Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Humphrey Bogart by Darwin Porter

Darwin Porter. Humphrey Bogart: The Making of a Legend. (Staten Island, N.Y.): Blood Moon Productions, Ltd., 2010.

Researching diaries and interviews, the author has fashioned a biography of actor Humphrey Bogart. This book relies heavily on stories and speculations on people’s sex lives.

Bogart was born in 1899 to morphine addicted parents. Among his earlier jobs included working as a nude model for an art class. He acted in a Navy theater where he befriended James Cagney. Bogart portrayed a showfaly in drag in an all male Navy cast.

Bogart won a job directing a movie. His miscalculation of a car driving into a wall scene led to two people being hospitalized. Bogart was fired.

Bogart became a screenwriter for the movie “Blood and Death”. He showed the script, hesitantly since he’d been fired, and learned the script was accepted. The script though was literally thrown out by a producer. Bogart, though, was hired as a stage manager for a touring company. A set change mistake caused a wall to fall on an actor, Helen Meneken, who was unhurt. Meneken was irate. Yet, they later dated. Meneken also was dating Tallulah Bankhead.

Cagney’s acting career faced early difficulties. He went a year without getting any roles. He finally got a part in the movie “Meet the Wife”. Bogart was engaged to Meneken when he cheated on her with Louise Brooks. Bogart and Meneken wed.

Bogart tried to emulate Rudolph Valentino while acting. He did this even though their physical appearances were very different.

Bogart performed on Broadway with Fanny Arbuckle. Earlier Arbuckle had been acquitted on charges of raping and killing Virginia Rappe. A prevalent rumor was that Arbuckle had sexually inserted a milk bottle into Rappe and that broken glass tore her bladder, leading to her death. Bogart sent an empty bottle to Arbuckle. Arbuckle never spoke to Bogart except when on stage.

Bogart became upset with Meneken’s continuing relationship with Bankhead. Boart and Meneken fought physically. They divorced.

Mary Phillips was Bogart’s second wife. Bogart received a role in a movie with then movie sensation Charles Farrell. Farrell told Bogart he spoke effeminately. They fought, with Farrell burning Bogart’s hand with a cigar.

Bogart received his first major film role in A Devil With Women”. Bogart later worked with Spencer Tracy. He discovered Tracy drank heavily enough to have problems during shoots.

The book claims Louis B. Mayer had frequent sexual relations with actresses, in particular Joan Crawford. It also states the “casting couch” stories were true, claiming Bette Davis had to audition with 15 men taking turns kissing her in a romantic scene, with only Gilbert Roland being sensitive to her shock but explaining this was a rite of passage. Bette Davis later confided to Bogart she was a virgin and had never seen a naked man. Bogart arranged for a baby diaper change scene for Davis and hired a baby with a large sized penis to embarrass Davis. Davis conducted the scene fine, although she did look embarrassed.

Dr. Harry Martin was famous for being the person actors went to for treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Studios hired him to a “technical advisor” on shots.

When Bogart worked for Fox, he received $750 a week circa 1930.

When Winfield Sheehan headed Fox Studios, he conducted a study of their films. It was concluded that many leading men were effeminate. As this was during the time of morality insisted upon by the Hays Commission, Sheehan concluded that Fox would be more profitable making family oriented films. Sheehan also believed Bogart acted effeminate in his roles. Sheehan saw Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and John Wayne as the future.

Jack Warner was not happy with Bogart in the movie “Two Against the World”. Yet, since Bogart was under contract, he cast Bogart in “Bullets or Ballots”, but with fourth billing. Bogart again received fourth billing in “China Clipper”. Bogart had third billing under Ross Alexander, who was then being heavily promoted for stardom by Warner Brothers. Alexander, it is claimed, was a homosexual lover of influential directors and actors. His marriage ended tragically when his wife Aleta Friele commited suicide. Alexander was later blackmailed for $10,000 by a gay lover. Not having the money to pay the blackmail, the studio paid the blackmail and deducted it from his salary. In 1937, Alexander killed himself with the same pistol his wife had used to kill herself. To replace Alexander as their next rising star, Warner Brothers several weeks later signed Ronald Reagan to a seven year contract.

Bogart starred in a succession of Warner Brothers films from the mid-1930s through the late 1940s. Bogart formed his own production company, Santana, yet many of those films were released through Warner Brothers with some others released through Columbia Studios. Bogart notes “I went from one film to another so fast, I forgot what character I was playing. I figured the best way to deal with that was to play Humphrey Bogart, meaning play myself.” Bogart played tough guy parts yet reportedly softened his imaged with a hobby of painting flower designs onto tea cups.

Bogart filmed a movie “Isle of Fury” that was so bad, Bogart later refused to admit he was in it. The director, Frank McDonald. Commented to Bogart “Let’s face it. Both you and me are hacks turning out shit.” Bogart responded “Don’t say that word around me. Why say shit when crap will do?” Jack Warner agreed and the movie was held for release for four years. Evelyn Keys said of director McDonald, “I’ve never seen anyone as terrified of directing as Frank McDonald. “ McDonald, though, directed over 100 movies, many of which were Republic Westerns.

