The Passing of Peter Jennings
It got me thinking about the time I turned down a chance to meet Humphrey Bogart.
The Hollywood Years
My uncle was Eric Hatch, a short story writer and novelist whose most famous work was the novel, “My Man Godfrey.” Eric went out to California to write the screenplay with Morrie Ryskind for what became the great 1936 screwball comedy starring William Powell, Carole Lombard and Mischa Auer. Eric was nominated for an Academy Award.
While in Hollywood, Eric and his wife, Gertie, became friends with many of the stars, including Humphrey Bogart and his wife, Mayo Methot, whose stormy marriage earned them the sobriquet, The Battling Bogarts.
Once a year my father would go out to Hollywood to visit Eric and used to party with Bogart and occasionally play bridge with him. “It was really unnerving to have Bogart growl ‘three clubs’ in his most menacing Duke Mantee voice,” my father said. “And he used to cheat outrageously at croquet.”
Fast forward to 1956. I was living in New York, and my father and stepmother came into town from Long Island to take me to a late lunch at ‘21,’ the legendary saloon on 52nd Street that had been a speakeasy during Prohibition--a favorite haunt of my father’s during the ‘20s and ‘30s. It was a Wednesday afternoon. The matinee crowd had left for the theater and the bar was practically deserted. We were seated in the prestigious first bay--only because no celebrities or regulars were in the place.
Midway through our hamburgers, Bogart walked in with Lauren Bacall, Clifton Webb and a woman none of us recognized.
Bogart looked awful. His face was deeply etched with dark lines and he had a gray, sallow pallor. Nearsighted as I am, it was obvious to me that the hand of death was on his shoulder.