Sources claimed that everyone in the cast and crew got sick, except Humphrey Bogart and John Huston, who said they avoided illness by essentially living on imported Scotch. Bogart later said, "All I ate was baked beans, canned asparagus, and Scotch whisky. Whenever a fly bit Huston or me, it dropped dead."
Lauren Bacall famously ventured along for the filming in Africa to be with husband Humphrey Bogart. She played den mother during the trip, making camp and cooking. This also marked the beginning of her life-long friendship with Katharine Hepburn.
According to Katharine Hepburn's autobiography, John Huston initially found her performance too serious-minded. One day, he visited her hut and suggested that she model her performance on Eleanor Roosevelt; putting on her "society smile" in the face of all adversity. After Huston left, Hepburn sat for a moment before deciding, "That is the best piece of direction I have ever heard."
In "The Making of 'The African Queen,' or How I Went to Africa with Bogie, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind", (title containing references to Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and John Huston) Katharine Hepburn described the first day of shooting. Five cars and trucks were needed to take the cast, crew and equipment 3.5 miles from Biondo to the Ruiki river. There, they loaded everything onto boats and sailed another 2.5 miles to the shooting location. Press materials and contemporary articles detailed the perils of shooting on location in Africa, including dysentery, malaria, contaminated drinking water, and several close brushes with wild animals and poisonous snakes. Most of the cast and crew were sick for much of the filming. In a February 1952 New York Times article, John Huston said he hired local natives to help the crew, but many would not show up for fear that the filmmakers were cannibals.
While filming the "leeching" scene, Humphrey Bogart insisted on using rubber leeches. John Huston refused, and brought a leech-breeder to the London studio with a tank full of them. It made Bogart queasy and nervous, qualities Huston wanted for his close-ups. Ultimately, rubber leeches were placed on Bogart, and a close-up of a real leech was shot on the breeder's chest.
According to cameraman Jack Cardiff, Katharine Hepburn was so sick with dysentery during shooting of the church scene that a bucket was placed off camera because she vomited constantly between takes. Cardiff called her "a real trouper." In "The Making of The African Queen (1951)" Hepburn said she rushed for the outhouse only to find a black mamba inside, then ran to the trees.
The water scenes shot through a telephoto lens of the boat going down the rapids was actually a model about eight feet long. This miniature of the original boat is now displayed inside a restaurant at a Marriott Waterfront hotel at 80 Compromise Street in Annapolis, Maryland. It is at the restaurant entrance.
When you look at the map in the movie, you can find some interesting things concerning the nomenclature. There are towns like OMENA, TALVI, KONNA and HATTU. In Finnish, these names mean AN APPLE, WINTER, CROOK and A HAT respectively. Furthermore, CAMPA is nearly kampa (hair-comb) and even the German fortress, FORT SHONA is pronounced very much like Finnish sauna. Shona itself does not mean anything in German. There are Shona-people who speak Shona language, but they live about 1000 miles south from Fort Shona. The designer of the map must have either been a Finn or he/she was using a Finnish dictionary to find exotic names.
In "The Making of the African Queen, Katharine Hepburn details John Huston's obsession with hunting. One day he convinced Hepburn to join him, and inadvertently led her into the middle of a herd of wild animals. They barely escaped.
In a 2013 interview on the NPR program "Fresh Air," Anjelica Huston told interviewer Terry Gross about how her father, director John Huston, found out about her birth while he was at the remote jungle shooting location for The African Queen: "I was born at 6:29 p.m. on July 8, 1951, at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles. At 8 pounds, 13 ounces, I was a big, healthy baby. The news of my arrival was cabled promptly to the post office in the township of Butaleja in Western Uganda. Two days later, a barefoot runner bearing a telegram finally arrived at Murchison Falls, a waterfall on the Nile, deep in the heart of the Belgian Congo, where The African Queen was being filmed. My father, John Marcellus Huston, was a director renowned for his adventurous style and audacious nature. Even though it was considered foolhardy, he'd persuaded not only Katharine Hepburn, an actress in her prime, but also Humphrey Bogart, who brought along his famously beautiful wife, the movie star Lauren Bacall, to share the hazardous journey. My mother, heavily pregnant, had stayed behind in Los Angeles with my one-year-old brother, Tony Huston. When the messenger handed the telegram to my father, he glanced at it, then put it in his pocket. Katie Hepburn exclaimed, 'for God sakes, John, what does it say,' and dad replied: 'It's a girl. Her name is Anjelica.'"
