Bogart CL

Jeffrey Meyers, Author, Jeffrey C. Myers, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $30 (384p) ISBN 978-0-395-77399-4
For his first film biography, Meyers, who has written about the lives of Hemingway, Conrad, Poe and Frost (Robert Frost, 1996) tackles Humphrey Bogart (1899- 1957), whose film breakthrough came as private eye Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon (1941). Meyers's gift for portraying the private lives of his subjects with unsentimental compassion is on full display here. With novelistic detail, he evokes the paradoxes of Bogart's life and screen image: born to a society doctor and his artist wife, the actor personified on screen the streetwise tough guy. He came up hard in the New York theater, living hand to mouth and often playing society swells, so that by the time he succeeded in the movies, he'd come to see acting as just a job, taking pride mainly in his professionalism. Meyers is especially good on Bogart's cynicism about the movie business, and in particular about his running battles with the tyrannical Jack Warner over roles and salary. Meyers's accounts of Bogart's stormy marriage to Mayo Methot and his happy one to Lauren Bacall are thorough but not prurient, and he vividly evokes Bogart's working method, by which the star memorized his lines only a few moments before shooting a scene, to keep his performance fresh. Meyers's lack of background in film history shows in his perfunctory readings of the films themselves; his accounts of Bogart's performances are often reduced to mere catalogues of the actor's gestures and facial ticks. Otherwise, this is a first-rate biography of a talented and complicated actor who ""survived twenty-five years in Hollywood without a drug problem, a nervous breakdown or a psychiatrist."" Photos not seen by PW. Rights: Sandra Dijkstra. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/31/1997
Release date: 04/01/1997
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