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The Making of The African Queen: Or How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind (1987)

by Katharine Hepburn

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7321530,400 (3.86)61
At the start of World War I, German imperial troops burn down a mission in Africa. The mission's reverend was so overtaken with disappointment that he passes away. Shortly after his well-educated, snooty sister Rose buries her brother, she must leave on the only available transport, the 'African Queen' steamboat. The boat is manned by the ill-mannered bachelor, Charlie. Together they embark on a long difficult journey, without any comfort. Rose grows determined to assist in the British war effort and presses Charlie until he finally agrees and together they steam up the Ulana encountering an enemy fort, raging rapids, bloodthirsty parasites and endlessly branching steam which always seem to lead them to what appear to be impenetrable swamps. Despite their opposing personalities, the two grow closer to each other and ultimately carry out their plan to take out a German warship.… (more)
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One of my favorite small venues for an intimate, unique concert experience is The Kate—short for The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center—in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, a 285-seat theater with outstanding acoustics that hosts multi-genre entertainment in a historic building dating back to 1911 that once served as both theater and Town Hall. In 2013, my wife and I had the great pleasure of seeing Jefferson Airplane alum Marty Balin rock out at The Kate. More recently, we swayed in our seats to the cool Delta blues of Tab Benoit. On each occasion, prior to the show, we explored the photographs and memorabilia on display in the Katharine Hepburn Museum on the lower level, dedicated to the life and achievements of an iconic individual who was certainly one of greatest actors of her generation.
Hepburn was a little girl when she first stayed at her affluent family’s summer home in the tony Fenwick section of Old Saybrook, just a year after the opening of the then newly constructed Town Hall that today bears her name. She later dubbed the area “paradise,” returning frequently over the course of her long life and eventually retiring to her mansion in Fenwick overlooking the water, where she spent her final years until her death at 96 in 2003. The newly restored performing arts center named in her honor opened six years later, with the blessings of the Hepburn family and her estate.
One of the eye-catching attractions in the museum includes an exhibit behind glass showcasing Hepburn’s performance with co-star Humphrey Bogart in the celebrated 1951 film, The African Queen, that features a copy of the 1987 memoir credited to her whimsically entitled The Making of the African Queen: Or How I went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and almost lost my mind. I turned to my wife and asked her to add this book to my Christmas list.
Now, full disclosure: I am a huge Bogie fan (my wife less so!). I recently read and reviewed the thick biography Bogart, by A.M. Sperber & Eric Lax, and in the process screened twenty of his films in roughly chronological order. My wife sat in on some of these, including The African Queen, certainly her favorite of the bunch. If I had to pick five of the finest Bogie films of all time, that would certainly make the list. Often denied the recognition that was his due, he won his sole Oscar for his role here. A magnificent performer, in this case Bogart benefited not only from his repeat collaboration with the immensely talented director John Huston, but also by starring opposite the inimitable Kate Hepburn.
For those who are unfamiliar with the film (what planet are you from?), The African Queen, based on the C. S. Forester novel of the same name, is the story of the unlikely alliance and later romantic relationship between the staid, puritanical British missionary and “spinster” (a term suitable to the times) Rose Sayers (Hepburn) and the gin-soaked Canadian Charlie Allnut (Bogart), skipper of the riverboat African Queen, set in German East Africa (present-day Tanzania) at the outbreak of World War I. After aggression by German forces leaves Rose stranded, she is taken onboard by Allnut. In a classic journey motif that brilliantly courts elements of drama, adventure, comedy, and romance, the film follows this mismatched duo as they conspire to arm the African Queen with explosives and pilot it on a mission to torpedo a German gunboat. Those who watch the movie for the first time will be especially struck by the superlative performances of both Bogie and Hepburn, two middle-aged stars who not only complement one another beautifully but turn out an unexpected on-screen chemistry that has the audience emotionally involved, rooting for their romance and their cause. It is a tribute to their mutual talents that the two successfully communicated palpable on-screen passion to audiences of the time who must have been struck by the stark disparity between the movie posters depicting Bogie as a muscular he-man and Hepburn as a kind of Rita Hayworth twin—something neither the scrawny Bogart nor the aging Hepburn live up to in the Technicolor print. But even more so because those same 1951 audiences were well acquainted with the real-life 51-year-old Bogart’s marriage to the beautiful 27-year-old starlet Lauren (real name Betty) Bacall, born of an on-set romance when she was just 19.
