Henryk Hoffmann on Hollywood Legends in Literature

Posted on July 12, 2016 at 3:49 pm

Henryk Hoffmann’s Four Hollywood Legends in World Literature: References to Bogart, Cooper, Gable and Tracy is an extraordinary resource, grounded in massive research and filled with insights about the way four iconic Hollywood figures have inspired and influenced an astonishing range of literary and creative works. In an interview, Hoffmann described the qualities that made Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, and Spencer Tracy uniquely influential, and the ways that their lives and their work were reflected in books by writers from Larry McMurtry to Elmore Leonard.

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 9.21.22 PM
Copyright BearManor Media 2016

What is it about these four men that makes them such timeless and iconic figures?

Each of them possessed a rare kind of charisma, each developed an unusually attractive and appealing persona and each appeared in an impressive number of outstanding, essential (for one reason or another) and unforgettable films. And, of course, we must not forget about the great acting talent with which each of the four men was—in a varying extent—endowed. If you feel that the same can be said about some actors of the younger generations, then I would have to refer to the sociological and cultural criteria that clearly define the times of Bogart, Cooper, Gable and Tracy as something absolutely unique in America and in the world, the times of magic nonexistent ever after.

What would you say are the distinctive qualities that make them so appealing to authors and the characters they create?

It is closely related to the previous question. Most of the authors that have (intentionally, I assume) mentioned one of the four names in their works of fiction are quite aware that a certain legendary or mythological qualities would be automatically entailed, understood or evoked by any reader even remotely familiar with the history of the American cinema. Why? Because the collective or individual image of those four movie stars, either as symbols of the great American hero or as foremost examples of the Golden Era of Hollywood, prevails in the mentality of the devoted moviegoers—certainly those contemporary with the actors, but also those representing younger generations, which is proven by the age of numerous authors quoted in my book.

What are the most frequent uses of references to these stars in literature? As metaphor or as historical/cultural context?

The references discussed in my book play a variety of roles in literature, including those that you mention in your question. It is almost impossible to recount all types, but I tried to categorize/classify them in the Epilogue, where I list thirty-one different uses along with my favorite examples of each. In terms of frequency or any other statistics, it would take a separate time-consuming study to find out which types are most common in literature and which are rather rare or accidental.

How do references to the performances differ from references to the actors themselves?

When an actor’s name is mentioned together with a title of one of his films, the reference usually pertains to a specific scene or the storyline of that movie. A rare (and nice) exception is the reference to Gary Cooper and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town in Elliott Roosevelt’s Murder in the Red Room, where the purpose of the allusion is to emphasize the perfect match between the actor’s persona and the character he portrays. On the other hand, when an actor is mentioned without any movie title, then the purpose of such a reference is usually to capitalize upon his status or prestige as an actor or celebrity.

Do you think that today’s more intrusive, more omnipresent, and less managed presentations of actors’ personal lives in the media will prevent literary use of contemporary stars in the same way these four legends were used?

I would not like to sound prejudiced, but my research points out that references to younger generations of actors (including those with careers longer than Bogart’s or Cooper’s) are by far less numerous, with a pattern showing almost nonexistent interest in the actors of the very young generation, anyone born after 1960. I said “almost,” because I did find some references to Tom Cruise and the like, but they tend to be clearly less complimentary, less positive, sometimes even derogatory. I have my own theory about this phenomenon, but I do not think this is the place to reveal it.

Your work is remarkably comprehensive but there are no databases for these references. What kinds of resources did you use for your research?

Right! There is no database; I have been building it as a pioneer. It started a long time ago when I read books like From Here to Eternity, The Blackboard Jungle, The Catcher in the Rye, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and several others, where I noticed the first movie references in fiction and decided to record them for no particular reason. Sometime later I discovered Larry McMurtry with his numerous and rich allusions, but the writer who gave me the idea of turning the data into a book was Elmore Leonard. Since both McMurtry and Leonard, but also some other favorite writers of mine (such as John Updike, Robert B. Parker, Lawrence Sanders, Loren D. Estleman and Tim O’Brien), frequently allude to westerns, my first book on the subject (published by McFarland in 2012) was Western Movie References in American Literature. Upon completion of that book I already had a substantial data base for my next project on references (to the four legends, tentatively), but my subsequent research (based primarily on intuition) expanded it to unexpected proportions. Thus, I had no doubt who it should be focused on. I got in touch with two children of the famous actors and received blessing, guidance and support from Maria Cooper Janis and Stephen Humphrey Bogart.

What movie role is referred to most often in literature?

Copyright Gazeta Wyborcza 1989
Copyright Alehistoria 1989

Two films, Gone with the Wind and Casablanca, have accumulated the biggest number of references (both mentioned in more than 100 works). However, the focus of those allusions is spread over a number of characters, scenes and themes. Consequently, it is Gary Cooper as Marshal Will Kane that gets most attention from writers, and it is the scene of Coop walking tall while looking for help in High Noon (referenced in eighty-one works) that is most frequently mentioned in books. By the way, that particular image was used on the side of the Gary Cooper postal stamp issued in 2009 in the “Legends of Hollywood” series, and, before that, in the Polish post-World War II first free-election poster designed by Tomasz Sarnecki in 1989. The cover of “Gazeta Wyborcza” (Poland’s foremost newspaper) of June 6, 2016, with Sarnecki’s poster announcing an extensive article on the 27th anniversary of the election, can be treated as one more vivid reminder of the incredible impact of one of the Four Hollywood Legends outside the movie world.

Do you have a favorite literary reference to one of these legends or performances?

