The Man With Bogart's Face
The guy looked and sounded like Humphrey Bogart. As long as you didn’t have a picture of the real Humphrey Bogart on you, this guy was a dead ringer. Universal Studios Hollywood hired actors who resembled movie stars to interact with guests in the amusement park. My comedy partner and I were employed in the spring of 1993 to portray Abbott and Costello, an old comedy duo famous in the 1940s. We didn’t look like Abbott and Costello, but we knew their routines backward and forwards. Tony Gaetano, though, looked like Humphrey Bogart…. Sort of.
Tony was dressed in a long trench coat and fedora, leaning against a lamppost, cigarette in hand when I first saw him. A guest would walk by, and he would casually say, “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Park guests, usually the older ones, would run up and take pictures with him. He’d tell the women, “We’ll always have Paris,” once the photo was taken. He did that bit all day long.
Tony started acting in New York; he worked with the New York Shakespeare Festival alongside actors like Henry Winkler and James Keach. He played Bogart in a made-for-TV movie called Sinatra. He appeared on an episode of Taxi. For years, Tony toured the country playing Bogart in Woody Allen’s “Play It Again, Sam.” People who don’t understand this business think an actor is a failure if he doesn’t become a household name. But guys like Tony, who spent their lives going from one gig to another, are the real deal.
I knew I couldn’t survive at Universal by only playing Bud Abbott, so I jumped into any role thrown at me. I kept my head above water for several years playing generic characters like; Cowboy. Cameraman. Player Piano Player.
At one point, management concluded that having Bogart, Marylin Monroe, Mae West, and W.C. Fields standing around the movie studio wasn’t hip enough. They started pairing these characters with a jazz band and told them to dance. Since Bogart wasn’t really known as a song and dance man, Tony made a fuss. So they paired him with me.
I played an old-time movie director; giant megaphone, beret, jodhpurs, black riding boots. That sort of thing. I think I called myself Otto Phocus; I usually stood around by myself saying ridiculous things as the guests walked by. “I’m currently directing a low-budget film entitled the six commandments!”
At first, Tony hated the idea, and so did I. Having Sam Spade walking around the movie studio muttering to himself was cool. Making him interact with an idiot like me was nuts. But he was a professional; the money was good, and work is work.
Things started off slow. We spent the first few days bitching and moaning about how stupid the whole thing was. But, gradually, we did what actors do. We started working off of each other. As the pompous, ego-driven director, I’d give him flamboyant acting directions. As Bogart, he’d tell me to shut the hell up, turn to a guest and make some smart-aleck remark. We wrote routines together and worked out bits during our breaks. The more we worked together, the more I saw a different side of him. We laughed all the time. That dark, brooding Bogart persona faded away. He started looking less like Bogart to me and more like one hell of an actor named Tony.
We worked together for two years until cancer got him. His wife asked me to speak at his funeral; Tony considered me one of his closest friends, she said. What an honor that was.
My novel “Last Stop Slumberland” is set in a movie studio. Some of the inspiration for the book came from times I roamed the Universal backlot. I remember thinking as I wandered around the Bates Motel and the house behind it, “This is where Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh stood; this is where Hitchcock stood.” On New York Street, “This is where they shot Dirty Harry,” or “I’m standing in the place where Lon Chaney got knocked around in The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” in a place called the Court of Miracles. The last time I visited Universal, I saw a lampost and remembered, “That’s where Tony Gaetano used to stand.”