Honorary Bogie Book Fix:
Stephen Bogart, the son of Hollywood’s greatest icon, parallels his father’s life with his own – giving readers insight into Classic Hollywood, overcoming addiction, and dealing with love and loss within a family while the world watches.
What I Thought
I’ve said it before – if you want a detailed, expansive, beautifully documented history of Humphrey Bogart’s life and career, you need to check out the Sperber/Lax bio Bogart. If you want the casual fan’s take on Bogie without all the geeked-out minutiae that hardcore fans love, read Stefan Kanfer’s Tough Without a Gun.
But if you want an honest and passionate account of Humphrey Bogart’s personality and personal relationships with friends, family, and Hollywood royalty chiming in, you really need to read Bogart: In Search of My Father.
Fair warning – Lauren Bacall’s By Myself and Then Some is next on my reading list, but for now, Stephen Bogart’s memoir is the most in depth account of his father’s personal life that I’ve read so far.
What could have been a light and touching look into Humphrey Bogart is much deeper as Stephen uses his father’s legacy – both the peaks and the valleys – to work through his own personal highs and lows as he comes to grips with what it means to be his own man and “Bogie’s son” at the same time.
Stephen’s years of avoiding his father’s looming presence is made understandable. Who could live in that shadow? Who could live up to that legacy? Who could every come to grips with losing a father at such a young age and then having to deal with it in the blinding spotlight of the media? How could someone ever carve out their own niche in the world with so much family baggage attached?
Father and son both came from broken families. Humphrey because of his distant and troubled parents. Stephen because of the loss of a father he barely knew. Humphrey bucked and burdened most of the authority figures in his early years as he tried to figure out who he was in the world. Stephen lashed out and struggled with his peers and his mother as he tried to come to grips with who he was despite what the world told him.
Humphrey self-medicated with booze and cigarettes right up until his death.
Stephen openly discusses his personal substance abuse struggles and the strong desire not to follow in his father’s footsteps when it comes to drugs and alcohol.
What makes Stephen’s look into his father’s life so compelling is the fact that he doesn’t hold back from the dark corners in order to keep from tarnishing the legacy. Humphrey Bogart’s life is laid bare, warts and all, within the stories, myths, and recollections of his closest friends and coworkers from his personal and professional lives.
Along the way, we get plenty of great drinking stories. (Bogie and John Huston playing football with a grapefruit.) We get a deep and personal history of the origins of The Rat Pack. (Bacall coined the name for the group.) We get some really fun insight into Bogie’s behind-the-scenes hijinks. (Bogie and Raymond Massey daring one another to take over for their respective stuntmen to expectedly dangerous results.) And overall, we get an incredible oral history of Humphrey Bogart from his most intimate inner circle. (Again, Katherine Hepburn’s touching words in regards to Bogie’s passing coupled with Stephen’s own memories of the pain are moving to the point of tears.)
But most importantly, we watch Stephen Bogart rekindle a father/son relationship that he’d for so long assumed was unattainable. It’s a lesson told to us through an unguarded baring of the soul that made me a little more brave to reexamine both the sunny spots and the shadowy recesses of my own life and family.
A must read for anyone who wants to go beyond what they see of Bogie on the silver screen!