Katharine Hepburn had a long career in Hollywood marked by dramatic ebbs and flows. While she was nominated for an Academy Award twelve times and set a record for winning the Best Actress Oscar four times, more than once her star power waned, and at one point she was even widely considered “box office poison.” Her offscreen persona was both unconventional and eccentric. She defied contemporary expectations of how a woman and a movie star should behave: shunning celebrity, sparring with the press, expressing unpopular political opinions, wearing trousers at a time that was unacceptable for ladies, fiercely guarding her privacy, and stubbornly clinging to an independent lifestyle. She was pilloried as boyish, and accused of lesbianism at a time when that was a vicious expletive, but she evolved into a twentieth century cultural icon. Divorced at a young age, she once dated Howard Hughes, but spent nearly three decades in a relationship with the married, alcoholic Spencer Tracy, with whom she costarred in nine films. Rumors of liaisons with other women still linger. Perhaps no other female figure cut a groove in Hollywood as deep as Kate Hepburn did.
Hepburn’s book, The Making of the African Queen, showed up under the tree last Christmas morning—the original hardcover first edition, for that matter—and I basically inhaled it over the next couple of days. It’s an easy read. Hepburn gets the byline but it’s clear pretty early on that the “narrative” is actually comprised of excerpts from interviews she sat for, strung together to give the appearance of a book-length chronicle. But no matter. Those familiar with Kate’s distinctive voice and the cadence of her signature Transatlantic accent will start to hear her pronouncing each syllable of the text in your head as you go along. That quality is comforting. But it is nevertheless plagued by features that should make you crazy: it’s anecdotal, it’s uneven, it’s conversational, it’s meandering, and maddingly it reveals only what Hepburn is willing to share. In short, if this were any other book about any other subject related by any other person, you would grow not only annoyed but fully exasperated. But somehow, unexpectedly, it turns out to be nothing less than a delight!
If The African Queen is a cinema adventure, aspects of the film production were a real-life one. Unusual for its time, bulky Technicolor cameras were transported to on-location shoots in Uganda and Congo, nations today that then were still under colonial rule. The heat was oppressive, and danger seemed to lurk everywhere, but fears of lions and crocodiles were trumped by smaller but fiercer army ants and mosquitoes, a host of water-borne pathogens, as well as an existential horror of leeches. Tough guy Bogie was miserable from start to finish, but Hepburn reveled in the moment, savoring the exotic flora and fauna, and bursting with excitement. Still, almost everyone—including Kate—fell terribly ill at least some of the time with dysentery and a variety of other jungle maladies. At one point Hepburn was vomiting between takes into a bucket placed off-screen. The running joke was that the only two who never got sick were Bogie and director Huston, because they eschewed the local water and only drank Scotch!
Huston went to Africa hoping to “out-Hemingway” Hemingway in big game hunting, but his safari chasing herds of elephants turned into a lone antelope instead. He seemed to do better with Kate. The book does not openly admit to an affair, but the intimacy between them leaps off the page. Hepburn proves affable through every paragraph, although sometimes less than heroic. Readers will wince when upon first arrival in Africa she instantly flies into a fit of rage that has her evict a staff member from an assigned hotel room that to her mind rightly should belong to a VIP of her caliber! And while she is especially kind, almost to a fault, to every African recruited to serve her in various capacities, there is a patronizing tone in her recollections that can’t help but make us a bit uncomfortable today. Still, you cannot detect even a hint of racism. You get the feeling that she genuinely liked people of all stations of life, but could be unrepentantly condescending towards those who did not, like her, walk among the stars. Yet, warts and all—and these are certainly apparent—Kate comes off today, long after her passing, as likeable as she did to those who knew her in her times. And what times those must have been!
This book is pure entertainment, with the added bonus of forty-five wonderful behind-the-scenes photographs that readers may linger upon far longer than the pages of text. For those who loved the film as I do, the candid moments that are captured of Bogie, Hepburn, and Huston are precious relics of classic Hollywood that stir the heart and the soul. If you are a fan, carve out the time and read The Making of the African Queen. But more importantly, screen The African Queen again. Then you will truly know what I mean.

