Posts Tagged ‘Humphrey Bogart’

Bogartiana  ©

“I am Jimmy boy to my friends,” I said nonchalantly to the Flinty Eyes, whose eyes, gimlet like were seeking chinks in my armor, as I pulled up a chair.
“So you are an out-of- work agent, well,” he said rocking his chair gently and his ripples of fat sent waves sloshed within his well tailored frame: his buttoned down Arrow shirt shuddered but held on; while his beige pants, secured with a fancy alligator skin belt around a hillock of bad fat presented a man who got what he wanted. He was well heeled to pay me for my services. That made me smile and hang there like an eager beaver. He was all for rocking himself to keep me there squirming : especially as he sank deeper into his chair and let his paunch roll to a rumble and then to a quiver. I cleared my throat to signal I am there for business. The upheaval was lost on the wearer whose thick black glasses looked deadly: as sharp as a flint.  Owl-like he swiveled his neck. His tie was a garrote,
obviously .
“ I am here for the job!” I said almost in knots. No twitch, no nervous tic on that wall of a mug who passed for the boss. He sat there beneath a framed photograph of his senior, and seemed to draw comfort from it. Having found a comfortable position he did nothing. I was in his territory. He knew it and I knew it but didn’t cramp my style. I was the professional  gun for hire. I was doing him a service for gawdsake!
From my years of experience I knew that didn’t help in all cases. I sat straight. Warily, ready to draw.
“I didn’t call for any interview,” said he now taking out his montecristo and puffed as if it would make me fade out.
“ No, you didn’t call,” I rasped,“ so I flew out of the air and just dropped in!” I murmured with a sardonic curl of my lips and I knew whenever I meant to convey some mystery,  I sounded something like a Bogart. Out- staring him I hissed, “ but I know you need a gun for hire just the same.”
“What are you, some wise guy?” he said blowing smoke as a tired whale in sharkskin suit and it only made him incongruous, coming to think of it.
“ No, I am a bit tired right now”, I said getting to my feet and taking out that squishy cigar out of his mouth. Had he been wiry as I was he would have belted across my mug. Instead he blinked and I said, “ One doesn’t smoke a cigar to hide from the real issues.”
“Well I’ll be blowed!” FE gasped, and I said just to smoothen his ruffled ego, “ A wet cigar doesn’t add to your personality.” I had to steer him right on the tack. I crooned leaning closer, “ I am a very busy man and being doled out to do the job my fuse is short on drivel.”
“Ditto!” he said with a frown.
“ My gun is for hire, savvy?”
“Doled out?” Mr. Big asked, “By whom?” FE was playing for time as I could figure it out.
“ By necessities, man,” I was on the edge,“ Do I have to spell it out what it mean? You think I would be wearing out soles of my shoes if it weren’t for that?”
Morning smog of the city had with tired feet come in through the broken down blinds and I could see silhouettes move around restless. Through the frosted glass partitioning of his space from the rest of the floor, life had found its exact rhythm and with a glance I knew it was regular jungle out there.  Steady hum of typewriters and crackle of teleprinters coming from some dead hollows warned me to go easy. It was the bewitching hour when Supply rubbed shoulders with Demand and the brokerage firms of  Sin City skimmed their percentage; it was also the time winners ran all the way to the bank while the losers beat their path to law firms looking for a loophole o something. Some even would send for the likes of me. Of course I have my professional pride. Never a hit and run job. That is my principle man. I wanted the thrill of looking in the eye of one who assigned me the job and check out for myself if the job was clean or not. In Sin city I lived by my gun but I slept all the same with a clean conscience.
The man who in his girth of all girths ran an empire, which though from what I had seen of his cubicle concealed from me its exact nature. His imperturbility was a front I knew. I could hear warning bells as he looked longingly at the butt of his cigar dying out in the corner and furtively smoothened his cuffs. He ran an evil empire all right.
I started a conversaion that he cut in and ducked when I asked. He spoke with a guilty conscience and I was not to give up.   Cosa Nostra would have been proud of him, had he spoken a word of Italian. Instead he spoke Yiddish with gilt edge. When he raised his voice it was like jagged edges of bottle raised in self-defense. In his thick glasses I read mayhem as he finally found voice. He barked,
