Scottish novelist Chapman Mortimer for the screenplay for Huston’s superb 1967 adaptation of Carson McCullers’ Reflections In A Golden Eye. Huston’s weirdest, wildest and most cruelly under-celebrated film, this is a tripped out, fevered Southern Gothic melodrama populated with unusual characters and punctuated with moments of arch and often crazed invention. The film tracks the bizarre personal interactions that unfold on a Southern army base, and features stunning work from Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Brian Keith and Robert Forster. Funny in a truly twisted way, and filled with all manner of quietly explosive moments (Taylor horse-whipping Brando – in retaliation for him thrashing her prized stallion in a moment of sad, misplaced anger – in front of a group of gussied up dinner party guests has to be seen to be believed), Reflections In A Golden Eye is a work of demented, hothouse brilliance.
Gladys Hill also worked on the snaking, labyrinthine screenplays for Huston’s espionage thrillers The Kremlin Letter (a savvy piece of 1970 Cold War paranoia) and The MacKintosh Man (a tight 1973 edge-of-the-seater starring Paul Newman), but her greatest contribution to the John Huston canon came with her substantiative work co-writing with the director on his 1975 masterpiece The Man Who Would Be King, with the pair expertly adapting Rudyard Kipling’s novel for the screen. Packed with high adventure, apocalyptic violence, stunning set-pieces and brilliantly elucidated characters, this breathtaking film stars Sean Connery and Michael Caine (in an utter masterstroke of casting) as enterprising former British soldiers in 1880s India who travel far to establish themselves as interloper kings in the land of Kafiristan, where no white man has ventured for centuries. A transcendent meld of old-school storytelling and 1970s-era social commentary, The Man Who Would Be King rivals just about anything in the Huston oeuvre, and Gladys Hill’s involvement makes her an instantly compelling figure.
Though something of a mysterious figure, both Gladys Hill’s own considerable gifts, and her huge contribution to the John Huston legacy, are unquestionable.
If you liked this story, check out our features on other unsung auteurs Walon Green, Eleanor Bergstein, William W. Norton, Helen Childress, Bill Lancaster, Lucinda Coxon, Ernest Tidyman, Shauna Cross, Troy Kennedy Martin, Kelly Marcel, Alan Sharp, Leslie Dixon, Jeremy Podeswa, Ferd & Beverly Sebastian, Anthony Page, Julie Gavras, Ted Post, Sarah Jacobson, Anton Corbijn, Gillian Robespierre, Brandon Cronenberg, Laszlo Nemes, Ayelat Menahemi, Ivan Tors, Amanda King & Fabio Cavadini, Cathy Henkel, Colin Higgins, Paul McGuigan, Rose Bosch, Dan Gilroy, Tanya Wexler, Clio Barnard, Robert Aldrich, Maya Forbes, Steven Kastrissios, Talya Lavie, Michael Rowe, Rebecca Cremona, Stephen Hopkins, Tony Bill, Sarah Gavron, Martin Davidson, Fran Rubel Kuzui, Elliot Silverstein, Liz Garbus, Victor Fleming, Barbara Peeters, Robert Benton, Lynn Shelton, Tom Gries, Randa Haines, Leslie H. Martinson, Nancy Kelly, Paul Newman, Brett Haley, Lynne Ramsay, Vernon Zimmerman, Lisa Cholodenko, Robert Greenwald, Phyllida Lloyd, Milton Katselas, Karyn Kusama, Seijun Suzuki, Albert Pyun, Cherie Nowlan, Steve Binder, Jack Cardiff, Anne Fletcher ,Bobcat Goldthwait, Donna Deitch, Frank Pierson, Ann Turner, Jerry Schatzberg, Antonia Bird, Jack Smight, Marielle Heller, James Glickenhaus, Euzhan Palcy, Bill L. Norton, Larysa Kondracki, Mel Stuart, Nanette Burstein, George Armitage, Mary Lambert, James Foley, Lewis John Carlino, Debra Granik, Taylor Sheridan, Laurie Collyer, Jay Roach, Barbara Kopple, John D. Hancock, Sara Colangelo, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Joyce Chopra, Mike Newell, Gina Prince-Bythewood, John Lee Hancock, Allison Anders, Daniel Petrie Sr., Katt Shea, Frank Perry, Amy Holden Jones, Stuart Rosenberg, Penelope Spheeris, Charles B. Pierce, Tamra Davis, Norman Taurog, Jennifer Lee, Paul Wendkos, Marisa Silver, John Mackenzie, Ida Lupino, John V. Soto, Martha Coolidge, Peter Hyams, Tim Hunter, Stephanie Rothman, Betty Thomas, John Flynn, Lizzie Borden, Lionel Jeffries, Lexi Alexander, Alkinos Tsilimidos, Stewart Raffill, Lamont Johnson, Maggie Greenwald and Tamara Jenkins.