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The Making of The African Queen: Or How I…
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The Making of The African Queen: Or How I Went to Africa With Bogart,… (1987)

by Katharine Hepburn

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Recently added byprivate library, LynnStutz, whitefieldpl, philabookster, Leojoe70, Erewhon77, mahsdad, richardderus
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The African Queen starred Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, and was released wide in 1952. If you don't know what it is, or why you should care about it, nothing I say hereinafter will make one drop of sense to you, and you'd far better use your eyeblinks elsewhere. Remember to shut the screen door not slam it! Papaw's nerves are raggedy at this hour of the day.

Katharine Hepburn was the Meryl Streep of her time. Well regarded, blessed with talent, a bit upper-crusty in her roles. When the story of the making of The African Queen begins, she is treading the boards in Shakespearean stuff and, frankly, pretty bored. She needs a challenge to spark her inner V-16 engine. A call comes to her friend's home, where she's staying...there's a script based on a novel...nothing new...but set in Africa! Yes please, Mr. Producer, send it to me and I shall read forthwith. Read she does; part's great, script's so-so, so....

On page 7, Hepburn writes of her initial meeting with Producer Sam Spiegel, wherein a raft of English actors were discussed for the part of Cockney Charlie Alnutt, and finally Spiegel says, "What about Bogart—he could be Canadian." And there it was, decided. Did getting Hepburn mean Spiegel could now stand a chance to get Bogart? Did it occur to him in a divine revelation on that spot? Was he hell-bent on the casting of both these American actors to play uber-British roles so American audiences would turn out en masse? We know that the Brits put up £250,000 (about $60 million in today's dollars) only after their Film Finance Board overcame demands for Brits to be cast in the British author [author:C.S. Forester|932179]'s bestselling 1936 novel about Brits in World War I East Africa.

Such are the things producers must concern themselves with and all at the same time, in the same calculation. The film's budget, in today's dollars, was about $100 million and the box office ended up at around $1 billion. But while Producer Spiegel chatted up the excited and eager Miss Hepburn in the kitchen that first day, he had bubkes except a script, a director (the already almost-legendary John Huston), and now a star. But this star, this force of nature Miss Katharine Hepburn, wanted to film this Technicolor all-outdoors vehicle for some major Hollywood egos on location. In Africa, that is. On big African rivers with real, malaria-sodden African mosquitoes and real, bilharzia-causing schistosoma snails. "We'll see," equivocates a rapidly thinning producer; "we'll see it in Africa," responds Miss Famous Actress with Fans, and guess where they filmed it.

Africa is hot. It's big. People in the Belgian Congo don't speak English, and even French is touch-and-go. Getting to Africa took days on planes, weeks on boats. Getting Technicolor cameras to Arizona was a huge deal! The mind boggles, the spirit quails, to imagine getting these multi-million-1951-dollar monsters to Africa! Not to mention two movie stars. Assorted crew, camera operators, thousands of props, safe drinking water, food...a director whose gun fetish and desire to murder elephants must be coddled...rich Americans all, and not a little high-handed even among themselves.
We packed our duds and I found myself moving all my odd stools—spears—arrows—chairs—down into the accountant's room on the first floor for him to send to New York for me. Things almost impossible to pack. A stink of a job to foist off on anyone. You remember him—the accountant—the rightful inhabitant of my third-floor room. ... How could I be so awful? Apparently easily.
It's her saving grace that Hepburn, writing this book in the 1980s, realized that she was a Bigfoot stomping all over everyone. Didn't stop her, probably wouldn't if she'd gone again, but really now is any celebrity likely to behave differently? Not often.

The shoot is huge. The crew isn't all in place when they arrive. The advance construction of different things must needs be torn down and rebuilt, the piece supposed to fit here don't fit there, in short the bog-standard common-as-pigtracks problems of doing a complicated thing in a limited amount of time. Miss Hepburn acts as costume lady, invents a solution to wilting-chapeau syndrome (super creative, impressed me a lot), seamstresses, does hair...
I never have a permanent, for it makes {hair} feel funny, it makes it smell, and I'm a sort of impractical character. Love the feeling of soft, clean hair. Can't remember that anyone ever made a comment, certainly not either of those jerks. But please yourself and at least someone is pleased.
"Those jerks" are Bogie and John Huston, Hepburn's costar and director. Her friends. She has little enough to say about Bogart, a good deal more to say about Bacall who came with him but not all of it kind. She's also not kind about Huston's inability to be on time, his indifference to the reality of others' feelings, emotions, existence, his bloodlust. But beginning on page 81 and ending on page 83, Miss Hepburn the journeyman actress recalls Director Huston's performance notes on Rosie Sayer's unsmiling, serious countenance. How hard it is to watch a serious face for so long...how Mrs. Roosevelt, an unhandsome lady, dealt with a similar issue.

