Walter Thomas Huston was an American actor born in Canada who was equally successful on stage and screen. He began his career as an engineer and made his acting debut while still in his teens, but marriage and family compelled him to give up acting and take a job at one of America’s power plants. He entered the second inning after losing his job and earned a living performing vaudeville for more than ten years. It was not until the mid-1920s that he gained a foothold on Broadway, and once he did, Hollywood was not far behind. His first film was released in 1929, but it was the following year’s ‘Abraham Lincoln’ that established him as one of the era’s leading actors. In a career spanning nearly two decades, he appeared in approximately fifty films, earning numerous Academy nominations and awards, most notably for his performance in his son John’s film ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.’ He did not, however, abandon the stage entirely. Critics lauded his performances in ‘Dodsworth’ and ‘Knickerbocker Holiday.’
Childhood & Adolescence
Walter Thomas Huston (originally Houghston) was born in Toronto on April 5, 1883 to Robert Moore and Elizabeth (née McGibbon) Houghston. Initially, the family farmed near Orangeville, Ontario, in Dufferin County. They relocated to Toronto shortly before his birth, where his father established a construction company.
Walter was the youngest of three children. He had one brother and two sisters. Margaret Carrington, one of the sisters, later achieved fame as a theatrical voice coach. Walter attended Winchester Street Public School in Toronto. Later in life, he studied engineering while working on his father’s farm. He attended the ‘Shaw School of Acting’ in his spare time.
In 1902, Huston made his acting debut in Toronto. He then toured the country with various companies, portraying significant roles in plays such as ‘In Convict Stripes,’ ‘Julius Caesar,’ and ‘The Sign of the Cross.’ Simultaneously, he developed an interest in vaudeville.
Regrettably, he was forced to retire from acting following his marriage in 1904. His acting career did not provide him with a consistent income, and he struggled to support his family on it. As a result, he relocated to the United States and began working as a manager in power plants – first in Nevada and then in Missouri.
Huston lost his job in 1909 after the design of the power station on which he was working in Missouri was found to be defective; the station came dangerously close to drowning a town. He then returned to the stage.
Career of Walter Huston
Huston began performing vaudeville with actress Bayonne Whipple at some point. They were quickly billed as Whipple and Huston. The act remained their primary source of income well into the 1920s.
Huston made his Broadway debut with ‘Mr. Pitt’ on January 22, 1924. He portrayed Marshal Pitt. The show, which ran from February to April, was moderately successful; however, it aided Huston in establishing a foothold.
Huston joined Provincetown Players later that year and was cast as Ephraim Cabot in ‘Desire Under the Elms’. It began as an off-Broadway production at the Greenwich Village Theatre. The production was such a smash hit that it was quickly transferred to Broadway, where it ran for eleven months.
Huston, now a household name, began playing the lead roles in a number of plays, including ‘Kongo,’ ‘The Barker,’ and ‘Elmer the Great.’
With the advent of talkies, he relocated to Hollywood and made his film debut in May 1929 as Wickland Snell in ‘Gentleman of the Press.’
He also appeared in 1929 in ‘The Lady Lies’ as Robert Rossiter and as a cattle rustler in ‘The Virginian’. His second film received rave reviews from critics, and he quickly established himself as a respected actor. It was followed in 1930 by ‘The Virtuous Sin’ and ‘The Bad Man’.
Ultimately, it was 1930’s ‘Abraham Lincoln’ that established him as a major Hollywood player. As the protagonist Abraham Lincoln, he delivered an energizing performance that many critics have dubbed ‘one of the year’s ten best.
From this point on, Huston focused exclusively on film, with notable exceptions being ‘Rain’ (1932) and ‘Gabriel Over the White House’ (1933). He did not, however, completely abandon the stage.
In 1934, he returned to Broadway to play Sam Dodsworth in the stage adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’s satirical novel ‘Dodsworth.’ Huston reprised the role two years later in the film adaptation of the same book, for which he received his first Academy nomination.