Here I would like to refer again to my list of 31 items in the Epilogue. All those references are special to me. I have a hard time choosing one, but if I were to pick out three, I would say #13 (Distant Drums referenced in McMurtry’s All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers—most vivid), #15 (High Noon referenced in Martha Grimes’s The End of the Pier—most personal) and #31 (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner referenced in Herman Koch’s The Dinner—most complex and informative).

Related Tags:


Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Tribute: Lauren Bacall

Posted on August 12, 2014 at 8:27 pm

We mourn the loss of Lauren Bacall, who has died at age 89.


bacall“Anybody got a match?”

With those words, a teenager born Betty Perske from Brooklyn made her first screen appearance, in To Have and Have Not. Her chin slightly lowered, she looked up at her co-star, Humphrey Bogart, with a gaze so smoking that (1) she was instantly and forever a star, and (2) by the time the shooting was finished, Bogart had left his wife to marry Bacall. And that was even before she taught him to whistle and movie history was made.

They made three more films together, had two children, and until his death from cancer, lived together with such happiness that she later said, for the rest of her life, “whenever I hear the word ‘happy’ I think of then.”

No matter that her famous gaze was her effort to hide her nervousness by keeping her head steady. Or that Andy Williams may have dubbed in some of the notes in the song she sang with Hoagy Carmichael. She was a natural on screen and she had what one-time MGM studio head Dore Schary called “motor,” that special spark that makes some performers come alive on screen.

This scene with Bogart from “The Big Sleep” is another classic.

I’m very fond of her comedies, like “Designing Woman,” with Gregory Peck.


And “How to Marry a Millionaire” with Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe.


She was wonderful in “Murder on the Orient Express”


And in Barbra Streisand’s “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” for which she was nominated for an Oscar.


And with Henry Fonda in “Sex and the Single Girl.”


There is so much more. A fond farewell to one of the brightest stars from Hollywood’s golden era. May her memory be a blessing.

Related Tags:


Actors Tribute

Murder Mystery Classics on Film

Posted on September 2, 2009 at 8:00 am

TCM has come out with a terrific collection of four of the all-time best classic murder mystery movies, the TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Murder Mysteries, featuring:

“The Maltese Falcon” Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Mary Astor are after the item in the title, a jewel-encrusted sculpture. Double and triple cross has never been better or more entertainingly portrayed. An indispensable film, number 23 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 American films of all time.

“The Big Sleep” William Faulker worked on the screenply but the oppressive gothic overtone of the narration is straight from the Raymond Chandler novel in this story so filled with corruption and plot twists that when director Howard Hawks wrote to Chandler to ask him who had committed one of the murders and he admitted that even he didn’t know. The repartee between Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart sizzles.

“Dial M for Murder” One of the nastiest plots ever put on screen, this claustrophobic thriller stars Grace Kelly and Ray Milland. It was originally shot by Alfred Hitchcock in 3D and you can almost feel Kelly’s desperate hand reaching out of the screen — the hand holding those very sharp scissors.


“The Postman Always Rings Twice” The camera is in love with Lana Turner in this movie, made when she was at her most delectably seductive. Poor drifter John Garfield doesn’t have a chance in this Tay Garnett-directed version of the James M. Cain novel about the plot to kill an inconvenient husband. One mystery? The meaning of the title, which is not explained in the book and which has provoked some interesting theories, one of which is mentioned in the movie.

Related Tags:


For Your Netflix Queue Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families

Warner Brothers Shares Classic Treasures

Posted on April 20, 2009 at 10:00 am

One of the things I find most thrilling about movies is that they are timeless. Watch a movie and you can see the same performance your grandparents watched when it was first released. We will never know what it was like to hear Jenny Lind sing or see Sarah Bernhardt on stage, but we can watch Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, and John Wayne at their very best. That is why I am so happy about Warner Brothers opening up its archive to make available for the first time some of their treasured releases.
Take a look at the listings and you are sure to find some favorites you have not seen in years and some very worthwhile surprises. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s only screen credit was for “Three Comrades,” a heartbreaking drama set in pre-WWII Germany with an incandescent appearance by Margaret Sullavan. There are biographies of Thomas Edison (with Spencer Tracy), Abraham Lincoln (with Raymond Massey), and “An Affair to Remember” co-stars Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr re-team in “Dream Wife,” about a diplomatic advisor assigned to assist on the upcoming wedding of her former beau to an Asian princess. One of Warren Beatty’s most arresting early performances is in a little-known film called “All Fall Down,” co-starring Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Angela Lansbury, and “Shane’s” Brandon de Wilde. And Burt Reynolds appears in “Angel Baby’ with Salome Jens, who is mesmerizing as an evangelical preacher. Some are available for on demand download as well as on DVD and many have clips available online. Desson Thomson talked to NPR’s Scott Simon about some of the highlights of the collection. I will be highlighting some of my other favorites in upcoming posts.
Turner Classic Movies’ Robert Osborne likes to quote Lauren Bacall about old movies: “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you.” These films are not all classics, but there is something there for everyone.

Related Tags:


For Your Netflix Queue Neglected gem

Two More Neglected Christmas Classics

Posted on December 22, 2008 at 1:51 pm

We’re No Angels (the original with Humphrey Bogart, not the remake with Sean Penn) is an off-beat Christmas story about three escaped convicts who end up solving the problems of a middle-class French family with the help of a pet viper.

“The Holly and the Ivy” isn’t available on DVD yet but I have hopes, maybe by next Christmas. It occasionally turns up on Turner Classic Movies. It is a quietly powerful story about an English clergyman (Sir Ralph Richardson) who gets together with his adult children for the holidays, leading to some accusations and reconciliation as he realizes that he has been more thoughtful and sensitive to his parishioners than he has been to his family.

Related Tags:


For Your Netflix Queue Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik