Alexander Cockburn: Humphrey Bogart

The Nation, April 2, 2001 | Go to article overview

Alexander Cockburn: Humphrey Bogart


Of course Brigitte Bardot will always have pre-eminence in my heart, as she does for anyone who was a European adolescent in the mid-fifties. Even the Irish censors couldn't excise her erotic glow. But Brigitte aside, my idol remains Bogart, since he helped save our family's bacon. My father, Claud, had written Beat the Devil under the pseudonym James Helvick in the early fifties. John Huston read the novel over a Christmas weekend we all spent together in the Wicklow mountains. Then he mentioned Bogart in Los Angeles, with whom he'd just made The African Queen. If Bogart liked it, Huston told us, he'd buy the rights for [pound]10,000.

Since we had no money whatsoever and the roof of our house in County Cork was leaking badly, this was good news. We asked how long the mails would take to carry the book to Hollywood for Bogart's perusal. Huston stared at us in surprise, picked up the phone, got through to Bogart and began reading out Chapter One, acting out each role in his rich voice. …

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