By Charlie Kondek
was a Bogart fan growing up. My favorite movie, to this day, is Casablanca, and I make no apologies for that. I recently revived my interest in this actor and read a couple of books I had.
The first was the coffee-table book, Casablanca: The 50th Anniversary by Frank Miller (no, not that Frank Miller). One of those books that seems commemorative and you got it as a gift (I did) and you kind of glanced through it, unsure whether it had any depth to it. This does, describing the short happy saga of the making of the film, sketching in the personalities at play, from producer Jack Warner to director Michael Curtiz to the screenwriters, the Epstein brothers and Howard Koch. A very thoughtful, thorough and enjoyable book about a great movie, giving an insight into how they used to make movies. It clears up a few misunderstandings I was aware of; namely, that everyone thought it'd be a flop, that it's a miracle of accidents it was made the way it was. No, they pretty much knew what they were doing, they just weren't prepared for how big it would be, nor its legacy in American film.
Bogart was assembled by biographist Ann Sperber and finished by Eric Lax when Sperber died before she could complete the work. An excellent, interesting Hollywood biography, one of those weighty ones that I pick up thinking, "How'm I gonna read all this?" and then end up devouring with ease. I never knew much about Bogie growing up, only that I wanted to be like him: calm, tough - I can blame him for my smoking career, actually, him, James Bond and James Dean. (I've been quit for ten years.) The Bogie of this biography reveals that he was a native New Yorker, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, that was really unsuited for anything except drinking and sailing til he found a home in theater and eventually migrated to film, along the way honing a character actor into one of Hollywood's most endearing leading men.
That, I realized after reading this and the 50th anniversary Casablanca, seems to be Bogie explained: he was a character actor in the leading man role, a backgrounder thrust into the spotlight, retaining the basic sense of virility (there's that word again) even as he navigated the aisle usually reserved for the more gentile, top-hat set. That's the quality he brought to Rick Blaine, the man without a country, the reluctant hero, and established his prototype - often imitated, never quite duplicated. But why would you want to? There was only one Bogie.