Thursday, May 18, 2023

Queen For an Hour and a Half

 Wendall -- every other Thursday


Living in Los Angeles has many delights, not the least of which is frequently passing, or entering, famous movie locations.

The Bradbury Building from the top floor.

I will never forget my first time inside the legendary Bradbury Building in downtown LA. You may recognize it from Blade Runner, The Artist, 500 Days of Summer, or, if you are a cop and you’ve done something dodgy, the former offices of Internal Affairs for the LAPD. This building deserves its own post, which I will write another day, and was inspired by a message on a Ouija board.


The Bradbury, halfway down.

I’ve had waffles in the coffee shop from Swingers, martinis in the Pretty Woman hotel, high tea in the Biltmore (recognizable from Ghostbusters to Mad Men),


The lobby staircase in the Biltmore Hotel. Betty Draper came down these stairs in Mad Men.

green corn tamales at El Coyote from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, dumplings at The Prince (Chinatown and Thank You For Smoking), and driven past the Hightower Apartment Buildings from The Long Goodbye and Dead Again—Michael Connelly also lived there.


The Hightower Apartments

Buildings on my street have appeared in Mulholland Drive and Lethal Weapon and my first LA apartment’s lobby appeared in Body Double.


The list goes on and on.


However, last week in Key Largo, Florida, I experienced something infinitely more profound, at least for me. I took an hour and a half cruise on the honest-to-god African Queen


At the dock.

Yes, the actual boat used in the 1951 film itself. The movie, based on the novel by C. S. Forester, garnered Bogart his only Oscar and is one of my favorites.


The original novel.

So, sitting on the same bench where Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart( and wife Lauren Bacall), and director John Huston once sat, moved me more than I expected.



We arrived on a windy day, which limited how far we went out into the Atlantic. We did travel far enough, though, for me to realize how low it sits in the water and to appreciate a bit of what it must have been like for those actors.


Sitting in front on a choppy day and James holding onto his bottle of gin. My hair is in the lower right.


According to Captain Dave, our host, the boat still used a steam engine until recently. The apparatus is still there, but he says it’s a lot quieter now. It still has a bell, that cranky engine, the original black mahogany benches, and permission from the Royal Navy to fly a torn Union Jack.


Captain Jack, James, and that bell.


The engine, sadly not the original, but still...

Not every boat gets to rip the Union Jack.

The boat has quite a history. It was built in England in 1912 for the East Africa British Railways company and carried hunting parties, missionaries, and supplies across Lake Albert and down the Victoria Nile in the Congo, until it was bought by John Huston for the film. According to Katherine Hepburn’s account in The Making of the African Queen or How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and almost lost my mind, the boat actually sank to the bottom of the Ruiki river during filming.


John Huston delivered the news to Hepburn, saying “she’s at the bottom, just the top of the boiler showing.”  When Hepburn asked what happened to the man who was guarding it, Huston told her that when he saw it was leaking, he got off.


Crew pulling the boat out. Copyright Horizons Mgmt.

Apparently it took the entire cast and crew, pulling on a cable wrapped around a tree, to pull up the boiler. As that was the heaviest part, once it was ashore, the boat resurfaced, but it took two days to bail her out. Then they cleaned up the mud and removed and restored the engine while the boat dried. Eventually, they were able to resume shooting.


After the film, the boat, now officially named The African Queen, stayed in service in Africa until 1968, when she was bought by a San Francisco restaurant owner for charter tours. In 1970, it was bought for charters in Oregon and was so successful there that owner Hal Bailey brought it to Florida for year-round tours.


Eventually it went out of service and was found in a Florida cow pasture by the late attorney Jim Hendricks, Sr.—a Bogart fan. Hendricks restored this piece of film history and started tours running out of the Key Largo Holiday Inn in 1982. 


On the Thames.

In New York and Sydney.

He also shipped it all over the world—for the Queen Mother’s 90th birthday celebration and the 50th anniversary of Dunkirk, and to Ireland, New York, and Sydney. Its original engine lasted until 2001.


Dunkirk Plaque.

The current lease holders, Captain Lance and Suzanne Holmquist of Calypso Sailing, restored it for its hundredth anniversary. It is now registered as a National Historic Site, albeit a floating one.


There are many famous film items in the new Motion Picture Academy Museum—E. T. , Dorothy’s shoes, the model shark from Jaws—but none that let you climb aboard.


Worth the trip.


 -- Wendall







  1. Hi Wendall, how wonderful to have been out on the water in the actual African Queen! Although, strictly speaking, should it have been flying the Union Jack? It's a land flag, and as far as I can recall from my sailing days, is only supposed to be flown in harbour. Naval ships of the line or members of the Royal Yacht Squadron fly the white ensign. British registered vessels fly the red ensign, and only merchant ships with RN retired officers, members of certain posh yacht clubs, and research ships are allowed to fly the blue ensign.

    Mine of useless information, me...

    1. Hi Zoë -- I can't tell you how much I love that you know all this! According to Captain Dave, the boat in the film flew the Union Jack (which was probably down to the Art Department as opposed to Naval protocol...) and so the African Queen Trust asked for special dispensation to copy that. I know where I am coming the next time Cyd Redondo has an adventure at sea! xx

    2. I didn't remember the movie in that detail! But more power to them.

      And any time I can be of assistance (for what it's worth) please do get in touch!

  2. What a wonderful experience! I had no idea the boat still existed let, alone took people for tours. Amazing that it sank AND that they managed to lift it and get it going again. A great story. Thanks.

  3. Hi Michael, yes, it is quite extraordinary if you think about it. Yes, and Hepburn's account of the sinking of the boat is great to read, as is her whole memoir about the experience. It really did get to me, being on that boat. Thanks for posting.

  4. Marvelous pictures and adventures. I love your storytelling!

    1. Sujata, how kind of you to say. Your deep dives into history are much more impressive, to my mind. Long live the Victorian houses!

  5. Wow, Captain, thanks for bringing us aboard. Who would have thought that the African Queen shared an after life almost as exciting as its film career!

    1. I know, Jeff, who would have thought it's just sitting off Highway 1?

  6. Thank you for this virtual tour Wendall! Now I want to watch these films (which I hardly dare admit I haven't!!)

    1. It's great that you still have the joy of seeing those films for the first time, Ovidia!