Personal note #2
Humphrey Bogart: #1, The World Over
When I was a kid, I went to the movies almost every day. This was because they changed the bill frequently. Movies were shown only twice each day, in the afternoons at four and in the evenings at eight. Our main theater was called the Center Theater and it was aptly named because it was on Main Street in the center of town.
The Center Theater showed the same film on Sunday and Monday, a new one on Tuesday, a double bill on Wednesday, a new picture on Thursday and Friday, and a triple bill on Saturday. The Sunday/Monday movie was a big budgeted prestige type film, Tuesday perhaps a musical, Wednesday, two gangster pictures, Thursday and Friday a melodrama or soap opera, and Saturday western, western, western. This was our favorite day, almost four hours of films. There were three showings that day, the first at10AM, very young kids went to that one. The second was at 3PM, teens mostly went to that show. The third started at 8 PM and that’s when the adults went. So you sort of grew into each time slot as you got older.
African Americans are great movie goers, always have been. I remember some years ago in the late sixties and early seventies, some demographic company did a study and discovered that fact. It was trumpeted as some kind of major discovery. I was surprised because I could have told them that, all they had to do was ask.
Today, you hear a lot of talk about kids wanting to see heroes of their own ethnic stamp. We didn’t have that problem at all. First of all, we liked the villains better than the heroes. But even when we did like the heroes, we had no interest in what color they were. As long as they were tough and took no shit, they were OK in our book. And it wasn’t only just us kids; the adults felt the same way too.
Take Humphrey Bogart for example. Who didn’t like Bogart? My father loved Humphrey Bogart. One reason I think is that they were both approximately the same size and built in a similar fashion. Bogart was small and slim, so was my dad. Bogart smoked a lot and talked through his teeth, my father did too. In his movies, if Bogart didn’t get killed, he always got the girl. Even in Casablanca (1942), we knew that one day the Elsa (Ingrid Bergman) would leave Victor Laslo(Paul Henried) and go back to Rick. Why? Because he’s Bogart.
People on the island used to name themselves and their kids after Bogart. (Read V.S. Naipaul if you think I’m making this up.)And they didn’t call themselves or their children Humphrey either. Anyone could be called Humphrey. They named their children Bogart Harris, Bogart Turnbull, Bogart Williams, Bogart Sinclair, and so on. Always using Bogart as a first name.
My mother was always accusing my father of trying to look and act like Bogart. He never owned up to it. Maybe he wasn’t even aware of it, but it was there for all to see. And he wasn’t the only one. Everyone liked Bogart then and that hasn’t changed. They recently took a poll and Bogart came out the number one movie star all over the world. Not just on some little dipshit island in the Caribbean, but all over the world.
Why? Because Bogart had style and he was tough. A trenchcoat and a big .45 were his trademarks. Who didn’t want a trench coat when I was growing up? The .45 could get you in trouble so we left that alone. But the trench coat was something we would have killed for, both kids and adults alike. The only problem being there wasn’t any use for trench coats on our little island. The weather was too hot and it hardly rained, so the stores didn’t stock them. I had to wait until I was an adult in the United States before I could get my first trench coat. As soon as I got it, the first thing I did was pull up the collar, put on a snap brim hat, and had a friend take my picture which I sent to my father. He promptly wrote back, “You’re looking great son. I guess America is taking good care of you.”
And when you talk about tough, who could be tougher than Bogart? He was small but he could fight. Big guys would mess with him and he would beat them to their knees. And he wasn’t just physically tough; he could talk the talk too. “I’ll not only slap you, I’ll slap you and make you like it”, he said to one guy in a movie. How could you hate a man who talked like that?
I have no problem understanding why he’s still number one the world over. Every time I see Bogart in a film, I think of my father. Because what the movie going public didn’t know is that Bogart had a twin. A Caribbean black man approximately his height and build who smoked like him and talked like him. When I was a kid, I would go over to him and say “Hi Dad”, he would look me up and down, take a drag off his cigarette and say “Hi kid. Here’s looking at you”, then he would open his arms and hug me. What kid could ask for anything more?