Tuesday, May 27, 2014

bogart: in search of my father by stephen bogart

If anyone thought that being the child of famous parents was a walk in the park, they need go no further than read Stephen Bogart's memoir, Bogart: In Search of My Father. The book is half memories and anecdotes about his father, and half spiritual quest to quash, once and for all, his personal demons about spending his life in his father's shadow.

Stephen holds his dad's Oscar for Best Actor in The African Queen

Actor Humphrey Bogart was 44 when he met 19 year-old Lauren Bacall while filming To Have and Have Not in 1944. They fell in love while making the iconic film, but Bogie and Baby couldn't be together right away, as Bogart was still married to his third wife, Mayo Methot. He filed for divorce the following year, and Bogie and Bacall were married on May 21, 1945. Four years later their first child was born, a son, Stephen, named after Bogart's character's nickname in To Have and Have Not. A few years later, in 1952, Bacall gave birth to a daughter, Leslie, named after Bogart's friend Leslie Howard, who helped jump-start his film career to more serious roles by insisting he play in the film the role he created on the New York stage, of Duke Mantee, in The Petrified Forest.

Stephen was only eight when his father passed away from esophageal cancer. He does have memories of his father, but he fills in his kaleidoscopic portrait with great anecdotes from family friends like Katharine Hepburn: like his dad's notorious drinking (which helped both The Rat Pack), his early life, his marriages, his long and winding road to success as an actor, his iconic outsider role of Rick Blaine in the film classic Casablanca.

He also quotes his mother and echoes much of the biographical information she provided in her memoir, By Myself. As much as Bogart spent much of his life railing against being only known as "Bogie's son," one senses that the parent he really has issues with is his mother. In a terse but emotional passage he describes how his parents left him, at the age of two, to go on safari to Africa and film The African Queen. As Stephen waved goodbye to them as their plane took off, his nurse holding him actually suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage and died, right there, on the tarmac. And, as Bogart tells his readers, once she was informed, his mother didn't come back. She continued on with the trip. It's clear he has never forgiven her.

The most heart-rending section of the book comes at the end, as he details his father's failing health, bout with cancer, surgery, and eventual death. Tough guy Bogie ended up frail and unable to walk downstairs, but he still met daily with friends like Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, and Frank Sinatra. He kept his trademark "needling" humor intact, "Put me in the dumbwaiter and I'll ride down to the first floor in style." Neither Bogie nor Bacall ever talked about his impending death, to their friends, each other, or the kids, but the man himself knew, as Hepburn told his son, "Spence patted him on the shoulder and said, 'Goodnight, Bogie.' Bogie turned his eyes to Spence very quietly and with a sweet smile covered Spence's hand with his own and said, 'Goodbye, Spence.' Spence's heart stood still. He understood.'

In Bogart: In Search of My Father, the reader learns about Bogie along with his son. Bogart also includes stories about his youth post-Bogie, his rebellion, troubles with drugs and relationships. He tries to draw parallels to their lives, some of which stick, some don't. He had a major chip on his shoulder soon after his father passed away, "One day a kid said to me, 'Too bad about your father,' and I slugged him." It may have been a tough road for Bogart to accept his roots and learn about his dad's life. maybe even hardest to accept was how so many people loved his father, wanted to share his memory. But now Bogart has not only faced his demons and accepted his father's legacy, but he has embraced it. As the head of the Humphrey Bogart website and the driving force behind the now annual Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, he works hard to preserve and promote his father's legacy. He has come a long way.


Post a Comment