…or more rightly The Making of the African Queen, or How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall, and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind. Written by star Katharine Hepburn this is a rather light book which came out in the late 1980s, but don’t let the size fool you. Quality definitely isn’t reflected in the quantity.
Clocking in at a brisk 129 pages, there really isn’t time for what you would usually expect in a making of book. For starters, this is written with the benefit of over thirty years of hindsight. There are really few details about the making of the film in terms of scene by scene analysis. Rather there are more general thoughts about primarily the logistics involved and the conditions under which the great film was made.
We hear quite a bit about Ms. Hepburn’s living arrangements with a few valuable pages about which hut she will get on location and the trials of living in the bush, so to speak. We learn that she is quite particular about many things, most notably her breakfast. Breakfast seems secondary only to the toileting arrangements, which although perhaps not important now, make one chuckle in that several decades after the fact these memories were (at the time) so vivid for the film’s last remaining star.
So, to recap…priority one: breakfast….two: bathroom facilities….three: the movie.
Although reading like something Hepburn read into a tape recorder over the course of an afternoon this is quite a little gem of a book. It is precisely those things above (bathrooms, breakfasts, etc.) which show the book to be her’s and no one other’s. There are these and other similar little quips and snippets of humor, some of which are intentional.
As to the bulky title, it is perhaps a bit of an overstatement. Hepburn, if you read between the lines, seems to have done her own thing, not to my surprise. And Bogart’s and Bacall’s names may be there more because they should be, rather than because of any undue stresses they themselves caused.
Bacall’s role seems, given that she was there only as Bogie’s wife, to be that of a mother hen, most notably organizing meals. Bogart himself gets even less of the Garamond typeface, with Hepburn only noting her admiration for his excellence as a actor.
The person who did evidently nearly drive Hepburn batty was director John Huston. Although she originally thinks of him as a bit scatterbrained and uninvolved, especially during preproduction, ultimately she grudgingly speaks of his greatness. In spite of the drinking and hunting, which Hepburn is clear to state her opinions on – although she did accompany Huston on at least one elephant hunt where they were almost trampled.
As I mentioned earlier this is a little book and a quick read. The 129 pages are chock full of photos, many of which are very illuminating. You can read it in an hour or two, so I wouldn’t spent a lot on it. I found my copy in a used bookstore (it’s been out of print for years). However, a reprint is included with the collector’s edition release of the film on blu-ray, which came out earlier this year.
Definitely a good way to kill a plane ride, among other things.