Wednesday, January 01, 2020

On The 70th Anniversary- Magical Realism One-On-One- With Humphrey Bogart And Lauren Bacall’s “Dark Passage” (1947)

On The 70th Anniversary- Magical Realism One-On-One- With Humphrey Bogart And Lauren Bacall’s “Dark Passage” (1947)

By Seth Garth

[At this point I am not involved in the so-called controversy between the younger and older writers of which I am one since I have moved on, have been actually trying to put stories together not let my bile jump up at me. Yes, I voted to retain my old friend Allan Jackson, but what of it-S.G]

It is a funny thing about breaks, about how things twist and turn in this crazy old world. Hey I should know, I, Pat Lynch, who has been in the private detection business for the past thirty-five years ever since I got out of the Army back at the end of World War II. (By the way private detection, detective is the way I like to hear it said not shamus, gumshoe, key-hole peeper like they say on television or in those silly crime detection novels as much as I liked reading guys like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler back before I got into the real profession and found they were mostly blowing smoke.) Take the Humphrey Bogart case, or what turned out to be the name of the case, a name I was told he did not use among his various names, his aliases, his akas as we say in the business, since he hated it from childhood when the kids thought he was humpty-dumpty and later when dope, marijuana was exotic and illegal hipsters would say “don’t bogart that joint.”

This Bogart case I worked off and on for the better part of twenty years in the days when the coppers, the public coppers, were offering five thou, big money then for the whereabouts dead or alive of the guy. Big money especially to a guy starting out a few years after the war in order to bring this guy to justice, or back to justice since he had escaped San Quentin, the Q and while on the lam he killed his best friend, some frail, some ex-girlfriend and some two-bit small time crook, con man really. They laid the whole mess on it in any case so it was the same thing.  Never did find him and I went to South America and Europe to try to collar him so he could be dead or alive some place. All I know is the case had plenty of twists and turns and Bogart got his share of bumps and breaks along the way so what I just said is true about breaks. And a little idea that maybe Bogart didn’t commit all those murders and was framed. Like I said breaks.            

Maybe you don’t remember the Bogart case? Back in the late 1940s it was all the rage in the papers for about six months in the days when they would run with a news story like that forever not like today when even murder cases get a day or two and then go with the breeze. This Bogart was supposed to have killed his wife in a rage with an iron from the fireplace. He did admit to having a quarrel with that wife before he left but he never hit her that day (neighbor testimony told a story that he was on other occasions abusive, had hit her at least one and she had had a black-eye to show for it). At trial which like I say was “page one” for weeks in Frisco though he was done in by that ex-girlfriend he later allegedly killed during his escape. She claimed she saw him hit that wife from the window outside the Bogart residence and the defense could never shake her story. So that and Bogarts’ being the only fingerprints on the iron doomed him. On defense Bogart claimed that this frail, this ex-girlfriend, Agnes, had never been his girlfriend, that she was jealous of the wife and despite their marital troubles he never had plans to leave that wife. The jury didn’t buy the story-life, life without parole.                

Which who knows should have been the end of the story and the only place Bogart should next have been seen anyway outside the Q was at his potter’s field funeral. But this Bogart was not only lucky in some ways which you have to be to escape any serious secured prison but he had planned it for years staying mostly to himself working out plans in his head (he had been an engineer before he fell down, before he took the big fall). Easy as pie from what I gathered as long as you don’t care about placing yourself in a garage barrel when they come to get rid of the trash on the outside. And Bogart didn’t. The next parts are a little murky since it was mostly pieced together from a lot of information that seemed contradictory-seemed to tempt the fates too much.     

He got out okay and along the road he jiggles the barrel enough to have it flip off the road down an embankment the clueless driver not noticing anything fall off the truck. In any case the coppers, once the warden declared an escape, were on the trail fast-caught up with that truck driver who knowing nothing noticed one barrel missing. So the cops started heading back up the road they had just come from.  Here is where luck plays a small role, part one, Bogart after discarding his shirt grabbed a ride from a passing car, from that two-bit small time con man. That funny little con man asked too many questions though and he bonked him one leaving him off to the side of the road. While he was doing that a stray car, a station wagon since she had to carry her art supplies around, pulled up and told him to get in, told him by name. This Lauren, Lauren Bacall, known in the Bay Area as something of an artist but also with dough left by a step-father who killed her mother and got the big sent-off, step-off really at Q for it had been following his case for years, had been at the trial (shades of her father’s case where she thought he too was innocent) and hearing the police reports over the radio decided to help Bogart along. Yeah, I know.

