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Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey DeForest Bogart (December 25, 1899 - January 14, 1957) was an iconic American film actor of his day, and remains a legend decades after his death.

Humphrey Bogart
by Yousuf Karsh

Bogart typically played smart, playful, courageous, tough, occasionally reckless characters who lived in a corrupt world, anchored by a hidden moral code. His most notable films include Casablanca (1942), Angels With Dirty Faces[?] (1938), The Maltese Falcon (1941), To Have and Have Not[?] (1945), The Big Sleep (1946), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo[?] (1948), The African Queen (1951) (for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor), and The Caine Mutiny (1954). He appeared in 75 feature films in all.

Bogart is something of a cult figure overseas. French actors such as Jean-Paul Belmondo were deeply influenced by his work and image. In Breathless, perhaps the best-known work of French director Jean-Luc Godard, the main character, Michel, worships the persona of Humphrey Bogart, and mimes some of Bogart's best-known gestures in a way that's both absurd and touching. Francois Truffaut, another French director of the "New Wave," directed Shoot the Piano Player[?], another homage to Bogart. In India, the greatest national film star, Ashok Kumar[?], listed Bogart as a major influence on his "natural" acting style. When Bogart reached Leopoldville, Africa[?], to film The African Queen, his plane was met by the American consul and the Congolese press.

Bogart is no less an icon in America. One of Woody Allen's most popular comic films, Play It Again, Sam, is about a young man in love with Bogart's aura and intimidated by it. The title refers to a frequent misquote of Casablanca; Richard Blaine (Bogart's character) actually says "Play it, Sam".

In 1997, the United States Postal Service featured Bogart in its "Legends of Hollywood" series. And Entertainment Weekly magazine has named Bogart the number one movie legend of all time.

Bogart's exalted standing in the Hollywood pantheon would have astonished most of the agents, casting directors and studio bosses who knew him in the 1920s and '30s as a good but hardly great New York stage actor and a B-movie player in Hollywood.

Table of contents

His Early Career

Bogart's father was a successful surgeon. His mother, Maud Humphrey[?], was a very successful commercial illustrator. Indeed, she used a drawing of her baby Humphrey Bogart in a well-known ad campaign for Mellins Baby Food[?]. In her prime, she made over $50,000 a year as an illustrator, then a vast sum for a woman to earn. The Bogarts lived in a fashionable Upper West Side apartment, and had a cottage in upstate New York.

But Maud Humphrey was a distant woman and the Bogarts' marriage was troubled. Both parents were alcoholics and/or morphine addicts at various times. Maud also suffered intense migraine headaches. "I can't say I ever loved my mother," Bogart once said. "I admired her." He was raised mostly by an Irish nurse. "My parents fought," he said another time. "We kids would pull the covers over our ears to keep out the sound of fighting. Our home was kept together for the sake of the children as well as for the sake of propriety."

From his father, Bogart inherited a gift for needling people, and a love of fishing and especially sailing. Humphrey was the oldest child of three. Both of Bogart's younger sisters were troubled adults; Kay ("Catty") died at 34 of peritonitis complicated by alcoholism. Frances "Pat" Bogart Rose was tall, shy and sweet, but mentally unstable. Bogart was gentle with her and paid for her care. Other relatives were few and rarely saw the Bogarts. (When Bogart fell in love with Lauren Bacall and she introduced him to her large extended family, he said "Christ, you've got more goddamn relatives than I've ever seen.")

As a boy, Bogart was teased for his curls, his tidiness, his lisp, for the "cute" pictures his mother posed him for, the Little Lord Fauntleroy clothes she dressed him in -- and for the name "Humphrey." In a childhood accident, Bogart got a splinter of wood embedded in his lower lip. "Goddamn doctor," Bogart later told David Niven, " -- instead of stitching it up, he screwed it up." The accident left Bogart with a slight lisp.

The Bogarts sent their son to the Trinity School in New York and then to the prestigious prep school Phillips Academy, in Andover, Massachusetts. They hoped he would go on to Yale, but in 1918, Bogart was expelled from Phillips Academy, apparently for smoking. His study habits were erratic and his grades low, and he may have hastened his departure by some intemperate comments to those in authority. He had a lifelong dislike of authority figures.

He joined the Naval Reserve[?], did menial labor, and drifted into acting. He liked the late hours that actors kept. He enjoyed the attention that an actor got on stage. Most of all, he enjoyed the challenge of putting on a difficult scene, making the audience believe it. He dug deeply into the characters he portrayed, and found them a welcome escape from his own self.

Bogart began his acting career on the Brooklyn stage in 1921, playing a Japanese butler. He never took acting lessons, and had no formal training. An early reviewer wrote of Bogart's work: "To be as kind as possible, we will only say that this actor was inadequate." Bogart loathed the trivial roles he had to play early in his career, calling them "White Pants Willie" roles.

