African Queen, The (1951): Making of John Huston’s Epic Adventure, Starring Bogart and Katharine Hepburn; Role of Luck; Bette Davis; David Niven

Making of The African Queen

Outside of his company, Santana Productions, Humphrey Bogart starred with Katharine Hepburn in the John Huston-directed adventure, The African Queen in 1951.

Bogart got to do the movie because Bette Davis turned it down. Warner bought the book for her in 1935.

In 1938, producer Henry Blanke borrowed David Niven from Goldwyn to play opposite Davis. The deal was signed and Niven even spent 4 weeks polishing up his cockney accent.  At the last minute, however, Davis had a falling out with Blanke and told him that she refused to be photographed outdoors, So the picture was canceled, and the property then sold to Fox, where 12 years later, John Huston made it.

Role of Luck

Once again, luck played a factor for Bohart, as it had when he got to play Petrified Forest (due to Leslie Howard’s determination)

The Maltese Falcon only because George Raft turned it down; High Sierra because Muni turned it down because the part had first been offered to Raft.

The C. S. Forester novel on which it was based was overlooked and left undeveloped for 15 years–until producer Sam Spiegel and Huston bought the rights. Spiegel sent Katharine Hepburn the book, and she is the one who suggested Bogart for the male lead, believing that “he was the only man who could have played that part.”

Huston’s love of adventure, his deep, longstanding friendship (and former success) with Bogart, and the chance to work with Hepburn convinced the actor to leave Hollywood for a difficult shoot on location in the Belgian Congo.

Bogart was to get 30 percent of the profits and Hepburn 10 percent, plus a small salary for both.

When the stars met in London, they announced to the press that they were excited to be working together–for the first (and as it turned out last)–time.

Bogey’s wife, Lauren Bacall came for the over-four-month duration, leaving their young son in Los Angeles. The Bogarts began the trip with a junket through Europe, including a visit with Pope Pius XII. Bacall later made herself useful as a cook, nurse and clothes washer.

Bogey later said: “I don’t know what we’d have done without her. She laxed my undies in darkest Africa.”

Unfortunately, nearly everyone in the cast developed dysentery except for Bogart and Huston, who subsisted on canned food and alcohol.

Bogart said, “All I ate was baked beans, canned asparagus and Scotch whisky. Whenever a fly bit Huston or me, it dropped dead.”

Hepburn (a teetotaler) fared worse in the difficult conditions, losing weight and at one point becoming very ill. Bogart resisted Huston’s insistence on using real leeches in a key scene where Charlie has to drag his steam launch through an infested marsh, and reasonable fakes were employed. The crew overcame illness, army-ant infestations, leaky boats, poor food, attacking hippos, poor water filters, extreme heat, isolation, and a boat fire to complete the film.

Despite the discomfort of jumping from the boat into filthy swamps, rivers and marshes, the experience apparently rekindled Bogart’s early love of boats. When he returned to California, he bought a classic mahogany Hacker-Craft runabout which he kept until his death.