That’s the story anyway, once I heard the story from Bob, the dame’s boyfriend at the time who got wise once things didn’t add up about why she was giving him the deep freeze, the heave-ho really and she told him flat out she had another man after he found men’s clothing in her bedroom. But this was well after the whereabouts of Bogart, and Lauren, reached a dead end and I was looking for anything to get back on track.            

The way it figures from there is that she brought him to her place over on Russian Hill to keep him under wraps for a while. But a guy who every copper in California was looking for needed to hide out somewhere else. Needed that hideaway since he was going to get some plastic surgery done to change his looks enough to blow town, head to South America where they don’t ask questions, especially from gringos with a little dough to stop the questions. That is where his good friend, a stand-up guy, George was supposed to help keep him undercover after the surgery. No play. After the surgery Bogart went back to George’s place but he had been murdered by a party or parties unknown, and so back to Lauren’s place and some better plan because six, two and even he was going to take the fall for that George one too which if you at the frozen dead-ass cold files today you will see the Frisco coppers did.

So the surgery took after a week under the bandages. It was during this period that boyfriend Bob started getting the cold shoulder and later that is where his speculation started. Problem at this point is that nobody including Lauren would have known it was Bogart (Lauren would know once the bandages came off before all she had seen was a guy like a million other guys turned in another guy like a million other guys.) I had heard a rumor that a cabdriver was bragging to his buddies at the Irish Grille over off Fisherman’s Wharf that he would have the last laugh since he was probably the only guy alive who knew what Bogart looked after he tied him onto a disbarred plastic surgeon. Young and raw as I was at the time I still had some waterfront, skid row dive contacts who would have known who that surgeon was, or if there was more than one, it would be small work to locate him.

Bingo Doc Jamison who had been on the back alley work for several years after he botched a big-time starlet’s face so that not even her parents would recognize her. Doc was very upfront that he had done the job and what of it. The beauty for him is that after putting on the bandages he was as clueless as anybody about Bogart’s appearance, so he said. I could never shake anything out of him even after offering money. All we knew was he was five foot-ten, brown hair, brown eyes.           

Once Bogart was up and around, going out, with or without Lauren, was when he started going by the name of Parry, Victor Parry, which is ironic since that was the name of another guy in the Q who had murdered his wife. They got that bit of information from the real Victor Parry, a couple of months later after the trail was dead-ass cold, when he bargained for a reduction of sentence. So we had a name although a name which petered out after a place called Benson, Arizona. Benson is important to the story because that has been a jump-off point for people on the run since the old Wild West days. Once in Mexico, as I subsequently found out, the trail got even colder, colder than a witch’s tit as we used to say as kids, maybe they still do.           

So you know Bogart got away, you know Lauren blew town shortly after so it figured they had a meet-up place who knows where. End of five thou dreams. That is when I started working on the case from a different angle purely for professional reasons. Started to work an angle that he might have been framed, been the fall guy. When you think about it why would a guy who was on the lam bump off his best friend, a guy he had drinks with, a guy who just wanted according to Jimmy Lee at the Kit Kat Club to blow high white notes out to the China seas. That brings you up to who else had a motive to bump off Bogart’s wife. After talking to Bob, that ex-boyfriend of Lauren’s given the colds by her brought up that Agnes, that so-called ex of Bogart’s. According to Bob she was venomous like a snake enough to take advantage of what she saw looking into the Bogart apartment. Hated that wife with a passion the way she told it later after she put the big frame around Bogart. Problem, big problem which you might not remember from when I started. Agnes fell out a window under mysterious circumstances and shortly after a tenant saw a guy who’s over-all characteristics fit Bogart to a tee. So the coppers tagged him for it and let it sleep. What the hell he was going to hang for the other raps anyway so let him have every unsolved crime that needed cold storage.              

So you see where I was blocked even trying to work that other angle. Nothing, nothing except that added murder rap of that small time hood who may have had some information because when you put two and two together he might have been a guy who knew both ends of the Bogart face. He had after all picked Bogart upon that escape route before being tossed. Being, by all accounts, a guy who was always looking for the silver lining, he told one of his confederates that he was going to make a big score, a very big score , although cagey enough not be give details. So what if he figured the Bogart-Bacall connection. We’ll never know because he fell down on the rocks under the Golden Gate Bridge. See what I mean by breaks-both ways.   

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