The Making of “The African Queen”

Hepburn’s writing style, like her screen presence, is always engaging, but it is curious to find that she addresses the reader with a casual intimacy rather than the elegant detachment one might expect. The book is structured as a very candid, informal conversation, and she is not at all hesitant to describe her strong first impressions of everything from John Huston’s drinking, hunting, and occasional concern for completing the film to the makeshift bathroom accommodations found in the wilderness. One of the weaknesses of the book, though, is that it tends to concentrate on the latter while neglecting the former.

Scattered throughout the text are some tantalizingly vivid details of what it was like to move from the “safe” role of Rosalind in a touring company’s production of William Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT to join a rag-tag crew of actors and technicians roughing it in Africa. Her judgments of her fellow workers are economical but not superficial: She gets to the heart of Bogart’s character by stating simply that there was no “bunk” about him at all, and her sketches of Lauren Bacall and Huston are equally direct and incisive.

At every moment when she seems about to reveal something of lasting interest about the film or the countryside, though, she skips ahead to another topic. In one of the most intriguing sections of the book, she describes Huston subtly directing her in a scene, suggesting that she respond to grief...

(The entire section is 438 words.)