Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart (Vintage)

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3 thoughts on “Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart (Vintage)

  1. 61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Spend an Evening, Maybe Two Getting to Know Humphrey Bogart – 4 STARS !!!!, February 5, 2011
    By 
    A Customer (Westport, CT) –
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    Does anyone ever really get to understand a Hollywood star. It’s all illusion and manufactured. The only way to pierce the veil of the invented perception is to get down and read a thoroughly researched book that has no ax to grind, and that is exactly what we have here. Author Stefan Kanfer has gone back and done the research and thoroughly dissected the history of one of the true 20th century Hollywood legends – Humphrey Bogart. Born to wealth, in trouble as a young man, Bogart finally came to the realization later in life that there were only two types of people. There were the bums and there were the professionals. He wanted to be known as a professional, and thus began the long journeyman career into acting.

    He worked on it for almost two decades, honing his craft, playing bit after bit part, until he catches a big break when Director John Huston puts him in High Sierra. Both the star and director were drinking buddies, and drinks and buddies count in Hollywood. It was a radically different industry back then. Today the average movie costs $120 million and studios put out between 12 and 15 big budget movies per year.

    Back in the 1930′s and 1940′s, the average studio of which there were seven, put out a picture a week. That’s right a picture a week which means about 50 pictures per studio per year. It’s one of the reasons why you had the cast system, which meant that the actors were owned lock, stock, and barrel by the studio. From month to month they would be moved around from movie to movie as they were needed. On occasion they would be loaned to a different studio in return for a payment. This was the system that Bogart who became one of the biggest stars of his generation was a part of, in his case a big part of.

    The book points out that in generations passed, voice impersonators were always taking on the job of impersonating famous actors. From James Cagney to Clark Gable, and then there was Humphrey Bogart, the most impersonated actor of all time. Today nobody impersonates actors anymore. When was the last time you saw someone trying to impersonate Brad Pitt, or Sean Connery. It just doesn’t happen because the unique egos that occupied the screen in generations passed have now been supplanted by publicists who create the modern screen legends. In the case of Bogart he has transcended them all by having the American Film Institute name him the greatest male legend in movie history.

    In almost the first 30 movies of his career, he gets killed in the movie, or as he likes to say, he spent more time lying down and dying, then standing up and acting. At 42 years of age, he breaks through, and Hollywood was changed forever. He is probably the only actor that was bigger after he died than during his own lifetime. The public simply could not get enough of him. It was 1957 when Bogie died, and here we are 50 plus years later, and he’s still going strong. The man was born to privilege. His family was New York high society, his father a prominent surgeon in three hospitals, while his mother was an art prodigy who sold her first drawings at age 16. Humphrey could have easily become a doctor like his father, but chose a rough and tumble life, and created some pain for the family, and then the acting bug bit him, and thus began the life we have come to know.

    In 1946 he was the highest paid actor in the world earning $467,000. He had just signed a contract with Warner Brothers. He would do one studio project per year and they would pay him $200,000. He would approve the director and the script. He had written permission to do one project outside the studio each year, and this would go on for 15 years per the contract. This meant he would not have to worry about money until he was 61 years, being 47 at the time. He had already worked in 53 films, and before that 19 plays.

    It’s all here in 255 pages of easy to read, entertaining, and informative narrative. The author Kanfer takes you through the highs and lows of Bogies career. He compares him to other stars of his time, and to the stars today. He takes you through how Bogart would help other actors who were to follow him form their careers based on his persona. He was in fact the real deal. No one today is compared to him and no one will be.

    They broke the mold when he died in 1957. He helped other actors when they were in need like Peter Lorre, and Fanny Arbuckle. He lent a helping hand to Gene Tierney and Joan Bennett. Unlike his movie persona, he was an absolute gentleman with women. With men, his word was his bond, a handshake as good as a contract. For those who were blacklisted during the communist scare of the 1950′s, he sought employment for them. His gifts to charity were enormous, and he did not seek publicity for his good works. He was as they say a man’s man.

