restricted access 7: How Much Does He Want?

From: Theo

University of Wisconsin Press colophon
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I I I Hovv~h voes He Want? London, 1950 Somehow I had entertained the notion that Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart would be prototypical American superstars. How wrong I was' Neither of them was remotely like the kings and queens of filmdom whom I met and worked with later in my career. Bogie had a rough exterior that some people found downright intimidating. He tended to be vocal in his opinions, but he carried on conversations rather than making pronouncements. He talked and he listened and gave weight and consideration to your opinions. It surprised me that he did not lock himself away for the purpose of concentrating on his lines in the scenes to be shot, as so many actors do. As far as I could see, he made little preparation for a scene; rather than learning his lines the night before, he looked at the script in the early-morning hours as we sat in the makeup trailer. Then, while the hair people put a small hairpiece on him, he repeated the lines to the script person a couple of times and then he was set for the rest of the day. The hair business of his makeup was the longest part of getting him ready to face the camera; his face could look ravaged and therefore needed little makeup for the role. Despite the little time he took to prepare for a scene, he was in no way sloppy or neglectful of the work. When the cameras were rolling, his was the consun1mate perforn1ance of a pro- 11+ • THEO fessional. I just could not see when it all came together. As a consequence of his work pattern, there was time for talk and play between scenes. Bogie had an acerbic sense of humor, which delighted people like the Americans and Europeans on the set, and exasperated the Brits, who did not understand it. His quips were usually delivered with the tough-guy demeanor that fooled many into thinking that this was the real person. This fake persona took on the air of a grumpy, misanthropic, misogynistic, and bigoted boor. The loving and caring person underneath all that was simply not a face he cared to show. I recall one day when the conversation turned to antiSemitism . 'Tm anti-Semitic," he said with that strange semiwhistled "s" sound of his. When he said that, people were shocked and I, too, was not quite sure what to make of this. Bogie's wife, Lauren Bacall, was Jewish. She was often on the set but was not present at the time, and we all wondered how she would have reacted to the remark. "I'm anti-Semitic," he said and then, after a pause that would have done justice to Jack Benny, he continued, "not just Jews-Negroes-people ." Even the Brits finally got it and laughed. During the ten days or so that I worked on the film, Bogart and I played quite a few games of chess. He was a much better player than I, and sometimes even pointed out to me that I should take back a move that might lead to a certain and earlier mate. One night we were invited to a party at the home of some rich locals in Mayfair. The hosts were falling over themselves to introduce the great Humphrey Bogart to all the guests, who had obviously come to ogle. But after a nibble and a drink or two, there was little conversation that was stimulating or interesting. One could not leave early; that would have been rude. "This is a dull party,'' Bogie said to me sotto voce. "Let's play some chess." "Good idea,'' I said. We asked for a chess set and the embarrassed host said with regret that he did not have one. When he was out of earshot, Bogie said, "What did I tell ya? Fuckin' dull people ." Then we decided to play without a set, dictating moves to each other and trying to keep a mental picture of the board. We got up to about eleven moves before we gave up. The public is under the impression that Arte Johnson of Laugh-In was the first to utter the phrase "Verrry interresting," in his exaggerated German accent. But I had the distinction of saying it first, in a voice laden with sarcasm and the requisite German lisp, in the court-martial scene in The African Queen after Bogart and Hepburn are caught and brought...