“ You can hit the street!”
The excrescence of the humanity who ever warmed the chair before me paused chewing in all probability, the poor slobs who were fated to work for him and he took to run his pudgy hands over his tie. His tiepin was cheap, fools- gold thing beaten to represent an image of a Collie with a bandaged paw.
“ I carry a gun,” I said with a low laugh, “as ever; and I can shoot straight!” I knew that I had the reputation of being one with a deadly aim.
I was so good but these days when every goon with a hand to spare latched onto a gun or other I ought to be something more: with so many amateurs going around these days, one who shot with a song in his heart and mouthing Ginsberg with the right inflections (at the same time) was something of a rarity. I prided myself being a pro.
Between the assignments. Only trouble was that the interval, in leaps and bounds had something of a wasted decade. My gun was primed and ready to go off. But who shall take me on? Honestly now I needed the job badly that I was willing to take this blot on the landscape; the Flinty Eyes I knew could eat nails for breakfast with a couple of broken glasses on the side, (go easy on mustard, please). I knew he wasn’t much for a conversation except being offensive with his silence.  As I cased the setup I could him take him on steel for steel, nerve for nerve, I could stare him down. In fact that was what we were at for a couple of minutes till the shade of Sidney Greenstreet unwound his stare in defeat. He removed the glasses and boy! Was he a sore sight! He was cross-eyed. So he was a fake who passed for Flinty Eyes. I knew I had him where I wanted.
“Now about this assignment, how big do you think…” Slowly Cross Eye alias FE got up with every ounce of adipose at his will and pleasure; had I not been beefed up about necessities in life I could have taken time to see all those jowls doing a watusi as he ambled on. He came around where I sat and he put his suety hand with a ring with glass as big as a beetle on his pinkie to say,” No longer we put to sleep elephants with a gun…” He would have cried then and there if I made a false move. So he was a phoney don with marshmallow for a heart” Well, well I was slowly getting through. I was afraid he might start crying so I steeled myself and kept a deadpan face, “So you are sorry it had to come to this?” I quickly added,
“ When I hit I hit good and proper.”
“OK you can hit the street, mister!” The man had guts. This much I had to say. “Where does that leave my smoking gun?”
To which he said moping his promontory of a forehead with his bandanna as large as a table cover, “tranquilizer gun is out!”
“ What fortune- cookie this fatso is dishing out?” I asked myself.
“ Bring your dog next time.,” said he with a placatory tone,” don’t come yourself, for goodness sake.”
“ Why, a dog?” I hollered,” I told you my gun puts to sleep!” I knew Philip Marlow didn’t face a situation as I did then.
The boss merely stood there and punched his thumb towards the door where stood my blonde Venus. She was armed and dangerous.
The last part of it by courtesy of  a whelping lapdog and I didn’t give a damn.  My eyes could see a voluminous cushion of a woman’s bosom; above the cleavage were some millions worth of ice and a face to match. A gorgeous babe, sure. She walked in and crooning to her doggie as though the mutt was any wiser for it. She walked past me in a cloud of Bellini #3 while a sweet thing instantly appeared from somewhere and received the mutt. “ I shall fix Fifi to her old glory, mam.”Said the girl Friday. So she cleans up the butt of a mutt. What does that make the bozo? I had no answers.
The boss saw me eyeing the babe with Fifi and he didn’t like it one bit. He knew I was a mistake. And I was in the way. He came striding to lead me out.
I stood there dumb looking at the door, and my hair all stood up in horror.
My mistake stood there in 2” letters.  Having run through tight corners all my life I could now of course brace myself to it.
It said,
Expert vet jobs undertaken”
“So I have come to the wrong floor after all,” I said with a devil-may-care leer knowing the pachyderm in business suit had his eyes still crossed while I made a beeline to take the way out.
Patting the bulge under the left side of my lapel I said,  “I am still a hit man!”
I thought I heard him guffaw loud just to impress the sugar babe.
After all I had the last word as I closed the door behind me. Making a neat turn I said icily,“ I’m James Manekshaw Boyce to strangers!”

