Katharine Hepburn's Time On The African Queen Set Was More Dangerous Than You Thought

"The gin-soaked river captain and the proper lady missionary have become royalty in the history or movies," legendary film critic Roger Ebert once said of co-stars Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in their respective roles in John Huston's 1951 classic "The African Queen." The film really had all the makings of a hot buzz within that period of Hollywood history. It tells the story of prim and proper English missionary, Rose Sayer (Hepburn), who convinces a ragtag riverboat captain by the name of Charlie Allnutt (Bogart) to venture up an East African river in pursuit of a German gunship circa World War I (via IMDb). 

It's kind of like "Apocalypse Now" meets "Romancing the Stone." Huston and his team actually filmed the project in the depths of the African jungle, so you can bet things got pretty adventurous on set. However, any adventure comes with its fair share of trials and tribulations, and as BuzzFeed reports, "The African Queen" was no exception. At one point during the filming process, Hepburn and a good part of the film crew endured some pretty harrowing physical ramifications after they consumed contaminated drinking water. 

Katharine Hepburn contracted dysentery on set

You've likely heard of dysentery. If you're not familiar with the particulars, you probably know well enough that it isn't pretty, and it can even become fatal if it goes untreated. According to Web MD, the nasty illness is generally caused by bacteria or a parasite that enters your system through the food you eat, the water you drink, or from swimming in a contaminated body of water. The most common side-effects include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and severe stomach cramps. Unfortunately, dysentery is something people have to be wary of if they ever travel to a tropical location like Africa, and Katharine Hepburn learned this the hard way. 

Express U.K. reports that Hepburn refused to consume a single drop of alcohol while filming "The African Queen," so she played it safe and stuck to drinking water instead. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything safe about her decision. After becoming violently ill, she apparently couldn't even leave her bed and almost wasn't able to continue filming. She, along with several other crew members, had all come down with a horrific bout of the dreaded dysentery.

How Humphrey Bogart avoided getting dysentery

Humphrey Bogart, in all his stylish cunning, took precautionary measures against any prospective foreign illness that might befall him on set. According to Express U.K., the "Casablanca" star and John Huston made a solemn pact not to consume any of the food or water on set and instead kept things more provincial. "All I ate was baked beans, canned asparagus, and scotch whiskey. Whenever a fly bit Huston or me, it dropped dead," he boasted later on. In this case, there's clearly something to be said about a decadent junk food diet. 

However, the Hollywood bad boy didn't entirely divert uncomfortable contact with the unsavory foreign elements. While filming one particular scene, he and Hepburn were forced to trudge through chest-high water in a murky African swamp. Per the script, he emerged from the unsavory basin covered in actual leeches that Hepburn's character had to remove with white powder (via the New York Post).