Katharine Hepburn suffered brutal illness during African Queen – Humphrey Bogart dodged it

The African Queen (1951) Trailer

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The 1951 epic adventure movie African Queen – which airs today, Saturday, June 18, at 2:45pm on BBC 2 – was an incredible achievement for Hollywood cinema at the time. Not only was it shot in Technicolor – colour film – but it was also shot on location in Uganda and the Congo in Africa.

However, with the incredible locations came real-life dangers.

After just a short time filming African Queen the iconic Hollywood star Katharine Hepburn fell extremely ill.

Hepburn was well known at the time for appearing in such pictures as A Philadelphia Story, Little Women and Morning Glory – a role she won an Oscar for Best Actress.

The star was adamant that she would not resort to drinking alcohol on the location, so stuck to water. But this decision came back to haunt her.

The water was infected, and Hepburn – and much of the cast and crew – were afflicted with a horrific bout of dysentery.

Dysentery is described as an “infection of the intestines” that causes severe diarrhoea. This is usually accompanied by painful stomach cramps and vomiting.

Poor Hepburn could barely get herself up out of her camp to film her scenes. And if this illness was untreated it could have been a fatal sentence for her.

Meanwhile, her colleague Humphrey Bogart just looked on and laughed.

Bogart was best known at the time as the actor behind Ingrid Bergman in 1942’s Casablanca. The performance was so well-received that it garnered him the Academy Award for Best Actor that same year.

The smug actor was good friends with the director, John Huston. And the two men agreed they would not drink the water, but instead survived off of rations of scotch.

This, paired with food from back home, allowed Bogart to avoid any kind of illness while shooting.

He later said: “All I ate was baked beans, canned asparagus, and scotch whiskey. Whenever a fly bit Huston or me, it dropped dead.”

But while Bogart got away with not getting ill, he was tasked with being covered in leeches during one horrific scene.

The scene in question involved Bogart walking through an African river and emerging covered in parasitic creatures.

And he was not amused by the idea of using real-life leeches.

Bogart’s son, Stephen, recalled: “My father didn’t like leeches … And when you’re in the water, in the Congo, you’re gonna get leeches. They put some on him in strategic places, but he was really walking through the bulrushes. You only saw them from the waist up.”

But, eventually – once again – Bogart got his way.

Fake leeches were brought to the shoot to place all over his body instead of using real creatures.

This way, he didn’t have to touch any real leeches, and they still looked good on the big screen.

Only one real leech was used in a close-up, and it wasn’t Bogart’s body in the shot.


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