In 1942, Humphrey Bogart, 43, a two-fisted scotch drinking, five pack a day cigarette addict, with a prolific four letter word vocabulary, veteran of 44 movies, was cast in a B-picture, THE BIG SHOT. It followed his big hit, THE MALTESE FALCON. As Sam Spade, he at last became a romantic hero.

It isn’t clear why his BIG SHOT co-star, Irene Manning, primarily known as a musical stage star, was cast as his gun moll. Irene, 25, a non smoker, non drinker, embarrassed at the least bit of profanity, considered herself “a square”.  On her first day on the set, director Lewis Seiler asked her if she was going to sing her lines, unsettling her.

Bogart who died in 1957, at age 57, is very contemporary as the antiestablishment young have made a cult of him.  Also, he leads the 50 greatest screen legends rosters. As for Irene, who died in 2004, she had to answer those who asked: “What was it like to kiss Bogie?”

Prior to this role, her agent, Vic Orsatti, had arranged a 27-page, seven-year contract with the studio, based on a very successful screen test. They had changed her name from Hope Manning to Irene, and for her first picture they had cast her in the studio’s biggest scheduled production, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY opposite James Cagney.  “I loved every moment,” said Irene.

Irene finished her YANKEE scenes on Saturday and reported to work for BIG SHOT the following Monday.  Casting off her period costumes she went to wardrobe for the latest ’40s look. At first, she had seen Bogie on the lot only from a distance. After the star treatment she had been given she now felt Seiler’s treatment was demeaning. She said, “I hated every minute of it. I went home and cried every night. The director was what we call in the trade a button-hole maker. He was so miserable and upbraided me terribly.” Bogie advised her to ignore it. “Listen kid, don’t worry about the camera. Just know your lines and be prepared.”

Irene says, “He was completely honest {a rarity among actors}. He didn’t turn his charm on and off. You took him as he was. I trusted his straightforwardness and we got along fine.”  One reason was, he didn’t have to wear lifts to add to his height. Irene was just 5’2″ to his 5’7″.  Bogie would come onto the set each morning and say, “OK, what’s on for today?” As if he didn’t know what scene he would be doing, or what lines he had. Irene says, “He knew his lines backward. He was so professional.”

Irene was not in awe of her co-star but was impressed with his “tennis anyone” background: educated, socially prominent, legitimate theater experience. He was the well-bred son of Dr. Belmont Bogart and his illustrator wife, Margaret Humphrey.  Bogie attended exclusive schools and was a dedicated stage actor before he went to Hollywood. Actually there were two Bogies. He was in a class of his own. He was essentially a man’s man and enjoyed tying one on with his cronies. He played bridge and chess while singing a few obscene sea shanties, bantered with Noel Coward, went fishing with Hemingway, intellectualized with Spencer Tracy, and chided Katharine Hepburn for being an expert on St. Thomas Aquinas. Irene continued: “His home in Beverly Hills was lavishly furnished with Picassos and Dufys on the walls. The library was stacked with the classics and leather-bound copies of High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon and other masterpieces.”

“Can you imagine Humphrey Bogart being mistaken for anyone else but Humphrey Bogart?” asks Irene. She suspected that under that tough guy image beat a heart as sentimental as his birthday, December 25th. “He didn’t want to do the picture. None of us wanted to. But you had to or go on suspension.” Bogie quipped, “This studio has more suspensions than the Golden Gate Bridge. Ask Davis, Flynn, Lupino, de Havilland, Garfield and me.” Although Irene was prepared to kiss Bogie in the love scenes, it never happened. The most intimate scene between them took place in a cabin up in the Sierra mountains, where they were “on the lam hiding out from the cops.”  She was to make pancakes for him and he was to help her.

“The day before I had done a series of cheesecake publicity shots in sexy outfits,” she confided. “I was photographed from all different angles, always leaning on something. When I finished the session I had a sprained wrist. That day, doing the scene, I was in pain as I mixed the batter. I was supposed to cry and tell Bogie ‘we couldn’t go on like this’.” The director said, “Do you want glycerin to make you cry?” “I said, ‘No thank you, I don’t need any’, I was ready to cry the minute I arrived.”

In the scene she shooed Bogie out of the kitchen to sit before the fireplace until the pancakes were ready. While mixing the batter, she was talking to him seriously when he suddenly fell backward in the rocking chair. Now, this was not in the script. She laughed and said something teasingly while he pulled himself together and got up. Instead of saying cut, Seiler said print. And the scene remained as is.  In the climax chase scene, through the snow-banked mountain roads, with the cops hot on their trail, Irene got shot in the back from a bullet meant for Bogart. Bravely she tells her lover to drive faster to make his getaway. Suddenly, she slumps over and dies in Bogart’s arms, remaining kiss-less till the very end.

Gene Arceri has gained world attention as a writer, critic, award winning PBS reviewer and publicist. A native New Yorker, Gene resides in San Francisco and spends considerable time in London. Among his best selling books are: ‘Elizabeth Taylor: Her Life. Her Loves. Her Future’, Susan Hayward’s ‘RED’ and ‘Charlie of Nob Hill’. {San Francisco’s most famous cat}arcgen@sbcglobal.net





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