Bogart’s career was elevated in 1937 when “Black Legion” a successful A level movie he was in was released. Jack Warner, though, continued to be disappointed in Bogart. The Ku Klux Klan sued Warner Brothers for copyright infringement for using their symbol in the movie. They lost the suit.

Jane Bryan dated Ronald Reagan. Reagan left her for Jane Wyman. Bryan and her ultimate husband, Justin Dart, remained friends with Reagan. Dart made a fortune selling prescription whiskey during Prohibition and had continued success with Rexall drugs. Dart would help Reagan get elected Governor and then President.

Bogart appeared in the movie “Dead End” with A list director William Wyler. Wyler was known for demanding retakes and script changes. Wyler fought with Samuel Goldwyn. Once when spotting Goldwyn arriving on his set, Wyler announced “here he comes clanking balls he doesn’t have.”

Bogart appeared in the movie “Saving Your Land”. It made less than $25,000 and was removed from theaters after two days. Still Warner increased Bogart’s weekly salary to $1,100.

Bogart appeared in “Crime School” with the Dead End Kids. The Dead End Kids were more popular and received billing over Bogart.

Actor Ward Bond once made a drunken pact with Bogart that each would die before becoming 60 years old. As it turned out, Bond died at 57 and Bogart at 58.

Bogart starred with Gloria Dickson in “Racket Busters”, based on Thomas Dewey’s prosecution of gangsters. Dickson would perform in “Crime Doctor’s Strangest Case” about death by a cigarette starting a fire. Ironically, Dickson died in that manner.

In “Racket Busters”, Bogart had to throw sulfuric acid onto a passing truck to create smoke. Bogart fell and the acid burned his clothes. Fortunately, he was not physically harmed. Shooting continued that same day, with Bogart instead throwing dry ice.

Barbara Stanwyck was the highest paid female movie actor during the World War II period. Bogart received top billing over the 1947 movie
The Two Mrs. Carrolls”.

Kay Francis was the highest paid female movie star in the late 1930s. She appeared in a number of movies that were financial failures. Her husband left her to return to Germany because he wanted to support Hitler. Francis later did low budget films for Monogram.

George Raft’s line at the end of “The Roaring Twenties” of “He used to be a big shot” was added as something to say during fade out. It would later be recognized by the American Film Institute as the most famous gangster movie line.

James Cagney eared $368,333 one year. This was one of the highest salaries in all of wartime USA.

John Leech, who a previous court dubbed a liar, accused Humphrey Bogart of being a member of the Communist Party. Leech testified to this before a Congressional committee. Bogart denied this. The Congressional committee later determined there was no evidence that Bogart was a communist.

George Raft turned down appearing in a movie to be title “Manpower”. A year later, Raft agreed to appear in “Danger Zone” without realizing it was the same script as “Manpower”.

In 1941, Warner Brothers was preparing a film “Aloha Means Goodbye”. The plot involved a Japanese plan to bomb Hawaii and Bogart was to star. The story location was changed to the Panama Canal when that actually happened. It was renamed “Across the Pacific” and starred Bogart. As critics noted, the characters never reached the Pacific nor were they across it.

Bogart sought to be in “Casablanca” and won the role. The film had five screenwriters and the numerous script rewrites were not always liked by the stars. Some plot holes remained even in the final version. Claude Rains saw his salary increase to $4,000 a week when he was cast in “Casablanca”. Many of the actors portraying Nazis in the film were Jews who had flew Nazi Germany. S. Z. Sakall turned down being in the movie until he was offered $5,250. Bogart received $36,667. Rains received $2,333. The film had gay undertones of a relationship between Bogart’s character and Rains’s character. The ending line of Bogart’s character to Rains’s character “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship” was not one 1940s audiences thought was about a gay romance although it capped underlying tones that were intentionally placed into the film. Other famous lines from the film were “round up the usual suspects”, “here’s looking at you, kid”, “we’ll always have Paris”, and :of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine”. The line “you played it for her, you can play it for Sam” has been famously misremembered as “play it again, Sam”. The movie did well in its initial release but not very well. It would become a classic later on.

The real world Casablanca Conference between Roosevelt and Churchill helped the movie’s popularity.

Actor Leslie Howard was a leading advocate of the British war effort. He may have even done intelligence work. Joseph Goebbels believed Howard was a “most dangerous propagandist” and may have ordered Howard’s plane shot down. Howard died when Nazis shot down his plane.

Bogart and Lauren Bacall fell in love with each other while filming “To Have and Have Not”. They married in 1945.

Bogart filmed “The African Queen” in the Congo. A tribal chief thought requested extras were going to killed for real, so he initially provided ten women and six children he presumably didn’t care much for. More natives were provided once they realized they weren’t being killed. Bogart won the Oscar for Best Actor for this performance in 1951.

Bogart was in a car accident where he lost three front teeth that affected his speaking while filming “Beat the Devil”. Peter Sellers mimicked Bogart in some post production dialogue, replacing Bogart’s own voice.

Bogart’s last film was “The Harder They Fall” in 1955. Bogart developed esophageal cancer. He died in 1957.

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