Category Archives: Movies

Was Bogart Born on Christmas Day?

Slapsgiving cheer via user and bartender Paddy at The Fedora Lounge.

Close on the heels of my incisive investigation (aka Google Search) as to whether Mr. “When You’re Slapped You’ll Take It and Like It” was at one time the Gerber Baby, I decided to tackle another pervasive rumor using my top-notch investigative reporting skills (aka a slightly higher than average typing speed).

Sadly, as to whether Bogart was born on Christmas, as another longstanding Bogart myth claims, IMDB is of relatively little help, its information having been garbled by an insidious computer virus known as “crowdsourcing.” IMDB dismisses as incorrect the New York Times’ claim Bogart was really born on 12/23/1899 but publicists decided “A guy born on Christmas can’t be all bad.” IMDB says, “Copies of two census forms from 1900 show this to be incorrect,” but doesn’t say which part of the NYT’s claim is incorrect…that publicist changed Bogart’s birth date, that Bogart was born on Christmas, or both?

Bogart’s IMDB trivia page goes on, then, to claim that Bogart would morosely screen “A Star Is Born” every Christmas Day — his birthday — because “I expected more out of myself.” IMDB doesn’t source that claim, other than (vaguely) to director Richard Brooks, in a story that sounds potentially apocryphal.

Nonetheless, the IMDB page for Humphrey Bogart still lists his birth date as Christmas, 1899, as does Wikipedia, which also claims the fake-Christmas-birthday story is baseless, owing to birth notices in early 1900 that list Bogart’s birth date as 12/25/1899.

I can’t imagine what kind of boneheaded publicity hound would make up a fake birthday, but hey, it’s been done before, right? Am I right? Only my parents and my identity thieves know for sure.

In any event, Bogart wasn’t that unusual. Based on the current population, something in excess of 800,000 people in the United States alive today were born on Christmas. In 1900, the figure would have been about a quarter of that.

So…Bogart was not the Gerber baby, but he was a baby-food model, and he was born on Christmas. And don’t forget to attend the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival next year in Key Largo. My guess is, the Key Largo Hilton won’t have baby food, but they’ll have martinis, reportedly Bogart’s favorite drink. As Bogart saw it, “The problem with the world
is that everyone is a few drinks behind.”

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Was Humphrey Bogart the Gerber Baby?

You know the Gerber Baby? It’s probably the best-known single baby image in the world, more recognizable to more people, even, than any single image of the infant Christ….which is a scary thought. It’s also the subject of a major urban legend.

Longstanding rumor has it that the model for the campaign was Humphrey Bogart, or occasionally Ernest Borgnine or Liz Taylor. It wasn’t. Bogart was 29 years old when the sketch debuted as the spokesbaby image for Gerber Strained Foods, in the fall of 1928. Ernest Bornine was 11; Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t born yet. Bogart also wasn’t born on Christmas,

Bogart’s mother, Maud Humphrey, was a commercial illustrator and did use her sketches of her son, including one for a campaign for Mellin’s Baby Food. She also used Baby Bogey as a model for Ivory Soap, for an illustration that, for a time, was almost as iconic as Gerber would later become (though not quite as long-lived). As Bogart put it, related in his son Stephen Bogart’s book In Search of My Father, “There was a period in American History when you couldn’t pick up a goddamned magazine without seeing my kisser in it.”

Mystery Novel by the Gerber BabyThe model for Gerber was 2 years old at the time of Fremont Canning’s model search, but it was an old charcoal sketch by a neighbor. Her name was Ann Turner Cook. She did become mildly famous, but as a mystery novelist, according to Wikipedia. You can even find her books on Amazon. Here’s one of them.

Captain Easy

Also according to Wikipedia, Cook’s father was Leslie Turner, a cartoonist who would later take over the syndicated action/adventure comic strip Captain Easy for decades following the departure of creator Roy Crane, having drawn the daily strips in the ’30s while Crane did Sundays. (The 4-volume Fantagraphics reprint features just the Crane years Sunday strips).

