68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
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 gift is talent, and the whole world came to recognize it. Read the book. Have a great time exploring the life of this extraordinarily influenetial actor and icon, and thank you for reading this review.
Richard C. Stoyeck
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
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.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2011
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
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2012
I don't read actor biographies as a rule but was drawn to this book through an admiration of its subject - Humphrey Bogart. Stefan Kanfer is a competent writer and walks the reader through Bogart's life and many films. The problem is that the Bogart depicted is never more than just a two dimensional character - good actor who drank a lot, smoked endlessly and enjoyed sailing. You don't get a feel for the real persona and how he interacted with others in his private life. Dropping names and suggesting that these were "drinking buddies" does add to my understanding of the man. Much of the information found in the book can be found at Wikipedia. Even when discussing his rise to fame we learn that he earned little at the beginning and $200,000 per film at his peak, which was a lot of money in the 1950's. How did he get from A to B? How did he handle the money that he earned - did he blow through it or invest it wisely? Neither subject is discussed.
There is a lot of filler towards the end of the book about the staying power of his reputation, the aping of his style by others, how films have evolved and finally a list of top grossing films today - why? The focus should have been on the subject and not what we already know by watching the actor on screen.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Curiously, the four previous reviews of Stefan Kanfer's "Tough Without a Gun" written prior to mine have all been 4 stars. So is mine. Now, four out of five stars is still a good rating for a book but it's odd that all five reviewers so far have felt the same way about Kanfer's biography of Humphrey Bogart...
Kanfer's bio of Humphrey Bogart is an examination of his life and films, and adds a section about Bogart's legacy. The legacy part is perhaps the most interesting and well-written. Bogart's life is the literal "stuff of legends". His mother, Maud Bogart, who met and married Humphrey's father when they were both in their early 30's, was a famous illustrator and feminist. His father, Belmont Bogart, was a society doctor who unfortunately became addicted to morphine and who lost both his career and his family. Both Bogart parents were distant and Humphrey and his two younger sisters grew up with out much parental attention. It is not true that Humphrey was the model in his mother's famous illustration of the "Gerber baby". That legend isn't true.
Bogart bounced around in the late 1910's and 1920's, acting on Broadway and stage managing productions. He had made "connections" in the Broadway community and his castings were often the result of favors doled out by friends in the business. He married three times and was divorced three times by the time he was 40. In the 1930's he moved out to Hollywood to try his luck in films. He acted in gangster films until he was finally recognised for his portrayal of Duke Mantee in "The Petrified Forest". His acting career took off, and his films included "The Maltese Falcon", "The African Queen", "To Have and to Hold", "Sabrina", and, of course, his classic, "Casablanca". Author Kanfer fully covers all of these film, as well as the lesser-known movies Bogart acted in.
Humphrey Bogart was seen as a "brawler" in his early-to-middle years. He was a heavy drinker and ladies' man. It was when he met Lauren Bacall and starred with her in "To Have and To Hold", that his personal life calmed down. They married - he was 25 or so years older than her - and had two children and seemed to have a happy marriage until his death from esphoghial cancer in 1957.
But his legend grew with his death. He's been honored as both a classic actor and a cult favorite since his death. Stefan Kanfer has written a workman-like biography of Humphrey Bogart, with some excellent thoughts about his career and influence on the acting community and on American society.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
There was never an actor like Humphrey Bogart, and there never will be again. Those are the take-away lessons in _Tough Without A Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart_ (Knopf) by Stefan Kanfer. Kanfer has been a movie critic, and has written books about Lucille Ball, Marlon Brando, and Groucho Marx. His current book works wonderfully as a biography - it's all here, upbringing, aspirations, and success, and it was success on his own terms, as he portrayed in his more admirable characters. But the book is best as an appreciation; Kanfer has, of course, seen all the films, and his descriptions of them, of Bogart's participation in them, and of their places in the Bogart legend is excellent. He helps us see what was unique in Bogart's career and in his personality, and how Bogart's times shaped him and shaped his audience's enthusiasm for his roles.
