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Posted: 12:00 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013

He’s finally comfortable being Bogart’s son



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He’s finally comfortable being Bogart’s son photo
Stephen Humphrey Bogart, son of movie legends Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, inside WXEL public television station TV42 on January 7, 2013. Bogart recently launched a half-hour series on WXEL TV called Bogart on Movies where, among other things, he performs movie reviews and features a classic movie pick of the week. (Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post)

By Scott Eyman

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Stephen Bogart jokes that he looks like his father from the nose up. Strictly speaking, this is untrue — you could pick Humphrey Bogart’s kid out of a lineup.

But Stephen Humphrey Bogart is 64 years old, which means he’s seven years older than his father was when he died of cancer in 1957, which means he’s nobody’s kid anymore. The realization that he had exceeded his own father’s life span came accompanied by a slight jolt.

“He had a short sprint,” is the way Bogart refers to his father’s early demise. “He died 30 days after his 57th birthday.”

Stephen Bogart is the host of a new WXEL-Channel 42 show being filmed here entitled “Bogart at the Movies.” The title leads you to expect a series of shows devoted to Humphrey Bogart movies, but actually it’s a movie review show in the style of Siskel without Ebert, but with Steve Bogart, whose expertise about the movies has to be categorized as genetic — not only was his father Humphrey Bogart, his mother is Lauren Bacall.

At the time of his father’s death, Stephen Bogart was eight years old, his sister Leslie was five, and they were being raised in the more or less traditional Hollywood manner — by nannies. Speaking of nannies, Bogart’s dropped dead on the tarmac as his parents were taking off to make “The African Queen.” When they landed in London, his mother called the family doctor and got another nanny. “That’s the way things were done at that time,” says Bogart.

“My father was older, and he was set in his ways. He’d go to work, and then he wanted to be with his fourth wife, have a drink and dinner. By then, it was time for me to go to bed. On the weekends, he’d go on his boat. Babies were just not his thing. I believe we would have gotten closer as he grew older.”

It was on the boat, named “Santana,” that Bogart was most alive. “It was a beautiful yawl, and he sailed it himself. He was a real sailor; I’ve got cups that he won for racing. Women weren’t allowed; he said if women were around you couldn’t pee over the side.”

Over the years, Steve Bogart got the most accurate idea of his father not from his mother, but from old friends — Sam Jaffe, his father’s agent, Joe Hyams, a columnist and drinking buddy. “My mother absolutely idealized him. She was 25 years younger, and it’s hard to fall in love with someone that much older without idealizing them.”

Humphrey Bogart took a year to die of throat cancer — a time when he grew even more distant from his children. “He didn’t want us to see him like that. I think it was a mistake on his part, but who are you to tell someone who’s dying what they should do? Who knew from closure in 1957?”

After her husband’s death, Lauren Bacall headed for London, then New York. She starred on Broadway — “Goodbye Charlie,” “Cactus Flower,” “Applause” — and married Jason Robards Jr. All that meant that Steve “didn’t grow up in the movie business; I grew up in the theater business.” While a new nanny took care of Bogart’s half-brother Sam, “my sister and I were on our own.”

Life in Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills is completely insulated; life in New York is the complete reverse, even if you’re living at the Dakota — when Bogart was ten, he got held up on 73rd Street by a kid with a knife who wanted his baseball glove. “New York taught me how to get along. L.A. is great for certain things, but Beverly Hills is not the real world. I actively tried to get away from that.”

Bacall’s marriage to Robards didn’t last, as he was in his drinking years. When Robards was sober, he was a good guy; when he was drunk, Bogart says that he could be “caustic, although I wouldn’t say he was a mean drunk. But he was a great actor.”

Robards and Bacall divorced in 1969, but the kids stayed close; Bogart had Christmas dinner last year with Jason Robards III.

Bogart gave the family business a half-hearted try in high school, but he quickly realized the gift had not been passed on - he was stiff and self-conscious, an instinctively terrible actor.

“I wanted to stay out of the limelight. I had a kid when I was 21, but emotionally I was a lot younger than 21. Looking back, I ran away from who I was. I never gave anybody my last name unless I had to; I wanted people to like or dislike me for who I was. I never hung around with movie stars. All my friends are real people, not that movie people aren’t real, but you know what I mean. Did my mother like it? No.”

All that began to change in 1987, when Bacall gave her children the rights to their father’s name and likeness. At that point, Stephen Bogart began to gingerly edge into the Bogart business. He wrote a memoir about his father, while licensing and constant TV and cable re-runs have kept their father’s name and appeal alive and provided his children with income.

That was a good thing, because Humphrey Bogart was not a great businessman — he tended to work for straight salary instead of a percentage, which means no royalty stream for his estate. Even though there was some licensing money coming in, Stephen Bogart always kept working at his chosen profession — TV news producer.

He was a journeyman — ESPN, MSNBC, Court TV, WPIX in Tampa, the CBS Early Show. Some of it was fun, some of it wasn’t. “Producing a morning show is the hardest job in television. Especially with Bryant Gumbel and Jane Clayson.” Married twice, with three children — one in law school at the University of Miami, another at FAU — Bogart lives in Naples quite happily with a girlfriend he’s known for 30 years. His sister Leslie is a nurse and yoga instructor, and his mother is now the longest living resident of The Dakota.

He’s comfortable talking about himself and his family; he’s never been in therapy, so it’s probable that all the conversation, not to mention representing the family at various functions, have sanded off the rough edges of discontent. “Once I started to do it, I realized how grateful people are.”

Bill Scott is executive vice president at WXEL and has known Bogart for more than 30 years.“What strikes me is how little he’s changed from when we worked together in 1981,” says Scott. “If I see anything that might fall into the ‘changed’ category I guess it would be that he seems more introspective … more ‘I know who I am and I am comfortable with it.’ He still has a terrific sense of humor, the same calm approach to things.

“One might expect that the son of Hollywood legends, surrounded by great talents and powerful egos, would have a personality that might suggest an entitled life, with expectations of special treatment, or that he would just shut down, like a turtle pulling in his head. Neither one of these is Steve. The phrase ‘he wears well’ fits.”

WXEL and Bogart hope the movie review show will get nationally syndicated. It is bumptious fun, although like anybody without performing talent, Bogart doesn’t quite know what to do with his hands. He’s not afraid to throw a few elbows — “I don’t think there’s any movie that Peter Travers doesn’t like,” he says about the reflexively enthusiastic critic for “Rolling Stone.”

Bogart’s favorite movie from last year was “Django Unchained,” and he had problems with “Les Miserables”: “They needed singers who could act rather than actors who could sing.

“Reviewing movies isn’t heavy lifting. I have a pedigree, I have some insights. I think I can add something. I’m not James Lipton - I’m not learned in that way. Maybe it plays to my strength; I was a horrible actor because I couldn’t be anyone but myself. Now I can be myself.”

Bogart keeps busy; besides the TV show, he has his real estate license and has sold a few houses, and there’s a Humphrey Bogart Festival that will be starting in Key Largo in May. He’s perfectly content with what he has and who he is — “This is my lineage. I don’t need to be anonymous anymore.”

If the defensiveness about his parents has been eroded by the years, in some generalized way the reality of his father is still somehow mysterious to him, perhaps because there were so many conversations they never had. If he could ask his father one question, what would it be?

“Did I do OK? I haven’t been to jail yet. My kids are all upstanding citizens. Yeah, I’d ask him if I did OK.”


BOGART AT THE MOVIES: 5:30 p.m. Fridays; 10:30 a.m., 6 p.m. Saturdays, WXEL-Channel 42.

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