But it was a neighbor, Dorothy Hope Smith, who submitted the rough charcoal sketch of the young Miss Turner that became the baby food’s iconic trademark. Smith was a professional artist, and told Fremont Canning Company she intended to finish the sketch professionally if it was chosen. They decided to use it as-is.

The image of the Gerber Baby debuted in an issue of Good Housekeeping in late 1928. And the rest is weird history…

 

The Lives of Evan Hunter

I love this old Evan Hunter cover posted by Nancy A. Collins to her Facebook page. The book appears to be a pretty obscure one; I found it on Amazon here, but there’s no description. Pulp of the Day has the cover as the source for a caption contest but nobody seems to have read it.

It looks like a hell of a pulpy potboiler. I was under the vague impression that Evan Hunter’s work under his own name tended toward the, er, literary, but this sorta undermines that idea (which is based on nothing, anyway). Then again, even Hemingway had some awesome covers back in the day, so who knows?

In case you don’t know, Evan Hunter is the man who wrote the novel The Blackboard Jungle, made into a 1955 film starring Glen Ford and featuring a young Sidney Poitier. Hunter is now probably better known by his pseudonym, Ed McBain, under which he was the author of about a bazillion novels in the 87th Precinct police procedural series, beginning with 1957’s lovably simplistic and powerfully satisfying Cop Hater.

The 87th Precinct books are what they are, and I’ve enjoyed several of them. If you’re a fan of straightforward police procedurals, well…they’re a model for many later works (and plenty of crappy TV shows). To my reading, Cop Hater feels dated in a way that many of the sleazier, more violent and duplicitous crook-not-cop books from the same era and a little later just don’t. Enjoyable as it is, Cop Hater‘s uncomplicated morality hasn’t aged well. I’m more given to eye-rolls about that moral simplicity than I am about its clunky prose, which I find charming.

If I found Cop Hater‘s prose clunky, however, it isn’t because McBain couldn’t tear up the keys with the best of the ’50s noir badasses. He sure as hell could. His style is crystalline in a much more interesting book, at least to me: The only stand-alone work of McBain’s I’ve read, The Gutter and the Grave. It was reissued in paperback by Hard Case Crime a few years back. Gutter is a classic ’50s down-and-outer private eye story in the general style of the Fawcett Gold Medal books I love so much.

Since the current page on Amazon claims an April, 2011 publication date for it, The Gutter and the Grave appears to have been re-re-reissued by Hard Case‘s new incarnation, distributed by Titan Books in the UK but still helmed by cofounder Charles Ardai. I believe I read the HCC paperback back in about 2006 or 2007, so 2011 must be the Titan Books edition.

However, it pains me to say, nowadays paperbacks give me hives. I avoid bookstores the way a cleaned-up dope fiend avoids NA meetings. As a lifelong hoarder, I finally made the jump to e-books and GOD DAMN my life has never felt easier. The $250 I made unloading books at the garage sale was no compensation for feeling like I was having my liver ripped out every time some squid from down the street pawed an old John LeCarre paperback and forked over 50 cents for it, but all that liver-wrenching agony was salved by the ensuing exultation as I discovered I could, for the first time in years, actually walk around my goddamn apartment. It was as if I’d spent 30 years being harried by drifting piles of leprechauns who turned my every step into a stumble whether I was trying to hit the john at 3 a.m., romance one of those nice ladies passing out Watchtowers, or pack for a quick Manteca vacation. Now, those ankle-biting fuckers have to make their asses scarce when I hit the OFF button. It’s glorious.

Sad to say, I couldn’t find a Kindle edition or other e-book of The Gutter and the Grave; as far as I can tell, there isn’t one. For what it’s worth, if you’re slightly less obsessive than me, but obsessive enough to give a damn in the first place, Gutter is well worth tracking down in the recent Titan/Hard Case paperback. It’s a great read.

In the meantime, the Thomas & Mercer e-book of Cop Hater is easy to grab for little more than a mouse-fondle and a small bit of damage to your Visa. As much as I might badmouth McBain’s early prose, he was OG. Cop Hater is well worth a read if you like old pulpy cop novels.