Because the boat used in the film was too small to carry cameras and equipment, portions of the boat were reproduced on a large raft, in order to shoot close-ups of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Interior and water-tank scenes were filmed in London, as were most of the scenes containing secondary characters. Robert Morley shot all of his scenes in London, including footage of him preaching, which was edited together with shots of the natives praying, which was filmed in Africa.
'The African Queen,' built in England in 1912 was used by the British East Africa Company from 1912 to 1968 to shuttle passengers and cargo across Lake Albert (on the border between Uganda and Belgian Congo). It is now located in Key Largo.
The ship "Königin Luise" in the script (called "Louisa" by the English-speaking characters, but by its full name by the German crew) was inspired by the "Liemba", initially a German steam gunboat patrolling Lake Tanganyika. Originally it was called the "Graf Goetzen". The ship, almost 70 meters long, had been built at the Meyer Shipyard in Germany (now maker of some of the world's largest cruise ships), but assembled on-site. The "Graf Goetzen" was sunk in June 1916 by its own crew to avoid capture, then raised by the Belgians, sunk again in a 1920 storm and was raised once more by the British in 1927, who renamed it "Liemba". It is still in service on Lake Tanganyika. The ship actually used in the film was the steam-tug Buganda, which was operating on Lake Victoria.
According to United Artists press materials and John Huston's autobiography, the director built a camp to house the cast and crew in Biondo, outside the town of Stanleyville. It included a bar, a restaurant and several one-room bungalows.
The female lead was originally offered to Bette Davis in 1938, with David Niven as Charlie. It was offered to Davis again in 1947, with James Mason, as Charlie, but she had to drop out due to pregnancy. By the time Davis tried out for the role again in 1949, plans were underway for Katharine Hepburn to star.
Jack Cardiff, director of photography said of the location 'We were supposed to make the film in Uganda but John Huston went on a recce and sent a message back to producer John Woolf saying that he didn't like the locations and he disappeared for about 2 weeks. We then got a cable saying that he'd found a wonderful place in the Belgian Congo, It was a ghastly location in the wilds of the Congo 2 days drive from Stanleyville but it was what John wanted and would never be talked out of anything he'd set his mind on'.
The German ship SMS Königin Luise (Queen Louisa) is named for one of the most beloved female role models in German history. This queen-consort of Prussia (in office 1797-1810) was a skilled stateswoman who helped her husband govern the kingdom during the perilous war against the French Empire.
Lux Soap sponsored a radio broadcast version of the script. Humphrey Bogart reprised his Oscar-winning role as Charlie and Greer Garson played Rosie. The broadcast is included in the DVD commemorative edition and also features a commercial for Lux starring Zsa Zsa Gabor.
In the film Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn sail along Ulonga-Bora River to a lake. The actual Ulonga(Ulanga)-Bora River does not run to any lake, but to the Indian Ocean. The river has been renamed as Rufiji and it is quite alike to the fictional counter world-river in the movie with its massive delta at the end.
Shortly after filming was completed, Belgian fan magazine Cine-Revue published an article allegedly written by Lauren Bacall, who had accompanied her husband, Humphrey Bogart, on location, which included behind-the-scenes photographs. According to a March 1952 Daily Variety story, Romulus Films protested the publication of the photos, which they said "dispelled the film's illusion" by exposing private shooting information. Lauren Bacall denied having written the story.
In the 1970s, Viacom, then just a television syndication company, acquired the US rights to the film. Viacom immediately licensed video rights to the film to Magnetic Video, which soon merged with 20th Century Fox. In 1994, Viacom purchased Paramount Pictures, and the film was incorporated into Paramount's library. Fox continued to hold video rights until 1997. Paramount did not issue the film on video until 2009, when a newly-restored version was released on DVD and Blu-ray.
According to recent on-the-ground research in Britain's West Country, the legendary riverboat 'Queen Of Africa' was built at the Abdela & Mitchell Brimscombe works in Gloucestershire between 1908 and 1911.
C.S. Forester wrote two different final scenes for his book; one was published in England, the other in America. In the more widely published American version, Rose Sayer and Charlie Allnut meet British officers, who then blow up the Louisa. In the British version, the African Queen hits the Louisa and destroys it, after which Rose and Charlie walk down the beach to inform the British Army that the way is now clear. In an interview, Peter Viertel said that since he and John Huston wanted Rose and Charlie to be together at the final scene, they had to invent a way for them to be married on the German ship to avoid censorship.