Bogart was in 21 Broadway productions between 1922-1935. He played callow juveniles, or the romantic second lead in drawing room comedies.

Early in his career, Bogart met his first wife, Helen Menken[?]. They married in 1926, divorced in 1927, and remained friends. In 1928, Bogart married his second wife, Mary Philips[?]. Philips, like Menken, had a fiery temper, once biting the finger of a cop who tried to arrest her for drunkenness.

Spencer Tracy was a serious Broadway actor whom Bogart liked and admired, and they became good friends. It was Spencer Tracy, in 1930, who first called Bogart "Bogie". The name stuck.

In 1934 Bogart starred in the play Invitation to a Murder. The producer Arthur Hopkins[?] saw the play and sent for Bogart when he chose to produce Robert Sherwood[?]'s new play, The Petrified Forest. Bogart arrived in Hopkins' office while Sherwood was there; Hopkins told him: "I've got a good role for you. A gangster role." Robert Sherwood was sure Hopkins was wrong; Bogart should play the football player. Bogart said later: "They argued back and forth, and I thought Sherwood was right. I couldn't picture myself playing a gangster. So what happened? I made a hit as the gangster."

The Petrified Forest had 197 performances in New York; Bogart played escaped killer Duke Mantee. Leslie Howard, who played the lead, knew how crucial Bogart was to the success of the play. He and Bogart became friends, and he promised to help Bogart reprise his role if Hollywood made the play into a film.

Bogart was proud of his success as an actor, but the fact that it came playing a gangster weighed on him. He once said, "I can't get in a mild discussion without turning it into an argument. There must be something in my tone of voice, or this arrogant face--something that antagonizes everybody. Nobody likes me on sight. I suppose that's why I'm cast as the heavy."

Warner Brothers bought the screen rights to The Petrified Forest, signed up Leslie Howard, then tested several Hollywood veterans for the Duke Mantee role, and chose Edward G. Robinson. Bogart cabled news of this to Howard, who was in Scotland. Leslie Howard insisted that Bogart play Duke Mantee. When Warner Brothers saw that Leslie Howard wouldn't budge, they hired Bogart to play Mantee. Bogart never forgot this, and named his only daughter Leslie.

Robert Sherwood remained a close friend of Bogart's. In 1936 the movie version of The Petrified Forest came out. Bogart got excellent reviews. Still, he was stuck in a series of crime dramas for Warner Brothers and cast as a heavy, with little acting range. All told, in his career as a tough guy, Bogart went to the electric chair 12 times, and got over 800 years of hard labor. Jack Warner saw nothing wrong with that; as long as the movies made money, and the actors got paid, he saw no reason for anyone to complain.

Mary Philips refused to give up her Broadway career to come to Hollywood with Bogart, and soon they were divorced.

On August 21, 1938, Bogart made a disastrous third marriage, which only heightened his frustration. His third wife was Mayo Methot[?], a lively, friendly woman when sober, but a paranoid drunk. She was convinced that her husband was cheating on her. The more she and Bogart drifted apart, the more she drank and the more she got furious and threw things at him: plants, crockery, anything close at hand. Bogart sometimes returned fire, and the press dubbed them "the Battling Bogarts." "The Bogart-Methot marriage was the sequel to the Civil War," said their friend Julius Epstein[?].

In 1938, Warner Brothers made Bogart do a "hillbilly musical" called Swing Your Lady, playing a wrestling promoter managing the career of an idiotic giant. In 1939, Bogart reached a new low when he had to play a vampire in The Return of Doctor X. Bogart cracked: "If it'd been Jack Warner's blood... I wouldn't have minded so much. The trouble was they were drinking mine and I was making this stinking movie."

The studio system, then in its heyday, largely restricted actors to one studio, and Warner Brothers had no interest in making Bogart a star. The system was made for quantity, not quality. Shooting on a new movie might begin days or only hours after shooting on the last movie was complete. Any actor who refused a role could be suspended without pay. Bogart didn't like the roles chosen for him, but he worked steadily: between 1936 and 1940, Bogart averaged a new movie every two months. He thought that Warner Brothers were cheap in their wardrobe department, and often wore his own personal suits in his movies. On the film High Sierra, Bogart used his own mutt to play his character's dog "Pard".

In California, in the 1930s, Bogart bought a 55-foot sailing yacht from Dick Powell and June Allyson. The sea was his sanctuary. He was a serious sailor, respected by other sailors who had seen too many Hollywood actors and their boats. About 30 weekends a year, he went out on his boat. He once said: "An actor needs something to stabilize his personality, something to nail down what he really is, not what he is currently pretending to be."

