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Bogart: The Man and the Myth; A review of Stefan Kanfer’s "Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart"

By Harold M. Green
March 11, 2013

The life, career and film legacy of Humphrey Bogart has been chronicled and scrutinized down the decades in numerous biographical studies. Among the more noteworthy and significant of these are Joe Hyams’ “Bogie: The Biography of Humphrey Bogart” (New American Library, 1966), Nathaniel Benchley’s “Humphrey Bogart” (Hutchinson, 1975), Robert Sklar’s “City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield” (Princeton, 1992) Anne M. Sperber and Eric Lax’s “Bogart” (Morrow, 1997), Jeffrey Meyers’ “Bogart: A Life in Hollywood” (Houghton-Mifflin, (1997) and finally Gerald Duchovnay’s “Humphrey Bogart: A Bio- Bibliography” (Greenwood Press, 1999).

A recent addition to already extensive literature on Bogart is writer and film critic Stefan Kanfer’s “Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart” (Knopf, 2011), which in structure and content follows generally along the lines of Sperber and Lax’s “Bogart.” As was the case in his two earlier biographies “Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx” and “Ball of Fire,” both published by Knopf, in “Tough Without a Gun” Kanfer combines the jeweler’s eye of the scholar with the wit and wisdom of the story teller. The result is a work that casts a new and fresh perspective on the already well-known facts of Bogart’s life and times.

Kanfer sets the stage for his study with a brief look back at Bogart’s forebears who were among the earliest Dutch settlers in New York City. Long before the film star became an American legend, Kanfer points out, the Bogart name was already associated with a high degree of achievement and class consciousness. In this context he uses as a case in point Bogart’s grandfather Adam whose inventive skills in the field of lithography gained for him entry into the highest echelons of New York City society. Furthermore, it was through Adam Bogart’s strength of character, determination and guidance that a path was set and a foundation laid for Belmont Bogart’s subsequent successful pursuit of a medical career.