McBain’s 87th Precinct novels also hold an absolutely incomparable place in cop-novel history, so armchair scholars and cranky old men like me are advised to ignore them at their own peril. I may have joined the space age by switching to e-books, but inside I’m the same old sweater-wearing son of a bitch with loafers and a scowl. You’ll find the 87th Precinct books stacked up on the virtual table next to my recliner, right next to the Dewar’s, the improbably complicated TV remote and the .38 Police Positive just in case those hoodlums from the local middle school try playing stick ball on my lawn again anytime soon.

If you’re walking by the fridge, can you grab me some ice?

The Humphrey Bogart Film Festival

Hold on to your fedoras, there’s gonna be a big blow! The Humphrey Bogart Film Festival is coming home…. “Home being Key Largo,” naturally. It’s May 2-5 in Key Largo, Florida. The Festival is hosted by one Stephen Bogart, Bogey and Bacall’s son and a frequent keeper of the flame as regards both their legacies. He’s reportedly named after his father’s character in To Have and Have Not, the first of the four films Stephen’s parents starred in together. (The others were Dark Passage, The Big Sleep, and — of course — Key Largo.)

Here’s a snippet from an update at the Humphrey Bogart Estate’s Facebook timeline, and a great pic of the younger Mr. Bogart in the restored African Queen.

We hope you’ll agree there’s a lot to like about our Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Key Largo. It’s hard to pick a favorite element, but being able to take a ride on the real African Queen has to rank right up there. Here is a photo of Stephen Bogart taking the first ride after the boat was fully restored.

Let’s not forget, incidentally, that the book on which The African Queen‘s great James Agee/John Huston script was based was written by another of my favorite historical figures, the great C.S. Forester, author of the magnificent Horatio Hornblower series as well as many fiction and nonfiction books about seafaring men. One was Sink the Bismarck!, which I read well before I knew who C.S. Forester was. It was a defining book of my early childhood. (I believe it’s still known as The Last Nine Days in the Bismarck or Hunt the Bismarck in the UK, and was made into a tolerably good film in 1960.)

And while we’re at it, if you haven’t seen the 1948 film Key Largo, which inspired the festival’s location, you are missing out on a hell of a movie featuring three of the greatest performances in American film history (Bogart’s, Bacall’s, and Edward G. Robinson’s). Lionel Barrymore is also fantastic in this flick. You can also see the brief appearance of Jay Silverheels, who would later play Tonto to Clayton Moore’s The Lone Ranger, as one of the Native Americans wrongly accused of a crime in Key Largo. (Silverheels, incidentally, was also a poet, writing about his experience in First Nations communities.)

Far more than just a great crime movie (which it is), Key Largo is one of the films in American history that walks that line between crime thriller and closet drama without falling prey to the shortcomings of either genre. It is a study in great scripts and great performances. Key Largo was based on a Maxwell Anderson play in which the Native Americans were Mexican banditos and the war of which the main character is a veteran is not World War II, but the Spanish Civil War, which will remind any dedicated Bogeyhead of Casablanca, where Rick Blaine was (allegedly) a Spanish Civil War veteran…or, at least (allegedly) a gun-runner.

 Sadly, Key Largo is not available as Netflix Instant View, or I think I’d watch it right now. In fact, none of Bogey and Bacall’s collaborations can be found instant-viewable on Netflix. But The African Queen can be found there, and on Amazon you can instant-view The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and To Have and Have Not, as well as The African Queen and CasablancaBut not Key Largo, my very favorite of the batch. Bummer. If you want to see it, resort to DVD — it’s more than worth it.

Teller & Shade Rupe's 'Play Dead' premiere, December 1 in San Francisco

I’m thrilled to say that my good friend Shade Rupe co-directed the film Play Dead, which premieres December 1 at the legendary Roxie Theatre in San Francisco as part of Another Hole in the Head. Shade will be there for the screening. See it!

