'In Search of My Father': Bogie never became dad

September 17, 1995|By Melissa Grace

"Bogart: In Search of My Father," by Stephen Humphrey Bogart. New York: Dutton Press. 325 pages. $24.95

Stephen Humphrey Bogart's father died when he was 8. Then the trouble started. Dad had been many things: a big star, he was about to shoot his 72nd movie, on his fourth marriage, to Lauren Bacall. He was a heavy drinker, a global sex icon. What he never was, says his now 44-year-old son, was dad.

"Bogart: In Search of My Father," is part biography of his father and part autobiography. Throughout the era it relates, the young Bogart remained an angry kid with a strong sense of abandonment.

When Bogie died, Stephen Bogart started a more than 15-year streak of being kicked out of schools, for legitimate causes. He says he still has a problem with authority figures, that the loss of his father made him resentful and isolated. Later, he snorted enough cocaine and swallowed enough alcohol to bring a career in television to a halt. By that time, he fathered his own son, married the mother, they were divorced and he married his current wife.

The sense of having lost his parents dates to before his father's death, to when Bogie and Bacall, Stephen's mother, went to Africa for four months to shoot The African Queen. They left the 2-year-old Stephen on the tarmac in the arms of Mrs. Hartley, his nanny. She was felled, right then and there, by a cerebral hemorrhage. But the most outrageous thing, in young and now older Stephen's mind, was that Mommy, who wasn't in the movie, didn't come back! (Stephen suffered no physical injury; according to the next morning's gossip column, he was plucked from the arms of his nanny and didn't hit the ground.)

Stephen Bogart doesn't say his parents didn't love him; they did. The problem is that first they were movie stars and second his parents. His gripe: "The heaviest thing I have ever had to carry is my father's fame."

Being Bogie's son makes normal conversation all but impossible: "Jack, I want you to meet my friend, Steve Bogart. He's Humphrey Bogart's son." "No kidding? You're really Bogie's boy?" "Yes." "God, I loved your father." "Really?" "Oh yeah, my first date with my wife was when we went to see Sabrina. Bogie! Now there was a man's man. God, this is so weird! . . . It's really nice to meet you. Hey, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship. Get it, huh, a beautiful friendship?" "I get it."

Stephen Bogart never ran away from home or changed his name, but he did more than his share of slumming. When he was at the University of Pennsylvania, he got a job at a record store; ". . . and did something that bothers me to this day. I gave away hundreds of record albums . . . people didn't like me because I was Humphrey Bogart's son - they liked me because I would let them steal albums out of the record shop."

This book is chock-full of quotes and tidbits and reminiscences about Humphrey Bogart; from Bogie pals and the people who made movies with him, including Bacall, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and John Huston. Mr. Bogart writes well, the plot moves and his and his father's story are woven together admirably.

But it's the personal story that is gripping, and that story is the son's life, not the dad's. The reader gets to know and like Stephen Bogart and to know and understand the "Bogie Thing" that hung darkly over the son's life and hangs less darkly now. But, in the end, Bogie remains the legend, forever evading fatherhood.

* Melissa Grace, editorial assistant for books at The Sun, was a reporter for the Earth Times newspaper in New York. There she covered the United Nations and the 1994 U.N. Population Conference in Egypt. Before that she was a researcher at Newsweek International. She has a master's degree in International Affairs from Columbia University.

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