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Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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)
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From Booklist

Humphrey Bogart was 42 before in 1941 he broke through as an A-list star in The Maltese Falcon and High Sierra. He was dead of lung cancer a mere 16 years later. Yet, as Kanfer points out in his revealing account of Bogart’s life and legacy, Bogie, in those few short years, established a cinematic identity that lives on across generations. Kanfer thoroughly covers the relatively familiar ground of Bogart’s upbringing as the rebellious child of blue-blood parents; his long apprenticeships, first in the theater and then playing bad guys in the movies; and, finally, his brief but iconic years of stardom. Beyond that, though, what separates Kanfer’s book from other Bogart bios by David Thomson, Jeffrey Meyers, and Richard Schickel is the emphasis on the actor’s “afterlife,” the way that somehow his persona—“integrity, stoicism, sexual charisma accompanied by a cool indifference to women”—has never gone out of style. Bogart divided the world into “professionals and bums,” and Kanfer makes a convincing case that, with so many bums surrounding us today, the real pros never grow stale. --Bill Ott

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307271005
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307271006
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #877,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Richard of Connecticut VINE VOICE on February 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Glenn Hopp VINE VOICE on February 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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).
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on February 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
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.
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