Here is the blurb:

Famed silent magician Teller of Penn amp; Teller and Coney Island showman Todd Robbins thrill and delight a live audience with gory ghastly spectacles surrounding real-life killers and psychic pranksters in this dramatic recording of their off-Broadway show PLAY DEAD, recorded live at The Players Theatre on Manhattans historic MacDougal street. Expect brutal onstage beatings, nubile nudity, and chunks of the show performed in absolute darkness. Even the exit signs go off! Be welcome, and BEWARE! Dir: Shade Rupe, 2012, USA, Digital, 75 mins., 7pm

Congratulations to Shade, Teller and all involved. I can’t wait to see it!

Another Hole in the Head Starts November 28 in San Francisco

A great hardcore cutting-edge horror film festival is returning to the Roxie in San Francisco. I’ve screened (and reviewed) many of their features in the past, and they have always been so far out there it’s just impossible to describe.

AHITH was where I first saw one of the most brilliant horror films of all time, the The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s B&W, silent “Call of Cthulhu.” While we’re talking great horror, if you haven’t seen that film, you should. It’s incomparable.

I haven’t looked at what’s playing this year, but I have no doubt that it is the jagged, bleeding edge of what is possible, conceivable and advisable in horror film.

Another Hole in the Head opens November 28 at the Roxie in San Francisco and runs through November 9. If you’re in the areaand you love cutting-edge horror, don’t miss it.

Got this via my good friend Shade Rupe.

SyFy's Face Off Commits Seussicide

I’m a big fan of the SyFy Channel series “Face Off,” where movie makeup artists compete in a reality series format. (And yeah, I hate calling it SyFy, but whatever.) I’ve seriously enjoyed every episode up to now, though not all of them are equal quality. As a lover of movie monsters in every form, I enjoy seeing the way concept can become reality. Sometimes, the results are sheer genius.

But the format lends itself to exposing enormous faults in the movie industry’s overall self-image and structure. The show’s transparently cynical marketing placements are gross, but goofy little fans like me do enjoy seeing videogame tie-ins now and then. There are times, however, when it all goes horribly wrong, wrong, wrong. That’s how it went this week, resulting in the worst episode the show has ever aired.

But it wasn’t just a bad challenge, with icky results. This week’s episode blatantly displayed the lack of respect Hollywood gives to animation as opposed to live action. The show itself is not to blame for that, of course; hell, make-up artists are another one of the professional categories that rarely gets its due in Hollywood. The show itself goes a long way toward remedying some of that, and as such I applaud it every damned week.

But “Face Off” can be blamed for its own crimes of quality, which are legion in this episode.

“Face Off” committed an assault on Dr. Seuss, asking its competitors to spawn — I’m not making this up — human hybrids with Seuss characters from The Sleep Book. Because of the show’s habit of shameless product placement, I assumed that meant The Sleep Book is currently being adapted into a (sure to be bloody STELLAR) live action film. As far as I can tell, it is not. How did they settle on The Sleep Book? At first I thought must have dozed off or suffered a psychotic break, ’cause I missed it. It’s a weird, weird choice for a Seuss book to adapt, but who knows? This is low-budget TV, after all. Maybe that’s the most widely-known Seuss book they could afford the rights to, I thought.

No, it turns out The Sleep Book is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, having been published in 1962. Does that make the choice seem less random? Not really. Maybe one of the producers is a dedicated Seuss fan and spends all their waking hours thinking about The Sleep Book. Maybe it’s like me and Lou Reed or something. Maybe The Sleep Book is the “Love Makes You Feel” of Dr. Seuss books, or that weird lengthy instrumental guitar and piano coda that was on the original cassette commercial release of Berlin but not on the vinyl, or the lost VU-era lyrics to “Ride Into the Sun.” Or maybe The Sleep Book is just way more popular than I’m giving it credit for. After all, I’m basically a “Walk on the Wild Side is pretty cool” type of fan when it comes to Seuss.

