Sunday, October 19, 2014

Staff Pick - Tough Without a Gun by Stefan Kanfer

Although he's been gone some sixty plus years, Humphrey Bogart remains an icon of American cinema. In Tough Without a Gun: the life and extraordinary afterlife of Humphrey Bogart, Stefan Kanfer explore the movie legend's life, career and legacy.

Bogart sprung from a privileged, yet tumultuous childhood into a rebellious adolescence and eventually into a career on stage and screen. He wasn't "discovered" nor achieved instant fame, rather he worked extremely hard to hone is craft in live theatre and then in movies, largely playing gangster roles. His breakthrough roles came in his 40s with High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon, and the character for which he will always be remembered Rick Blaine in Casablanca.

Kanfer's biography skims the surface of Bogart's personal life (that in itself is a volume and a half) and focuses more on his film career and his legacy. Bogart's success arrived as the United States entered World War II and his image fit the times - tough and cynical, yet wounded. Early photographs in the book show a smooth cheeked Bogart who seems out of place with the scarred, lined face which was to be his trademark. While this is not a Hollywood tell-all, it is also not unrelentingly flattering. Bogart is depicted as a skilled actor and a generous and loyal friend, while at the same time not hiding his less desirable side. He chose poorly with his first three marriages - the third erupting in alcohol fueled violence. He final, happy marriage with Lauren Bacall was tinged with hypocrisy as he continued his long term affair with his hairdresser. Bogart, of all people, probably hurt himself the most with his utter unwillingness to cease his self destructive behaviour. Central to his image was hard drinking and chain smoking and this was ultimately to lead to his early death.

Bogart and Bacall will be associated with The Rat Pack (who Bacall memorably named). Robert Randisi has written a mystery series which features the surviving members of the Rat Pack in the 1960s beginning with Everybody Kills Somebody Sometime which has Dean Martin receiving threatening letters during filming of Ocean's 11.

Lauren Bacall (or Baby to Bogart) was 25 years his junior and went on to live a long life following his death. Bacall passed away recently. For her perspective you might like to try her memoir By Myself and Then Some not only for her memories of Bogart but to have insight into her own fascinating life.

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