    Legendary director John Huston says that Bogart was endowed with the greatest gift a person can have. That…

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  2. 21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Very smart book, only one drawback, February 6, 2011
    By 
    Glenn Hopp
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    (REAL NAME)
      

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    The main strength of Stefan Kanfer’s Bogart biography is its intelligence. Kanfer synthesizes cultural trends, long-term changes in the film industry, and arcs in Bogart’s life and smoothly moves from presenting details about the subject to bringing out an intelligent context in which to understand the man. The impression I gathered from reading his book is that Kanfer has been thinking about these ideas for the better part of his life (the importance of Bogart and what he represents, such as for one thing, the importance of character and professionalism) and that Kanfer’s insights on Bogart have been deepening and resonating for decades. He is effortless at showing their importance. A good example can be found on page 36, where Kanfer presents background for understanding Bogart’s last stage vehicle, The Petrified Forest, by alluding to recent literature (paragraphs on Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Fitzgerald) and politics (the Tea Pot Dome scandal) to place Robert Sherwood’s jaded play in its cultural context. The high ratio of ideas to words on this page reflects the tack of the whole book: it’s a somewhat brief biography but consistently rich in food for thought.

    I have also read the long biography of Bogart by Sperber and Lax and the Bogart biography by Jeffrey Meyers. The 700-page (or so) book by Ann Sperber and Eric Lax is better than Kanfer’s on details, weaker on the ideas they illustrate. That book, if it is still in print, would make a great companion to Kanfer’s.

    The one drawback about Kanfer’s book is the lack of endnotes or footnotes, which may sound unimportant but isn’t. He includes an acknowledgment listing libraries and people and includes a bibliography, but there is no section of endnotes pairing the quotes and facts on a specified page with their source(s). The curious reader wanting the source of some detail is often at a loss. For example, Kanfer, as expected, quotes Bogart every page or two throughout the book with his various reactions, but whether these comments come from letters, interviews, a diary, or what is not revealed. On the other hand, Kanfer does put attribution in the text for many other sources (e.g., “As Jeanine Basinger notes in The Star Machine, ‘The effect of World War II on shaping the new hero . . .’”), so this lapse is not as frustrating as it might have been. In the fine print, Kanfer thanks his two editors at Knopf (Peter Gethers and Claudia Herr) for being “alert and demanding,” but in at least this one way, they (or the author) could–should–have gone further.

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  3. 14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    A fascinating look at one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars, February 9, 2011
    By 
    Bookreporter (New York, New York) –

    I’ve been wracking my brain to see who among the movie stars of the last 50 years has anywhere near the cinematic gravitas of Humphrey Bogart. And I’m coming up empty. As Stefan Kanfer details in his new biography, TOUGH WITHOUT A GUN, no one has had the presence of the actor who played such memorable roles as Rick Blaine, Roy “Mad Dog” Earle, Charlie Allnut, and Lt. Cmdr. Queeg in The Caine Mutiny, among many others, any one of which could be said to be career-defining.

    TOUGH WITHOUT A GUN contains the standard information (dare I compare it to the “usual suspects”?). Bogart was born into a privileged childhood, growing up in Manhattan, attending the “correct” schools for a person of his station, becoming bored and falling short of academic expectations. He became somewhat lost and rudderless until he found the theater, beginning as a stagehand.

    His first experiences behind the scenes and on stage were less than noteworthy. One could easily imagine early performances of stiffly delivered lines and awkward body language. But over the years, Bogart overcame some perceived handicaps, including less-than-movie-star looks and that famous lisp. The roles became increasingly important, and he delivered, perpetuating the demand for his services.

    Like many in his Hollywood circle, Bogart suffered for his fame — early on in his failed marriages before he fell in love with teenaged co-star Lauren Bacall, later in his political difficulties during the Communist scares of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Yet the author doesn’t dish too much dirt, thankfully, although his insights into the competitiveness between the leading men of the era as they vied for prized roles is fascinating. Could one really imagine Ronald Reagan as Rick or another actor as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon? Bogart is depicted as a recreational drunk whose judgment was sometimes clouded by the alcohol, which gave him that “bad boy” persona among the studios’ heads. At those times he might seek refuge on one of his beloved boats.

    Bogart’s long illness — the result of a lifetime of smoking — is painfully reported as the actor withers from esophageal cancer. But his death at the age of 57 actually served to open a new chapter, which one might say is the real heart of the book: his lasting legacy. Where previous biographies might end with his “final curtain,” Kanfer discusses the cinephiles who still point to Bogart as the prototypical movie tough guy who women desire and men aspire to be like. Forget the withered looks, his lack of height, his age; there was an undeniable magnetism about Bogie that remains the subject of serious research and reference through books, plays, movies, and even song. His characters’ lines are often quoted, with a “Here’s looking at you, kid” here and an “I stick out my neck for no one” there. Bogart still demands the attention of movie lovers, even without the gun.

    — Reviewed by Ron Kaplan

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