MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

BOGIE, THE TOUGH GUY WHO WASN’T

And Arnold Bennett, the professional who would rather be read than great

JAMES BANNERMAN November 5 1966
MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

BOGIE, THE TOUGH GUY WHO WASN’T

And Arnold Bennett, the professional who would rather be read than great

JAMES BANNERMAN November 5 1966

BOGIE, THE TOUGH GUY WHO WASN’T

And Arnold Bennett, the professional who would rather be read than great

MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

Bannerman on books

MOST BOOKS ABOUT Hollywood movie stars are either fatuous biographies written by hacks, or badly edited transcripts of long interviews characterized by triviality, bitchiness, or both. Bogie, by Joe Hyams, is a striking exception to the dismal rule.

Hyams, who is said in a note by the publishers to be “currently the highest-paid freelance journalist in the world,” knew Humphrey Bogart about as well as anyone could know that enigmatic man, and was clearly fond of him. But he hasn’t allowed affection to distort his story of Bogart’s life; and he tells it with unswerving integrity and a kind of warm detachment. He shows that although Bogart was essentially and almost fanatically honest, he was in some ways a charlatan, particularly in his fostering of the legend of his gangster-like toughness — a total contradiction of his true nature, which was gentle and unobtrusive. Indeed he was so far from tough that when a stranger came up to him in a bar and challenged him to step outside and fight, as strangers rather often did, Bogart was more conciliatory than he need have been; sometimes to the point of seeming downright timid.

As Hyams deals with them, even the heavy drinking and light loving of Bogart’s early years are made interesting and significant; and his marriage to Lauren Bacall is presented with such compassionate realism as to leave no doubt that it actually was as

good and happy as it seemed. Bogie is the sort of biography actors seldom get and still more seldom deserve and whether or not you’re a member of the steadily growing Bogart cult, in itself something of a phenomenon, you’ll find Hyams’ account of him distinctly worth reading.

WHEN ARNOLD BENNETT died, in 1931,

he was one of the most popular authors in the world; and he remains fairly popular to this day, when many of his Edwardian and Georgian contemporaries are forgotten. Yet the really arresting thing about him was not his popularity but his attitude toward his work—an attitude expressed in the title of the new life of him by Dudley Barker: Writer By Trade. Few men have ever been so consciously professional writers, or so proud of deserving to be called that.

Bennett, born in a shabby neighborhood in a small town in England’s industrial Midlands and largely selfeducated, doesn’t seem to have wanted to be known as a great writer. He wanted to be read, widely and eagerly; and to achieve that ambition he had of course to be unusually attentiongetting. This he was able to be, partly by his inherent gifts but chiefly by constant and deliberate effort, maintained throughout the whole of his enormous and uneven output. Some of his 35 novels are anything from undistinguished to positively trashy; others, the Clayhanger trilogy a notable example, are so good that they verge on greatness. But his novels, short stories, articles, book reviews (he was a very influential literary critic), and everything else he wrote, have one quality in common. They catch and hold the attention because of what amounts to showmanship in their style and organization; a showmanship which, as I’ve already indicated, was the result of calculated and painstaking craftsmanship.

He was fond of giving and going to parties, and was a compulsive talker in spite of the stammer from which he suffered all his life. He was also neurotic in certain respects — above all in his mania for punctuality, that led

him for instance to make his servant tell him the exact time when boiling water had been poured into the pot for his afternoon tea, and then, watch in hand, pour his first cup precisely four minutes later. He was something more than slightly neurotic, too, in his concern for money; of which he made a great deal, worried about constantly, and managed very badly. Yet none of his peculiarities kept him from being a supremely competent and highly professional writer; and it is the main value of Dudley Barker’s biography of him that this paramount aspect is not merely emphasized but explained.

ANOTHER NEW BOOK having to do with authorship is The Creative Writer, by Earle Birney — the collected texts of seven half-hour talks broadcast last winter on CBC radio in a series called The Best Ideas You’ll Hear Tonight. Birney’s approach to writing, though it certainly isn’t professional, is very different from the approach of Arnold Bennett; and in these talks Birney discusses basic principles of creativity, especially as they apply to poetry. What he has to say is at once interesting and instructive, and should do more to encourage would-be writers than to discourage them.

Bogie, by Joe Hyams. General Publishing Co., $6.25.

Writer By Trade, by Dudley Barker. Thomas Nelson & Sons (Canada), $7.95.

The Creative Writer, by Earle Birney. CBC Publications, $1.25.

JAMES BANNERMAN