And Miss Hepburn the journeyman actress, writing at a distance of thirty-five years, still lights up at the memory of receiving her entire performance in a short, simple, perfectly observed and conveyed image from a genius of image-making. She went on to make the film on a perfect note, sustained throughout by the single conversation and its illuminating insight. It is the most gorgeous moment in the book.

There aren't a lot of anecdotes in the book, the kind you'll whip out at parties to improve the shining hour, but there are lovely and honest observations, a lot of unnoticed privilege behind her quite self-aware self-regard, and photos. Lots of them...forty-five...from a man called Alfred E. Lemon, and some from a Life magazine photographer called Eliot Elisofon. The permissions must've taken forever to clear. The text design is clear and simple, using Garamond type and generous white space around the scattered halftone reproductions, including both endsheets. The binding is smyth-sewn with real cloth on the boards.

The book is as much an artifact of a vanished world as is the film it describes, as is the now-gone writer of this personal and charming memoir. Time pressed on her, those years so clear in memory but so distant in time, still eagerly sought by the Fans:
It's strange being a movie actor. The product goes out—it's popular—it's unpopular—or it's somewhere in between. And it's always to me a real part of myself. I mean it represents my own decision to do it: Was I wise? Was I dumb? I've tried never to do anything just for the money. I do it because I love it—the idea and the characters. And, my oh my, it is great when you—when the people like it too and make it theirs—that is the real reward.

So, suddenly, thirty-five years have rushed by. Bogie has gone. {Sam} Spiegel {the producer} has gone. The Queen herself is still alive--so are John {Huston} and Betty {Bacall} and Peter {Viertel, the German boat captain} and I.
It's hard to get old and lose people, and places, and memories that meant something are increasingly one's own unshareable treasures. What matters, in the end? Is it something anyone can see or is it something so buried there's never going to be another soul who sees it whole and entire?

Katharine Hepburn was a star, but more, she was a genius because she had an answer to that question, one that most people (I think) can agree with and buy into. It is her last word on the topic of this book.
Now, what do you suppose ever happened to Charlie and Rosie? Where did they live? Did they stay in Africa? I always thought they must have. And lots of little Charlies and Rosies. And lived happily ever after. Because that's what we wanted them to do. And every summer they take a trip in the old Queen--and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh.... ( )
5 vote richardderus | Feb 4, 2019 |
This lovely book doesn't take long to read and it's easy to hear Katharine Hepburn talking in her own unique style throughout the book. It's written the way she speaks and thinks and reveals many fascinating details about her, the cast, and the general setting and problems making the movie in the jungle on location. A very nice read and comical in some spots, too. Lots of black and white pictures, many full page. I'm glad I read it, as I've long liked the movie and will still watch the occasional rerun of it on TV. The next time, I'll see it with new eyes.

I'm reading some books so I can pass them on to someone else, and this is one of those. It's available if you're willing to pay media mail postage to get it. ( )
  Rascalstar | Jan 21, 2017 |
Really a conversational piece about Katharine Hepburn's experiences during the making of "The African Queen". This really would have benefited, I believe, from not being so chatty. Sometimes it was hard to follow. Hepburn would run from one topic to the next mid-paragraph, then retrace her steps to go back to her original thought. This should still appeal to any fan of the film. ( )
  briandrewz | May 5, 2014 |
My blog post about this book is at this link. ( )
  SuziQoregon | Mar 2, 2014 |
An interesting read. I haven't actually seen the African Queen, but now I want to. Very stream of consciousness. ( )
  liz.mabry | Sep 11, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
The Making of “The African Queen” is about Hepburn’s intense involvement with Huston, and the “and almost lost my mind,” in the title, is her pointing up that she knew he was impossible, but was smitten anyway. (He was forty-four and well known to be a charmer monster; she was forty-three). During a break in the filming, Huston decides to go hunting for elephants...

I don’t know that I would read this sort of gush by anyone else. But this is Katharine Hepburn writing about herself and John Huston; it’s an icon showing herself in a new light, and it has an element of giddy surprise. So do a couple of the photographs and the captions she has written.
added by SnootyBaronet | editThe New Yorker, Pauline Kael
 

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Katharine Hepburnprimary authorall editionscalculated
Elisofon, EliotCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keston, SueCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindroth, DavidMapsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tuominen, KarinKääntäjäsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I've never written a diary—well, I mean, put down dreary things like when did my eye start twitching? when did it stop? why did it do it?—well, you know, things the doctor asks you and you've always forgotten them because they are really fundamentally dull.
Quotations
Oh God, those stories. I don’t know how many words came out a minute—but articulation with this genius is a real problem and he’s so concentrated that nothing throws him. He doesn’t even seem aware of whether anyone is listening.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Recalls her experience of making this popular film, revealing her emotional highs and lows during the filming, her competitiveness, and her insecurities.

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