A Johnny Spicer Mini-Caper

May 10, 1940 <> Warner Bros. Lot, Burbank

With Bogie you get what you see—a loyal generous friend and a swell guy to pal around with. You also get a boozer who more often than not ends his evenings with a fuss, usually involving his third wife, Mayo.

It's a good thing for Bogie his fusses seldom involve anyone tougher than Mayo. Between us, the country's favorite tough guy ain't so tough. Oh, I've never seen him back down from a fight, but when the punches start flying, Bogie typically ends up on the floor, usually because he's so drunk he can barely stand, let alone engage in pugilistic endeavors.

For those who may be wondering how a private eye and an actor who pretends to be a private eye became friends, the story goes like this: We were in a Warner Brothers sound stage where Bogie was shooting a scene for a film called Thunderstruck. I was there waiting to see Jack Warner on business.

While killing time watching the shoot, I spotted movement on a catwalk over the set. Then, whoever was up there deliberately dropped a hundred-plus pounds of Klieg light from the rafters. It was headed straight for Bogie's noggin when I dove in and knocked him out of the way. He expresses his undying gratitude for saving his life by calling me Shamus from then on.

Today, I was again at the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank taking care of business for Jack Warner when Bogie spotted me. "C'mon. Shamus, let's go get a cup o' Joe at the Commissary. I want you to see something."

In the Commissary's Green Dining Room—stars and their guests only—Edward G. Robinson hailed Bogie and demanded we join him at his table. I was introduced to "Eddie," after which he proceeded to ignore me. It was Bogie with whom he wanted words.

"Bogart," he said, "I'm getting the idea you don't care much for this film we're making together. I want to know what you don't like about it."

Bogie sneered at him. "Brother Orchid is a (expletive deleted) comedy. I'm a dramatic actor, not (expletive deleted) Buster Keeton."

Robinson sneered right back at him. "Any good actor should be able to carry off a comedic role now and then. That's what being an actor is all about."

The volume of Bogie's voice went up a few decibels. "What book did you read that hogwash in?"

Robinson matched Bogie decibel for decibel. "That ain't no hogwash, you two-bit ham."

By this time we were the center of attention. Everyone at the tables around us was staring with fearful expressions as if they were certain the studio's two baddest bad guys were about to go for their gats. I wasn't so sure they wouldn't.

Escalating the tension, Bogie Jumped to his feet, knocking his chair over as he did so. "Who you callin' a two-bit ham, you scene-stealing SOB?"

Not to be outdone, Robinson jumped up, too. "You take that back, Bogart!"

Leaning forward so his nose was mere inches from Robinson's, Bogie said, "And what are you gonna do about it if I don't?"

Robinson threw a short right jab at Bogie's jaw. "This!"

Bogie's head snapped back and a staggered a few steps. After clearing the cobwebs while Robinson bobbed and weaved like an eager contender, Bogart replied with a blow to the midsection that caused Robinson to stumble backward, knocking our table over and sending coffee cups and a crystal vase full of daisies flying.

Some pretty well-known names—Bette Davis, John Barrymore, Joan Blondell, et al—were suddenly evacuating the tables nearest the ruckus while I took a shot at calming the waters. "Bogie, take it easy. This isn't gonna settle anything."

Pushing me back, Bogie said, "Stay out of this, Shamus. I'm gonna teach this bum a lesson he'll never forget"

By this time Robinson was back in the action and Warner Brothers' two toughest tough guys were nose to nose. They both cocked their right arms for uppercuts to the jaw that turned into . . . a handshake!

All grins as they shook hands, Robinson said, "Nice work, Bogie."

"Thanks, Eddie. You, too. I guess we showed these mugs a thing or two about acting."

Walking out of the dining room with their arms around each other's shoulders, Robinson replied, "We sure did. I'd call that an Oscar-worthy performance."

As I hurried to catch up so as not to get stuck with the tab for broken furniture and crockery, I heard several sighs of relief and comments about how those in the dining room thought sure somebody was gonna get killed. Personally, I learned something from the experience.

I now have an answer for anybody who questions the acting ability of Mister Bogart or Mister Robinson. Today their performances fooled the pros, but good!


Story, design, and Thunderstruck poster © Steve Eitzen
Header graphic & HPO logo © HPO Productions
Celebrity images and WB logo modified from public domain photos
All rights reserved by copyright owners

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, locations, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.