Casablanca; The Maltese Falcon; High Sierra; The Big Sleep; The African Queen; Key Largo: Even the names of Humphrey Bogart's films evoke the power of his portrayals. Yet, as veteran film biographer Stefan Kanfer demonstrates in Tough Without A Gun, Bogart hardly seemed a likely candidate for Tinseltown glory. Indeed, his grim, scarred visage; his peculiar lisp and guarded body language kept him from stage and film stardom for two decades. (He owed his big break to a drinking partner.) This authoritative biography enables us to re-immerse ourselves in the strange mystique of a Hollywood icon. Now in trade paperback and NOOK Book. (P.S. Kanfer's cinema credentials are immaculate. He has authored biographies of Marlon Brando, Lucille Ball, and Groucho Marx.)
Kanfer, a Time magazine editor who has written biographies of Marlon Brando, Lucille Ball, and Groucho Marx, turns his attention to Humphrey Bogart, whose "outstanding characteristics--integrity, stoicism, a sexual charisma accompanied by a cool indifference to women--are never out of style when he's on-screen." After a privileged New York childhood as the son of famed illustrator Maud Humphrey, Bogart flunked out of Phillips Andover, joined the Navy near the end of WWI, and entered show business as a stage manager. Kanfer delivers compelling coverage of Bogart's early marriages and 13 years as a New York stage actor, culminating with The Petrified Forest, his 1935 Broadway breakthrough. Casablanca and other film classics are detailed with both illuminating insights and anecdotal accounts of Tinseltown. Raymond Chandler was pleased by the casting of The Big Sleep because, he wrote, "Bogart can be tough without a gun." By the mid-1940s, Bogart was the world's highest paid actor, with a résumé of 19 plays and 53 films. Although Bogart was heard on more than 80 radio broadcasts (even singing) between 1936 and 1954, Kanfer overlooks this medium. Apart from that lapse, the biography stands as an entertaining, definitive portrait, enriched with delightful digressions into Bogie's noirish, rough-hewn persona. (Feb. 3)
Few stars of Hollywood's golden era have endured as long as Humphrey Bogart. Beginning in 1930, his film career spanned more than 25 years, the first ten of which were spent in generally unworthy potboilers. Comparatively few of his films were really memorable, and, physically, he was unprepossessing; however, he seems to speak anew to each successive generation and remains an iconic film figure. Many books have been written about him, but almost none has captured the man and the source of his magic as well as this latest from Kanfer (Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando). VERDICT In this possibly definitive Bogart biography, Kanfer convincingly presents the reasons for the actor's continuing relevance. He has uncovered relatively few new facts, but his eminently readable style makes the long-known details seem fresh again. This sprightly biography will appeal to film buffs and a large segment of the general reading public as well. [Four-city tour; see Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/10.]—Roy Liebman, formerly with California State Univ., Los Angeles
FormerTime contributor Kanfer (Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando, 2008, etc.) tackles the screen legend, last deeply examined in competing 1997 biographies by Jeffrey Meyers, and A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax.
The contours of the Humphrey Bogart (1899–1957) story are already familiar. Son of a wealthy New York surgeon, he was a prep-school failure and Navy vet who drifted into acting through the good graces of a friend's father, Broadway producer William Brady. After years as a male ingénue, he broke through as gunman Duke Mantee in the 1935 theatrical production of Robert Sherwood'sThe Petrified Forest. He flopped in Hollywood as a Fox contract player, but was signed by Warner Bros. after a sensational re-creation of his stage role. Following years playing ill-fated heavies on the Warner lot, Bogart finally made his mark in middle age as a tender-hearted hood in High Sierra (1941). Star-making, image-setting turns as detective Sam Spade inThe Maltese Falcon(1941) and nightclub owner Rick Blaine inCasablanca (1942) followed. The boozing, brawling, chain-smoking Bogie, veteran of three bad marriages, settled down with his teenagedco-star Lauren Bacall, survived a 1947 face-off with congressional Red hunters that threatened his career and collected an Oscar forThe African Queen(1951). Already an icon, he died of cancer at 57 and secured a posthumous cult in the '60s. Though Kanfer draws on past interviews with intimates to tell his story, he admits that he was hamstrung by the fact that few eyewitnesses survive. His slim volume, which leans heavily on plot synopses in the late going, is filled with make-weight quotes from memoirs and biographies. The author provides enough padding to stuff a comfortable sofa (enough with the Raymond Chandler quotations), brings little fresh perspective about Bogie's creation of the sensitive screen tough guy and offers facile observations about the disappearance of adult archetypes in today's youth-oriented movies.
It's time for another top-drawer Bogart book. Maybe next time.
Kanfer…is at his best examining the ways Bogart's life and his performances converged.
The New York Times Book Review
…a perfectly engaging book. It does an evocative job of conveying Bogart's uncommon and enduring mystique, and it gives the reader a palpable sense of the sadly truncated arc of his life…Although many readers might wish that Mr. Kanfer had spent more time explicating Bogart's major work and less time plodding through a chronicle of his lesser films…this volume nonetheless provides a conscientious chronicle of its subject's evolution as a performer…
The New York Times
"A swift, smart, scrupulous book. It brims with insights." —Tom Shone, Slate
"Terrific. . . . Kanfer is particularly good in sketching [Bogart's] lasting influence." —Los Angeles Times
"Evocative. . . . Gives the reader a palpable sense of the sadly truncated arc of [Bogart's] life." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Insightful. . . . The value of this book lies in Kanfer's insights into and analysis of the way that Bogart worked " —Chicago Sun-Times
"There may be no better analysis of Bogart’s mysterious and enduring appeal." —The Daily Beast
“Gracefully written. . . . [Kanfer] approaches the complicated and difficult man Katharine Hepburn called ‘one of the biggest guys I ever met’ with a fair, discerning eye. . . . Both sensitive and agile. . . . An insightful, compassionate portrait of a man who cared about his craft and, close friends said, camouflaged a kind and generous heart with a sardonic wit and snarl.” —Dallas Morning News
“Excellent. . . . A moving, psychologically intimate portrait of an icon that leaves some of the mystique intact.” —A.V. Club
“A readable and entertaining biography that reflects the author’s delight in his subject and the world in which Bogart thrived.” —Denver Post
“If you, like most of us, think of Bogart in Casablanca, The African Queen, and perhaps The Maltese Falcon, and you’ve always wondered what was behind the cool guy in the trench coat and the fedora, this book will tell you—in spades.” —Providence Journal
“Numerous…apt descriptions of Bogart’s film persona flow through Kanfer’s [book].” —Courier-Journal
“Kanfer does a thorough job of taking us on a journey through the making of Bogart’s other films. . . . Kanfer is at his best when framing Bogie’s career against the social and cultural mood of each era, and exploring Bogie’s flourishing cult status since his death in 1957.” —Newsday
“[Kanfer’s] skill with words is as smooth as the Scotch Bogart loved. . . . With this biography, just sit back and savour. Kanfer takes you enjoyably through stories.” —Vancouver Sun
“It's the afterlife that matters, and the best part of Mr. Kanfer's account is his analysis of Bogart's role as what cultural historians call a "modal personality" of his time—and what a long time it has been." —The Wall Street Journal