The Hustons: Father and Son on Sierra Madre

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Can you imagine Walter Houston playing Humphrey Bogart’s part? Well, that could have happened.

Director John Huston considered his father for the role, and author B. Traven even endorsed the idea.

The film wasn’t the first time father and son had worked together. Most notably, his father had uncredited roles in two films that he directed, The Maltese Falcon (1941) and In This Our Life (1942).

Growing up, John and Walter had a unique relationship.

John said, “I didn't see a great deal of him until I was about fifteen years old. I had merely been told by my mother that he was an actor, which meant he was away.”

After his parents got divorced, the two remained in contact via letters and occasional meetings, which no matter how infrequent, were pleasant for John.

“Since he had never played a father, he never assumed that role with me. We were more like brothers or good friends. He was a great companion; he loved great humor. I've never laughed with anyone else as much as I did with him.”

When The Treasure of Sierra Madre came up, an opportunity presented itself to work together in a deeper capacity. But as John continued to write the part of Fred C. Dobbs, he realized that the role wasn’t right.

He said, “I don't write with an actor in mind, but as I wrote it, I realized Bogart would be good for it and my father would be good as the old man.”

Thankfully, the role of the knowledgeable prospector fit his father perfectly. While the author originally concieved it for an older actor, John knew his father could handle it. His only request though was for his dad to play the part without his false teeth – just his gums.

His father also incorporated two other unique characteristics that helped the character – a maniacal laugh he did after receiving a bad theater review and a jig he learned from playwright Eugene O’Neil.

“There is an objectivity on the set that does away with any of the regular relationships that one might have with these same people off the set. The director is always the father figure on the set, so I suppose that, while the film was being made, I was my father's father figure,” John said.

Walter’s impeccable performance was not only recognized by his son but also by the Academy, and in 1949, he won his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

During his speech, he joked, “Many years ago – many, many, years ago – I raised a son and I said, ‘If you ever become a director or a writer, please find a good part for your old man. He did all right.”

John said, “I regard that film with great sentiment. And since I learned a lot about direction from seeing my father work, it was very gratifying. I learned from his actions, from his way of looking at life. My father was my closest friend, and he would have been even had he not been my father.”

Years later in 1985, John Huston would direct another family member to win an Oscar – his daughter Anjelica in Prizzi's Honor.