By Jane Sutton
MIAMI (Reuters) - The son of actor Humphrey Bogart will follow in his father's wake by taking a ride on the African Queen to help relaunch the newly restored riverboat that co-starred in the classic movie by that name.
Stephen Bogart will board the 100-year-old steamboat on Thursday as it plies the waters off the Florida Keys for the first time since undergoing a $60,000 renovation.
"I'm going to see it and take a little ride," said Bogart, a 63-year-old real estate agent who lives in Naples on Florida's southern Gulf Coast.
Bogart was 8 when his father died from throat cancer and said he welcomed the chance to pay tribute to the 1951 movie. Humphrey Bogart won an Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of Charlie Allnut, the unkempt, unflappable and hard-drinking captain of the African Queen.
"I think it's a great movie," Bogart said.
His memories of his father are spotty, Bogart said, but he remembers him as "a brilliant actor" who bore little resemblance to the tough guys he played in the movies.
"He wasn't a gin-swilling, roughneck bearded guy," Bogart said. "He liked to drink certainly but he never missed a performance."
In the movie, Katharine Hepburn played the prim missionary who sailed up the leech-infested Ulanga River with Bogart aboard the balky African Queen during World War One, falling in love while launching an attack on a German gunboat.
Stephen Bogart's mother, actress Lauren Bacall, went with her husband to Africa for the filming of the movie, leaving young Stephen in the care of a nanny who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage moments after their plane departed.
"She dropped dead right on the tarmac," said Stephen, whose grandmother took care of him until his parents returned.
ORIGINALLY KNOWN AS THE LIVINGSTONE
The steel-hulled steamship used in the movie was built in 1912 at England's Lytham shipyard. It was known as the Livingstone when the British East Africa Rail Company used it to carry cargo and passengers on the Ruki River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to Jim Hendricks Jr., the Florida man whose family trust owns the boat.
Years after director John Huston used it for the movie, the boat was sold, shipped to the United States, resold and left to languish in a Florida horse pasture.
The late Jim Hendricks Sr., a Florida attorney and Bogart fan, bought the vessel for $65,000 in the early 1980s. He restored it, ran tourist trips aboard it from his Holiday Inn Hotel in the Florida Keys, and loaned it out for historic celebrations as far away as England.
The boat fell into disrepair after Hendricks Sr.'s death and languished again at a Key Largo marina until a couple who run a nearby charter boat operation, Lance and Suzanne Holmquist, struck a deal with the Hendricks family's African Queen Trust to lease it and fix it up.
Suzanne Holmquist said she was struck by the number of people who stopped by to see the famous boat as it sat unused.
"We just saw the amount of public interest in her, the sadness that she was kind of wasting away," said Holmquist, whose husband is an experienced boat-restorer.
After a re-launch celebration on Thursday, the Holmquists plan to offer rides from Key Largo aboard the African Queen for about $45.
The island was the setting for the 1948 Bogart and Bacall thriller-romance "Key Largo," the last movie the couple made together. It was mostly filmed in Hollywood and Stephen Bogart said he does not know whether either of his parents ever actually visited Key Largo.
Bacall, 87, lives in New York and is "doing fine" but does not get out much since undergoing knee replacement surgery and is "basically retired," Stephen Bogart said.
Asked if his mother might consider returning to the screen, he said, "At some point unless you're Betty White you've got to give up the ghost.
"From her perspective, being born and having lived the life of Lauren Bacall is not a bad gig if you can get it."
(Reporting By Jane Sutton)