Film Director, John Huston

It’s Not Poker Unless Someone Gets Hurt

Tom Zimberoff
8 min readMay 29, 2024


©1981 Tom Zimberoff / All Rights Reserved

J ohn Huston’s face was etched like a street map of Hollywood. His baritone voice took the long way around vowels and lingered on each consonant. His stride leaned into an imaginary headwind with his arms swung in pendulous arcs, giving him a simian gait. And despite the occasional support of a wheelchair or an intermittent whiff of oxygen (no more cigars), it was immediately clear to anyone in this man’s presence that he remained a robust force of nature, a man to be reckoned with like the characters in some of the movies he directed as a younger man: The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Asphalt Jungle, The African Queen, The Misfits, Fat City, Moby Dick, and The Man Who Would Be King.

He looks cross in his portrait but, no, it is his poker face. And that’s what I was after. I’d seen him wear it playing cards. Even though I captured a happier Huston during our shoot, this version is my favorite. Rolling Stone published it with his obituary in 1987.

Six years earlier, my agent, Eliane Laffont at Sygma Photos, handed me a plum assignment: shooting stills for a Huston film on location in Budapest, Hungary, called Victory, starring Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max von Sydow, and soccer legend Pelé. I had full access on the set, along with another Sygma…