With all the tough-guy roles, you'd think Bogart had a hardscrabble upbringing, but he had an upper-class upbringing by difficult parents. He failed to finishs school and failed in a stint in the Navy during World War I. He wandered into acting, and had small Broadway roles in forgettable plays, traditionally as a "young sprig of the aristocracy." In 1935 cast against type as the Dillinger ringer Duke Mantee in the drama _The Petrified Forest_, he became a star. The play's main character was played by Leslie Howard, who refused to do the film version unless Bogart reprised his stage role. Bogart never returned to the stage. Bogart was certainly not traditionally handsome. John Huston said, "Bogart was a medium-sized man, not particularly impressive off screen." On camera, though, "those lights and shadows organized themselves into another nobler personality, heroic." Also, he was not young when he became a leading man. It was _The Maltese Falcon_ that was to make him a name-above-the-title star in 1941, and Bogart was 42 years old. Kanfer says that Bogart's movie character in such films was "wounded, cynical, romantic, and as incorrodible as a zinc bar." Bogart was perfectly cast as Charlie Allnut in _The African Queen_, one of his most endearing roles. As Kanfer tells the story of his professional life, though, there were fights with the studios and fallow periods when Bogart did not know what direction to take his career, especially as an older actor. To his credit, he took on difficult and unsympathetic roles like the corruptible Fred C. Dobbs in _Treasure of the Sierra Madre_ or the repulsive Captain Queeg in _The Caine Mutiny_. In so many of his roles he was a smoker, as he was in real life. It was tobacco, rather than the alcohol which sometimes caused overt difficulties in his personal life, that was to kill him. Kanfer says that it put him in the great role of his life, even though it was not on screen. He was a cancer patient courageously hiding pain so that his family and friends would not suffer. The doctor treating him said, "When a man is sick, you get to know him. You find out whether he's made of soft wood or hard wood. I began to get fonder of Bogie with each visit. He was made of very hard wood indeed."
Bogart's career was like no other actor's, and Kanfer nicely explains how the Great Depression and World War II shaped the actor and the audience's feelings toward him. That there will never be another Bogart isn't due to social history, but to Hollywood history. Kanfer points out that impersonators have a hard time these days; they can do Bogart, or James Cagney, or Cary Grant - but they don't do Tobey Maguire or Brad Pitt because today's actors don't have the strong faces and voices that lend themselves to parody. Plus, Kanfer lists the top twenty grossing films of all time, and each of them is aimed at a young audience. Bogart made films for adults. He was never a young man, to look at his classic films, and his characters were never light; they had hard choices to make within worlds of ambiguous morality. Kanfer's appreciation of the actor and the characters means that readers are going to want to go back and take another look at the many classic roles even if they have seen them a dozen times. His book is an intelligent appreciation of a heroic craftsman.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
For some reason I enjoy bios of Bogie. He's not my favorite movie star, nor my favorite male star, but I find the man fascinating. I read my first Bogart bio when I was about 15 (I think it might've been the Joe Hyams bio.) and even made the significant mistake of buying one of the Darwin Porter books (Referred to as both "scabrous" and "scurrilous" by Kanfer.) and have been gun shy ever since, but a sample of the first chapter was enough to convince me that this book was the real deal and worth buying.
Kanfer's agenda seems to be to tell the story of Bogart's life as directly and informatively as possible without a lot of value judgments and pseudo-psychological analysis. He begins with Bogart's parents and continues on at a fair clip straight through the man's birth, childhood, youth, military service and his seeming inability to find a job he could do well enough to make it a career. According to Kanfer, Bogart pretty much stumbled into acting and kept stumbling until people started to notice that he had some presence. Though he was an upper-middle-class man, well-educated in spite of having been ejected from several schools, he made his bones playing gangsters and hoods. And yet, in spite of his growing notoriety as a heavy, he didn't catch on with the public until his roles began to shift away from the criminal. Bogart's real fame, his real strength was in defining the persona of the American male in the 40s. He became memorable for being the wounded hero, the man with a past -- usually a tragic one -- the guy who might cheat a bit but could be relied upon to do the right thing when the need arose. He gave voice and a face to that new kind of hero, and that made him irresistible to audiences. It made him a star.
