He was super agent Phil Gersh’s signature client from the start of his acting career through his death in 1957, all through his heyday in the 1940s and 1950s in The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, The African Queen, Key Largo, Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Caine Mutiny. Now, Humphrey Bogart is back with the Gersh Agency, which has signed the Humphrey Bogart Estate.
While estate business signings are usually mundane, this was an excuse for a trip down Hollywood’s memory lane for Bob and David Gersh, who took over the agency from their father. As boys, they grew up around Bogart, and the other stars from dad’s stable that included William Holden, David Niven, Kirk Douglas, Lee J. Cobb, and Fredric March. David Gersh recalled the dialogue between his storied agent father and the legendary Bogart, and it’s not what you might think. “Every time Bogey saw my father, he’d say, ‘You got anything for me? I’ll never work again.’ It was genuine insecurity, and my father would say, ‘The scripts are coming in, Bogey, everyone loves you, let’s go have a martini.’ And off they went to Romanoff’s.”
Bogart left another lasting impression on future agent Bob Gersh: a lifelong fear of dogs. “Bogey gave us two big Boxer dogs as a Christmas gift, around the time I was turning three,” he said. “They wanted to play but they were big and they would jump up on me and they scared me. For years, I was afraid of dogs, and dogs can sense that. It wasn’t until years later when my kids begged me to have a dog that I finally gave in. But I remember he’d always say to dad, ‘What have you got for me kid? Am I ever going to get another script? There was always that insecurity.”
It wasn’t insecurity but rather loyalty that came from insecurity that eventually pushed Phil Gersh to refocus his client list away from actors and towards directors, with Bogart the notable exception.
“In about a week, David Niven and Kirk Douglas fired my father,” Gersh recalled. “Niven did it right after my father got him Around the World in 80 Days. This is a somewhat famous story but the WMA agent who signed Niven died that weekend, and Niven was too embarrassed to return, but he apologized in his memoir. And then Kirk Douglas left, and guys like that never really told you why. So my father decided to swear off actors, and right away he signed the editor of Citizen Kane. And my father made the deals for Robert Wise as he directed 40 movies that included West Side Story and The Sound of Music.”
Phil Gersh likely never faced anything that rocked Hollywood business like the Covid pandemic. But Bob Gersh is optimistic about a rebound for The Gersh Agency. Like every other Hollywood percentery that watched commissions screech to a halt, the agency had to overcome turbulence. But nearly everyone is back in place and the agency’s emphasis on working actors and the prolific employment of them by streamers has certainly helped the rebound. While agents are still conducting their business remotely, it looks like those who’ve been vaccinated can start trickling back to the offices in New York and L.A. by summer, with everyone hopefully back by September.
Back to Bogart: the estate is managed by Robbert de Klerk for Stephen and Leslie Bogart, the two children of Bogey and Lauren Bacall. His children explained Bogart’s continuing appeal this way: “In addition to being a great actor, he was a great man. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War I, volunteered for the Coast Guard in World War II, was a champion sailor, a scratch golfer and a master-level chess player. He also lived a legendary romance with Lauren Bacall, and he always stood up for the underdog. He was a truly remarkable man, which is why he remains a globally-recognized icon and perhaps the ultimate example of American cool.”
Bogart has appeared in national advertising campaigns for major brands such as Google and AT&T. And his appeal is certainly not limited to the United States. Italian hat brand Borsalino has launched a Bogart collection to pay tribute to a man who was rarely seen without his fedora, and the hip, young Prada-owned Miu Miu brand included Bogart in its t-shirt collection of iconic silver screen kisses.