Film & TV

Stephen Bogart on Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, Digital Resurrections, and His Dad

When Humphrey Bogart's son, Stephen Bogart, decided to start a film festival dedicated to his father, the Naples, Florida-based writer knew the perfect city: Key Largo. It happens to be the title of the film set in the well-known Upper Key.

Directed by John Huston, Key Largo stars Bogart and his wife Lauren Bacall (Stephen's mother) as one of several people taken hostage by a gangster (Edward G. Robinson), all while a tropical storm brews outside. It's one of the many Bogart films playing at the festival, which kicks off Thursday, May 1.

Speaking over the phone from his Naples home, Bogart calls the location of the festival, which is in its second year, "obvious," but adds that "the ambiance there always seemed like a good place." There are not many film venues in the Upper Keys, but somehow, the festival will show 21 films multiple times; and host talks, workshops, a brunch, and even a black tie gala.

"They're showing all around Key Largo, and a number of them are being shown outside," Bogart noted. "There are a couple of venues at the Hilton, which are fantastic. There are a couple of movies houses, yes. There's also going to be a concert hall. So there are a few inside, and we have provisions in case it rains."

All the movies will be shown digitally, which pleases Bogart. "It's unbelievable on the big screen," he said. "It's fantastic. The difference is phenomenal, especially the old stuff, and you see stuff that you haven't seen before when you see it on the big screen, as opposed to the TV."

Digital projection is great, but it got Cultist thinking. What else might the digital revolution have in store for icons like Bogart? We also had a few questions of what it was like growing up with an icon for a father.

Cultist: Right now, there is a popular TV commercial for chocolate starring Audrey Hepburn. When this technology appeared, I remember talk of resurrecting Bogart this way. How do you feel about it?

Stephen Bogart: First of all, the Audrey Hepburn ad, that was so weird. I know Sean Ferrer very well, who is Audrey's son, and I haven't talked to him about it, but I will say it was just kind of strange because it was obviously Audrey, the music was obviously from Breakfast at Tiffany's. They played "Moon River." But ... the lookalike thing, I didn't really like that much, but you know what? People love Audrey Hepburn, and as long as the family's involved, that's fine by me.

We did a Diet Coke commercial a long, long time ago [1992] with my father digitally enhanced. It's fine. I don't have a problem with that. Why should only people who are alive be only able to do that stuff? People from the golden age of Hollywood, the top people, people love them, so that's what the ads are for. As long as everybody gets paid, everything's done with the family's approval. I don't have a problem with it.

What about actual feature films in the future? Do you think that would be possible?

Wow! Now that would be weird, wouldn't it? I don't know how they would do that. The look I can see, but the voices? I don't know how you would get the nuances. I mean, it would be interesting to see, just to see if they could do it. It's obviously not him, but I'm a computer guy. I like technology, and I'd like to see it, as I said, just to see if they could do it right. I wouldn't want it to be like colorizing. It doesn't work. Black and white is black and white, and it's shot differently, and it looks different. Maybe it wouldn't work out, but I'd certainly love to see someone give it a shot, just because it would be interesting to see.

I read you were named after Bogart's character's nickname in To Have and Have Not?

Correct, and my sister is named after Leslie Howard because of The Petrified Forest. He gave my father his first film break, really, so my mother named Leslie Leslie.

I understand how pop culture can have an affect on the person who gets the name. Do you feel it has had some sort of affect on defining you? If so, how?

Yeah, I was a little reticent. What it does is it makes you wonder whether people like you for your name, or for who you are, or for just they like you. It affected me for a while. It made me kind of stand-offish as to friends. The friends that I have now, for the most part, are the friends that I've had for 30, 40 years. I have a few close friends, and they don't care about that stuff. Even the people that I meet on the road, they really want to see what you're like as a person, and they want to meet you because of who you are. But overall, they want to see that you're not an asshole. It affected me for a long while, and I stayed away from it for a long while. But once I wrote the book with my co-writer Gary Provost, In Search of My Father, then I got comfortable with it, and it was OK. It could have been worse.

Can you leave me with a memory of him, as a family man, that you remember as a child?

It's interesting. He died 57 years ago, at the age of 57, and I was only 8 years old, but I remember him. I don't have visual, like movie memories that I can say, "oh, we did this or that." I remember going down to the boat, and I remember being with him at home. I have photos, snapshots of him. I don't remember him on the set. I didn't really go on the set. He wasn't home a lot because, as his agent said, 35, 36 weeks out of the year, he'd go to the boat. Between that and going on the road, that doesn't leave him with a lot of time. But I remember him as a parent. He was an older parent, and we were just starting to get a good relationship when he died, but I don't think he was a baby guy, and he worked all the time. He made 75 movies. He made like four movies a year, every year, but I just remember him in slacks and a sport coat, shirt, going to lunch at Romanov's. I remember a snapshot of that. Me eating creamed spinach. I liked it. I don't know why, and being on the boat. The few times I was on the boat, I was scared of the boat because it's big. If you've been on a sail boat, you know that they lean over. When you're a 6-year-old kid, it's like, woah! Those are really what we remember.

The Humphrey Bogart Film Festival unfolds at variety of venues in and near Key Largo. Key Largo Chamber of Commerce. 106000 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, FL 33037.

Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.

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Hans Morgenstern has contributed to Miami New Times for too many decades, but he's grown to love Miami's arts and culture scene because of it. He is the chair of the Florida Film Critics Circle, and most of his film criticism can be found on Independent Ethos ( if not in New Times.