Another of his popular Broadway productions during this era was ‘Knickerbocker Holiday.’ The musical premiered on October 19, 1938, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and closed on March 11, 1939, after 168 performances.
He appeared in this show as aging dictator Peter Stuyvesant and insisted on having at least one solo song if he was going to play the role. As a result, ‘September Song’ was written to complement his gruff voice and limited vocal range. The song later became extremely popular, particularly following his death.
By this time, his son John Huston had established himself in Hollywood as a screenwriter. In 1941, he directed his first film, ‘The Maltese Falcon,’ in which Walter starred as Captain Jacobi. It is the first of numerous projects on which father and son collaborated.
‘The Devil and Daniel Webster,’ another of his significant works, was also released in 1941. It is an adaptation of the short story of the same name by Stephen Vincent Benét. Later in the year, the title was changed to ‘All That Money Can Buy’ to avoid confusion with another film released that year.
His next significant film, ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy,’ was released in 1942. The musical adaptation of George M. Cohan’s life, directed by Michael Curtiz, was a box office smash. Curtiz was so taken with Huston’s work that he cast him as Ambassador Joseph E. Davies in 1943’s ‘Mission to Moscow.’
Huston then directed a number of films, including ‘The North Star’ (1943), ‘December 7th’ (1943), ‘Dragon Seed’ (1944), ‘And Then There Were None’ (1945), ‘Dragonwyck’ (1946), ‘Duel in the Sun’ (1946), ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ (1948), ‘Summer Holiday’ (1948), ‘The Great Sinner’ (1949), and ‘The (1950).
Significant Works of Walter Huston
While Huston directed over fifty films, his son John’s 1948 film ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ is probably his best. It was one of the first Hollywood films to be shot entirely outside of the United States, specifically in Mexico.
Walter appeared in this film as Howard, a supporting character. He was hesitant to take it on because he was still enacting lead roles. However, he later agreed and did not wear his dentures at his son’s request.
Awards and Accomplishments
Walter Huston was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in 1949 for his performance in ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ (1948). Additionally, he had previously been nominated for three Academy Awards, for his roles in ‘Dodsworth’ (1937), ‘All That Money Can Buy’ (1942), and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1943). (1943).
Additionally, he won the ‘Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture’, the ‘National Board of Review Award for Best Actor’, and the ‘New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor’ (2nd place) for his performance in ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’.
Huston was also nominated for a New York Critics Circle Award for Best Actor in 1937 for his performance in ‘Dodsworth’.
Huston received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, at 6624 Hollywood Blvd. Additionally, he is an inductee into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
Personal History and Legacies
Walter Huston married Rhea Gore in 1904, who worked as a sports editor for a variety of publications. She renounced her career after the birth of their only child, writer and director John Huston, in 1906. By 1909, the marriage had begun to deteriorate, and the couple divorced in 1912.
In 1915, Huston married Bayonne Whipple, an older vaudeville partner. By the early 1920s, the marriage had fallen apart, and they divorced in 1924.
In 1931, Huston married Ninetta (Nan) Sunderland. The couple remained married until April 1950, when he died.
Huston died on April 7, 1950, of an aortic aneurysm, a condition caused by the aorta enlarging (the main artery in human body). His mortal remains were cremated and his ashes were interred at Fresno, California’s Belmont Memorial Park.
Estimated Net Worth
Walter is one of the wealthiest film actors and is ranked among the most popular film actors. Walter Huston’s net worth is estimated to be around $1.5 million, based on our analysis of Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.
Humphrey Bogart, who played the lead role in ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,’ observed the depth of Walter Huston’s performance. “One Huston is heinous enough, but two is heinous.”
Walter Huston had stated, while accepting his Academy Award for his role in ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,’ “I raised a boy many years ago… many, many years ago, and I told him, ‘Son, if you ever become a writer, try to write a good part for your old man sometime.’ That is precisely what he did!”