Kanfer covers each of Bogart's films with varying degrees of detail depending on how important the films were either as films or to his career. A bit less time is spent on his personal life which was, quite frankly, a mess, with three marriages in fairly quick succession, and the third a train wreck which dragged on for far too long until Bogart at 45 met the 19-year-old Lauren Bacall and found the love of his life. There's a lot of fascinating detail here about the productions, about the people with whom he worked and played. Men like John Huston and Peter Lorre stand out in the narrative for being as vivid as Bogart, and good friends to him as well. The portrait of Kate Hepburn during the shoot of "The African Queen" is compelling and a surprising portrait as well.
But the biggest and best surprise is Bogart himself. He was no poseur, he literally was tough without a gun, holding high standards in spite of some rowdy and ultimately self-destructive behavior. He was smart, a great reader, principled, decent to women, and though apolitical he had strong opinions on things like the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, which he famously opposed. Kanfer gives us a man who, in spite of having been born with a lot of advantages, made his own way through life, holding to his beliefs, and having one hell of a good time while he was at it. You might not find this Bogart to your taste, but I'd be surprised if he left you unimpressed.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 11, 2011
Tough Without a Gun is a good read. I enjoyed the background and back stories for each of Bogart's movies, as well as the interactions with his colleagues on and off the set.
But there was one stylistic issue that, for me, undercut the whole effort. At first, I was impressed by Kanfer's vocabulary. But as the book wore on, I got the sense that he'd compiled a list of a dozen or so "erudite" words or phrases - and then felt compelled to use them over and over again. We are told again and again that Bogart had no time for phonies, etc. Ironically, this stylistic choice (oversight? poor editing?) made me think that Bogart himself would be critical of Kanfer's forced attempt at intellectual sophistication.
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2011
I'm crazy about Bogart, but for some reason the author insists on referring to him as "Humphrey" ALL the time. It's weird and annoying. It greatly mars the experience of reading an otherwise pretty good book.
Everyone in the world refers to Humphrey Bogart as "Bogart." People don't refer to Robert Mitchum simply as "Mitchum," now, do they? Lancaster, Lorre, Dean, Niven--try it. These guys all need a first name. And even so: if you were writing Errol Flynn's biography you'd refer to him by his last name--oh, it might be 999 times out of a thousand.
Aargh! And this is after Kanfer has made it abundantly clear in his terrific first few pages that Bogart is one of a kind! It's like a franchise or service mark in some ways. He's BOGART.
Well I could never get around this. Maybe other readers can.
There are a couple of way-out factual errors. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was never at 1100 in the 1950s. The maximum for that decade was 679, and 1100 wouldn't come until 1983.
That's not critical, but the more major one in the context of a biography is that Bogart's character's name in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT was Harry Morgan, not Steve. "Steve" was just the nickname Marie Browning (Lauren Bacall) gave him in a bantering way when he called her "Slim." This is more than a small slip. It's key to the whole way they interact in this movie, when they're really falling in love off the set as well as on. (And how can you watch that film and not ever after hear Walter Brennan's marvelous scratchy voice saying "Harry"?)
I don't want to pick on this book unmercifully--it's FINE except as I'm noting--but there's a classic metaphor alert toward the end, too: "The major studios had heard the bell tolling for years, but they were still active. None of them were going quietly into that good night." (FYI Dylan Thomas wrote "Do not go GENTLY into that good night.")
Other Bogart books that go down easier for me are TAKE IT AND LIKE IT; ROUND UP THE USUAL SUSPECTS (about CASABLANCA); and the Sperber/Lax biography.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2013
If you are a fan of old movies like me you will enjoy this book. Even if you are not a reader or are particularly interested in all the nuts and bolts of Humphrey Bogart the book is still worth it. Every time I watch one of his movies I look it up in the book, and it is sometimes better than the commentators on TCM. You get a real behind the scenes look at him and his movies. There is a handy index, so you can look up movies, co-stars, etc. Good read and a great reference.