A link to The Kate: The Kate
A link to the The African Queen on IMDB: IMDB: The African Queen
My review of the Bogart bio: Review of: Bogart, by A.M. Sperber & Eric Lax

NOTE: My top five Bogie films: Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, The Caine Mutiny—but there are so many, it’s difficult to choose…

Review of: The Making of the African Queen: Or How I went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and almost lost my mind, by Katharine Hepburn – Regarp Book Blog https://regarp.com/2023/08/12/review-of-the-making-of-the-african-queen-or-how-i... ( )
  Garp83 | Aug 12, 2023 |
More than 35 years after making “The African Queen” with Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn wrote about the experience in “The Making of The African Queen” (1987).

The short book, full of photographs (not movie stills), is loaded with charm. In a few, well-chosen words, Hepburn captures the personalities of those involved in making the movie, including director John Huston and producer Sam Spiegel. Her descriptions are often blunt, but never more so than when writing about herself. She calls herself an "old fusspot" at one point and says she "looked like a very freckled female impersonator."

About Bogart she says, "To put it simply: There was no bunk about Bogie. He was a man." As for Lauren Bacall, who does not appear in the film, Hepburn describes how effective she is working behind the scenes. She regards Huston as a genius despite what often seemed to her a lackadaisical attitude about the movie.

The adventure of making the movie in Africa almost rivals the adventure in the movie itself. At one point the African Queen sinks. Army ants stream through the middle of Hepburn's hut. She gets very sick, as do many others who drink the bottled water. Those who stick with alcohol do fine.

"Technical problems galore and no chairs — no dressings rooms — no toilet — hot ginger ale and fruit juice and beer — the problem of sending out lunch for forty people," she writes. Complete sentences are not a high priority for Hepburn.

Anyone who loves this movie would love this book. ( )
  hardlyhardy | May 11, 2023 |
Fun little book on her experience in Africa making the movie with Bogart and with director John Huston. Very candid. ( )
  kslade | Dec 8, 2022 |
I read this 3 days after seeing the movie. It is written in the style of Hepburn's speech, and full of wonderful insights into the personalities of the people of the film, especially Hepburn herself, John Huston, and Humphrey Bogart. ( )
  LindaLeeJacobs | Feb 15, 2020 |
Not really a making of book more of a memoir of her time spent in Africa and the making of the film. Starts with the contract negotiations and the lack of a script. Her travels to get to Africa and then Africa itself. She talks about having to have the best hut in her viewpoint even going so far as to kick some others in the production crew out of their motel room. Her helping hand man who was a native. Very fun read and you can easily hear her voicing this book aloud and her very forthright attitude. ( )
  ChrisWeir | Oct 1, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (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
Hepburn, KatharineAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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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At the start of World War I, German imperial troops burn down a mission in Africa. The mission's reverend was so overtaken with disappointment that he passes away. Shortly after his well-educated, snooty sister Rose buries her brother, she must leave on the only available transport, the 'African Queen' steamboat. The boat is manned by the ill-mannered bachelor, Charlie. Together they embark on a long difficult journey, without any comfort. Rose grows determined to assist in the British war effort and presses Charlie until he finally agrees and together they steam up the Ulana encountering an enemy fort, raging rapids, bloodthirsty parasites and endlessly branching steam which always seem to lead them to what appear to be impenetrable swamps. Despite their opposing personalities, the two grow closer to each other and ultimately carry out their plan to take out a German warship.

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