“ Mr. Batliboy will interview you now,” the voice of the secretary snapped me out of my reverie.
Mr. Phiroze B. always had in his sleeve a question to trip you up when you least expected it and had weeded out so many of my friends who never again found their feet; and he was in there and he was in for his kill.
‘This is the real thing, Jimmy boy.’
Instantly I was sober and quickly ran through the tips ‘everything-you- wanted-to-know-of-facing-an- interview’ once more in mind; clutching my CV and documents I went in with a smile not sounding too familiar and with a nod I politely announced,” Good morning, Mr. Phiroze Batliboy, My name is J. M. Boyce.”
The End

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The 1951 John Huston classic, set in Africa during WW I was based a novel by C.S. Forester that had been making the Hollywood rounds since its 1935 publication.

German troops set fire to an African village, resulting in the death of an English missionary. His straightlaced sister Rose (Katharine Hepburn), now alone, is taken aboard a riverboat, the African Queen, by its gin-soaked Canadian skipper, Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart). Allnut would love to sit out the war just drinking and smoking, but Rose convinces him otherwise; newly invigorated and desiring revenge, she persuades him to take her downriver where they will try to destroy a German U-boat using homemade torpedoes. Taking an instant, mutual dislike to one another, the two endure rough waters, the presence of German soldiers, and their own bickering to finally fall into one another’s arms. This is classic Huston material–part adventure, part quest–but this time with a pair of characters who’d all but given up on happiness. Bogart (a longtime collaborator with Huston on such classics as The Maltese Falcon and Key Largo and Hepburn have never been better, and support from frequent Huston crony Robert Morley (Beat the Devil, also featuring Bogart) adds some extra dimension and color.

How this movie ever got to be finally made or given the chemistry, bad in most cases, between Huston and his actors, one might think it a miracle that the film became a hit.


The location shoot in the African Congo turned out to be one of the most difficult, most legendary, and most recounted in Hollywood history. To start, the company arrived in Africa without a finished script. James Agee had collaborated with Huston on the screenplay, but a heart attack kept Agee from flying to Africa for the shoot and from writing the film’s ending. Instead, Peter Viertel came in as replacement.

 Imagaine what it is to shoot with a script still in development and to work with a director whose nickname was ‘the monster’. Then the crew had location problems that included sun, rain, snakes, scorpions, crocodiles, tsetse flies, hornets, huge biting black ants, and constant humidity, which created mildew everywhere. Further, the African Queen’s engine had problems, rope would get tangled in its propellers, sound from the generator would interfere with shots. One night the Queen sank, and it took three days to raise the boat and get it ready again. To top it all there also were no toilets except the outhouse back at camp.

The food was OK but the dishes were washed in infected river water, and virtually everyone in the cast and crew got sick – except for Bogart and Huston, which they attributed to the fact that they basically lived on imported Scotch. Bogart later said, “All I ate was baked beans, canned asparagus and Scotch whiskey. Whenever a fly bit Huston or me, it dropped dead.” Inspite of every difficulty posed by ego or location the film still stand out as high adventure as corroborated in Hepburn’s memoir, led by John Huston, a man with a strong but odd personality.

Hepburn and Huston

Hepburn was frustrated with Huston’s lack of interest in discussing the script – which Hepburn thought had major problems – before leaving for Africa. Finally he “ambled” up to her hut one morning and began to talk the script over with her. “We had long and amiable arguments,” wrote Hepburn. “Nothing much was done, really, and I seemed to be happy. I found that I could be quite honest with John about what I thought, and I also found that where I had good ideas he would take them. Where I was just worrying and confusing the issue, he would say, ‘Let it alone.'” One episode in particular won her over for good. The director had been dissatisfied with Hepburn’s performance, finding it too serious-minded. He came calling at her hut one day and suggested that she model her performance on Eleanor Roosevelt – to put on her “society smile” in the face of all adversity. Huston left the hut, and Hepburn sat for a moment before deciding, “that is the goddamnedest best piece of direction I have ever heard.”

For all Huston’s oddities and the pranks that he and Bogart pulled on Hepburn (such as writing dirty words in soap on her mirror), she came to respect his talent deeply.

