Duke Mantee, Fred C. Dobbs, Charlie Allnut, Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Harry Morgan, Rick Blane, Roy Earle, Frank McCloud, Lt. Cmdr Philip Francis Queeg, Linus Larrabee…
Humphrey DeForest Bogart was all these men and more. His life and career went through three marriages, survival from playing two-bit thugs, and an almost career long battle with Jack Warner. “Bogie” survived his second marriage to Mayo ‘Sluggy’ Methot, who literally stabbed him in the back, and more importantly survived his ill-advised trip to Washington to stand up to the Un-American committee. During a time of cold war paranoia and a “better dead than red” mentality that spawned a communist witch hunt in Hollywood, Bogie managed to keep one step ahead of the hunters, but he never recovered from the stress and strain of “losing face” that he had to resort to.
What Bogie could not survive was oesophageal cancer, despite a two surgeries and a valiant fight by the man who immortalized the gangster with a heart. When Bogart died he left the most beautiful woman in Hollywood a widow with their two young children in a state of mourning. Stephen Bogart was lucky, he got to spend some time with his famous papa, Leslie was just 4 when Bogie died so her memories were non-existent.
A M Sperber spent 9 years collating all the material that went into the book Bogart. When she died in 1994, the publishers had boxes of material on Bogie, but no one to put it all together. Eric Lax(what an ironic name, the same last name as the initials of the LA international airport) took over and managed to put all the collected material together in a cohesive manner.
This book tells a lot of things about Bogart, his childhood, his parents, and his start in the business. From a juvenile actor on Broadway to more leading character driven parts that lead to his working with English actor Leslie Howard on The Petrified Forest as Duke Mantee. Playing Mantee made Bogart and it was due to Leslie Howard’s insistence that Bogart reprise his Broadway performance in the film with Howard that ensured Bogie got his “proper” start in Hollywood.
I have read quite a few biographies about Bogie and this one is quite easily the most complete. The authors manage to make us privy to his private life without being overly intrusive or sensational. The book goes to great length to show the disparities of Bogies personality and his inner demons that made themselves apparent all too often.
It is interesting that I managed to pick up both this wonderful book about Bogart and another wonderful book about Cagney. Both actors were childhood heroes. Like many other men my age, when I was younger I would walk around lisping, “Play it again, Sam,” as Rick in Casablanca or snarl menacingly as Cagney, “You dirty rat.” Neither of which either actor really said in a film, but impressionists used both of these lines to great effect.
Both men started playing gangsters and both men moved to the top of their profession. Completely different backgrounds, Bogie born with silver spoon in his mouth and Cagney born into abject poverty. Cagney of course was an expert song and dance man and Bogie was a consummate actor.
It is also interesting that both books left you in a different state of mind after reading them. Cagney’s book left one feeling good and full of kind thoughts.
Bogart left one feeling sad and not a little depressed. Such a horrible end for one of life’s more interesting characters who was such a wonderful actor.
As an actor Bogie played roles that were unforgettable, whether he was the “loner” Rick Blane forcing his true love to go with her duty instead of her heart, or whether he was the “mad” Lt Cmdr Queeg incessantly playing with his two ball bearings, Bogie brought a truth to them all. He was another of the “remember your lines and don’t bump into the furniture” type actor, like Cagney or the unique talent that was Spencer Tracey.
Bogart was a living contradiction. He got his start playing two-bit thugs on-screen and this continued after his break-out role of Duke Mantee. Yet he was an educated man from good stock. He was so politically active he wound up on the FBI’s list before his involvement in speaking out against the unfairness of the Un-American committee. He was at turns, a tough guy and sentimental slob.
Bogies story has been told with tact, humour and sensitivity. He was a perfect example of someone who “paid” for his success in terms that most of us would find too painful to accept.
This book was a wonderful telling of Bogart’s story and the people in his life that he worked with and lived with; a 5 star book about a 5 star actor and man.