Anyway, the “human hybrid” concept is equally telling. “Face Off” routinely lapses into science-fiction cliches, and the “human hybrid” idea is a favorite of the producers. I can only imagine it comes from a spirited argument around the producer’s table. Someone wanted humans, someone wanted Who’s…”Let’s do hybrids!” It feels like that happens a lot over at SyFy.

The “hybrid” results on this week’s “Face Off” are…grotesque. And not in a good way.

Perhaps these people forgot that Seuss himself was involved with a brilliantly weird live-action film, 1953’s The Five Thousand Fingers of Dr. T. The title is more than just a saucy euphemism for the increased libido experienced by some female-to-male transsexuals upon first initiating hormone treatment. It refers to the eponymous mad scientist’s plot to make five hundred boys take piano lessons whether they like it or not. (And the headgear!!!)

Five Thousand Fingers of Dr

Still via Cockeyed Caravan.

 

While it was far from a perfect movie, the visual concepts in The Five Thousand Fingers of Dr. T represented a bewitching import of Seuss’s brain-bending illustrations to the real world. The sets were cheesy, but they were adorable. Most importantly, they felt honestly inventive. Any attempt to bring Seuss to life should take a page from this campy, weird slice of cult history. But no live action Seuss film thus far seems to give a damn.

Dr. Seuss’s illustrations, by their very design, violate every conceivable law of physics. In fact, it is that violation that provides much of the humor and gives Seuss’s work much of its inspiring quality. Trying to make movie make up and costumes do that seems like a noble endeavor, but it’s not. It’s a slap in Seuss’s face, because in purporting to love him, it hates him. It’s like the stereotypical Mom who loves her truck driver son, but always wonders why he didn’t go to med school like his cousin. If Seuss is a genius, great. But woudln’t he be that much more of a genius if his work existed in the “real” world?

Well, he’d certainly be more profitable. And Hollywood’s conceited fat-cats’ money wouldn’t have to be “trusted” in the hands of animators, who have always been treated like a weird, untrusted wild card in Hollywood.

I’ve long been irritated at Hollywood’s increasing need to take beautiful art and bugger it up. It’s been getting worse in recent decades as the money resulting from a successful movie gets huger and huger, leaving other art forms in the dust. And because live action films make more money than animated films, Hollywood tries to shoehorn things into a live action format that simply don’t belong there.

I find this a bothersome enough tendency when it comes to superhero films, but at least there’s a lengthy history of bringing superheroes from comic books to the big screen. And superhero comic books are not Dr. Seuss. Superhero books have their own unique physics, but it operates at something like a forty-five degreen angle to normal physical laws.

In the world of Dr. Seuss, on the other hand, the laws of physics perform a series of pirouettes, nose dives and force-starts. Keeping up with them would be more than a make-up artist (or The Doctor) could begin to handle.

Plus, my objections are more emphatic to superhero movies than Dr. Seuss films because several of Marvel’s recent offerings are actually acceptably watchable films, even if others are not. They follow the basic tenets of storytelling and don’t seem to think the appeal of their source material boils down to juvenalia — far from it. Even when superhero movies screw up royally (and so many of them do), they’ve got a sense of self. They can end up being watchable even when they suck. recent ones often seem not just to be dishing out fan service, but to integrate it…at some level. I’m not saying Marvel’s recent films are great, but they’re…movies. The revolting live-action versions of The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas…well, I’m not entirely sure what they are. They’re not genuinely creative adaptations, that’s for sure. My kinder self says maybe they’re just cinematic fuck-ups. If I let my blood get boiling, I’d say they’re puerile insults to the motion picture arts and sciences.

This is not just me blowing a gasket because I don’t like a given film or genre. I see Hollywood’s prejudice against animation as an infective hubris spread by financing. Such live-action adaptations send the message that illustration and animation are not “real” art forms — that an animated film is one thing, but it takes “real actors” to make a “real” movie.

Stuck-up Hollywood idiots get enough smoke blown up their asses, and apparently that smoke has a laxative effect. I think one of my favorite shows just took a steaming one all over Dr. Seuss. I sure hope the Cat in the Hat can loan them his steam-powered riding-majigit to help clean it up before next week.