Hepburn, Bogart, Huston and Agee went on to earn Oscar nominations, and Bogart won the Best Actor Academy Award for the first and only time in his career. “



Columbia originally bought the book as a vehicle for Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa Lanchester. When that duo instead made The Beachcomber (1938), a similar story, the deal fell through. Warner Bros. then bought it for Bette Davis and David Niven, but that deal also unraveled before the property ultimately found its way to Spiegel.

A story of two old people going up and down an African river… Who’s going to be interested in that? You’ll be bankrupt.”


So spoke British producer Alexander Korda to American producer Sam Spiegel upon learning that Spiegel wanted to film The African Queen. Korda wasn’t alone in his skepticism. “It will give John [Huston] the kind of commercial hit he had when he made The Maltese Falcon [1941],” Spiegel boasted to The New Yorker before shooting even began. But Spiegel would turn out to be right: the roughly $1.3 million gamble turned out to be not only a critical success, earning four Oscar nominations, but a huge commercial hit, pulling in $4.3 million in its first release.

Sam Spiegel knew his man: John Huston seemed to thrive on misery of his stars. Simply deciding to shoot in the Congo was one way of torturing everybody. Another example was the scene in which Bogart finds his body entirely covered with leeches (This was actually shot in the studio in London). Bogart insisted on using rubber leeches. Huston refused, and brought a leech-breeder to the studio with a tank full of them. This made Bogart queasy and nervous – qualities Huston wanted for his close-ups. Ultimately, rubber leeches were placed on Bogart, and a close-up of a real leech was shot on the breeder’s chest. Hepburn observed these kinds of incidents, and later wrote of Huston, “I never did see him go to the outhouse. Maybe he never did. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit. Would explain a great deal.”

Additional notes: Peter Viertel later related his run-ins with Huston in his novel White Hunter, Black Heart, a thinly disguised expose of the making of The African Queen and its director who would rather hunt elephants than shoot film. (Clint Eastwood directed a film version of that book in 1990, playing the Huston character himself.) Hepburn’s entertaining 1987 book The Making of the African Queen also details Huston’s obsession with hunting. One day he even convinced Hepburn to join him, and he inadvertently led her into the middle of a herd of wild animals from which they were lucky to escape alive.

 (Ack:–Tom Keogh,Jeremy Arnold)





Producer: Sam Spiegel, John Woolf

Director: John Huston

Screenplay: James Agee, John Huston, Peter Viertel, C.S. Forester (novel)

Cinematography: Jack Cardiff

Film Editing: Ralph Kemplen

Art Direction: Wilfred Shingleton

Music: Allan Gray

Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Charlie Allnut), Katharine Hepburn (Rose Sayer), Robert Morley (Rev. Samuel Sayer), Peter Bull (Captain of Louisa), Theodore Bikel (First Officer), Walter Gotell (Second Officer).

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Actress Ilka Chase (1900-1978) was exceptionally gifted and highly articulate. She had a number of books to her credit and one day she ran across the formidable Humphrey Bogart at a cocktail party and he rasped,”Say baby, that book of yours that just came out- that was a smart job. Who wrote it for you?”
“I wrote it,”she replied,”who read it to you?”
(selected from Con and Maurice Cowan-Pub: Leslie Frewin)
when Colette(1873-1954)the delightfully uninhibited French author was being interviewed by a newspaperman she suggested that he see her life which was made into a film and was currently showing with the words, ”Go and see what wonderful life I’ve had.”
Then she paused and added with a sigh,”I only wish I’d realized it sooner.”
Ernestine Schumann-Heink( 1885-1952)a famous opera singer in her heyday was once performing and while the cellist began playing a baby in the front row began crying. The artiste immediately stopped till its mother took the crying baby out of the hall. Soon after it was the turn of another and the mother would have followed suit but the singer stopped the cellist to stop. She went to the edge of the podium and asked the mother to remain seated. She said “You know I’ve had seven children of my own.” She said much to the delight of the listeners that she would sing a lullaby. After the applause died down she crooned a favourite German lullaby leaving the child as well as everybody else there entranced.
A cloak-room attendant on seeing Mae West’s( 1892-1980) jewels gushed,”Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!”To which Miss West retorted,”Goodness dearie, has nothing to do with it.”

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