Picks and Pans Review: Dangerous Friends: at Large with Huston and Hemingway in the Fifties

updated 09/14/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/14/1992 01:00AM

by Peter Viertel

When Viertel, a young novelist and screenwriter, first teamed with John Huston in 1948, he asked the director why he had left the studios to become partners with producer Sam Spiegel, a bean counter with whom the profligate Huston had zip in common. Houston replied, "Because it was the wrong thing to do, kid."

The wrong thing is what Viertel seems to feel all real men will do on occasion, for both right and wrong reasons. In this addictive memoir of his friendships during the late '40s and '50s with such compelling figures as Huston, Ernest Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart, Irwin Shaw, bullfighter Luis Dominguín and Orson Welles, Viertel reveals both the invigorating and corrosive effects of money; talent, drink and women.

Viertel, best known for White Hunter, Black Heart, his 1953 roman à clef about Huston's obsessive quest to kill an elephant while on location shooting The African Queen, has plenty of juicy stories to tell and tells them well. These include Huston's coming downstairs one Christmas morning sporting a massive shiner, having been bested by his wife, Ricki, in a slugfest the night before; a boozy Hemingway making a bizarrely pathetic pass at Nancy "Slim" Hawks Hayward by dropping trou in front of her just before dinner (she asked him to please get dressed): and Viertel's own desertion of his first wife, Jigee, when she was pregnant with their only child, in favor of a soignée French model. (Viertel has been married since 1960 to movie star Deborah Kerr.)

Living well may indeed be the best revenge, but what comes through here is that it is often exacted upon neglected or mistreated wives and children. Friends both entertains and saddens as it glimpses Viertel's famous pals at work and play. (Doubleday, $24.50)

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