The leading men ahead of Bogart included not just such classic stars as James Cagney, Spencer Tracy and Edward G. Robinson -- but also actors far less well-known today, such as Victor McLaglen, George Raft[?] and Paul Muni. Most of the better movie scripts Warner Brothers bought went to these men. Bogart had to take what was left. He made movies with names like Racket Busters, San Quentin, and You Can't Get Away With Murder. Bogart rarely saw his own movies and didn't even attend the premieres, which were an expected part of the actor's job.

Bogart had been raised to believe that acting was something beneath a gentleman. Acting in movies was even worse than on the stage, and playing depraved gunmen in "B" pictures for Warner Brothers was not something to be mentioned in polite company.

He had a lifelong disgust for the pretentious, fake or phony. Sensitive yet caustic, and disgusted by the inferior films he was churning out, Bogart cultivated the persona of a soured idealist, a man exiled from better things in New York, living by his wits, drinking too much, cursed to live out his life among second-rate people and projects, keeping even his friends off balance. When he thought an actor, director or a movie studio had done something shoddy, he spoke up about it, and was willing to be quoted on the record. The Hollywood press, unaccustomed to candor, was delighted. Bogart once said, "All over Hollywood, they are continually advising me 'Oh, you mustn't say that. That will get you in a lot of trouble' when I remark that some picture or writer or director or producer is no good. I don't get it. If he isn't any good, why can't you say so? If more people would mention it, pretty soon it might start having some effect."

His Rise to Stardom

High Sierra, a 1941 Raoul Walsh[?] film, was written by Bogart's friend and drinking partner, John Huston. The film was a step forward for Bogart. He still played the villain, "Mad Dog" Roy Earle; he still died at the end. But at least he got to kiss Ida Lupino[?], and to play a character with some depth. In a climactic scene, Bogart's character slid 90 feet down a mountainside to his punishment. His stunt double, Buster Wiles[?], bounced a few times going down the mountain and wanted another take to do better. "Forget it," said Raoul Walsh. "It's good enough for the 25-cent customers."

Bogart and Huston enjoyed each other, and drew on each other's gifts. Bogart had always been self-conscious about being a small man; Huston was about 6'5". Bogart had never been close to his father; Huston was very close to his father, the actor Walter Huston.

Bogart admired and somewhat envied Huston because Huston got to write scripts, to shape a story and make sure it had heft. Though a poor student, Bogart was a lifelong reader. He could quote Plato, Pope, Ralph Waldo Emerson and over a thousand lines of Shakespeare. He admired writers, and some of his best friends were screenwriters, including Louis Bromfield[?], Nathaniel Benchley[?] and Nunnally Johnson[?].

John Huston reported being easily bored, and admired Bogart not just for his acting talent but for his intense concentration.

James Cagney and George Raft had both turned down Bogart's part in High Sierra; Raft didn't want to play a character who died at the end. Now George Raft[?] turned down the male lead in John Huston's directorial debut, The Maltese Falcon, also 1941.

Bogart grabbed the part and audiences saw him play a leading role with real complexity. His character Sam Spade was still capable of duplicity and violence, but he was a leading man: handsome, smart, fated to survive. When he discovered his sexy client was a murderess, he turned her in, with a speech he made famous: "I don't care who loves you. I won't play the sap for you! You killed Miles and you're going over for it. I hope they don't hang you by your sweet neck. If you're a good girl, you'll be out in 20 years and you'll come back to me. If they hang you, I'll always remember you."

As America entered World War II, it turned to a new kind of leading man, less dapper and polished, but tougher and more willing to use violence to make the world safe and to get what he wanted. Bogart's persona was much better suited to the war years than to the '30s. Bogart played a guy who'd grown up on the streets, a guy who knew how to fire a gun, how to punch a guy on the jaw, and spit out "Tell that to your boss."

After several others, including Ronald Reagan, passed on the role, Bogart got his first real romantic lead: playing Rick Blaine, the nightclub owner in Casablanca. Bogart had learned how to convey pain in his eyes, and how to show emotion with subtle shadings of his voice. He was still young but looked like a man who had lived hard.

The script was still being written as the shooting began. No one knew how the film would end until the end of shooting. Bogart played a complex character--was a man wary of showing his emotions or ideals, a chess player who drank too much, and kept even his friends off balance.

Bogart was surrounded by an international cast of well-known actors, including Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre and Conrad Veidt[?]. Dooley Wilson[?] played the part of Sam (the piano player). The script and Max Steiner's musical score have both been praised extensively, as has the cinematography.

Off the set, Bergman and Bogart hardly spoke during the filming of Casablanca. She said later, "I kissed him but I never knew him." Years later, after Ingrid Bergman had taken up with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, and borne him a child, Bogart bawled her out for it. "You used to be a great star," he said. "What are you now?" "A happy woman," she replied.

"Casablanca" won the 1943 Academy Award for Best Picture, and Bogart won the Best Actor award.

Bogart and Bacall

Only Bogart's fourth marriage, to Lauren Bacall, was a happy one. They met while making To Have and Have Not. Bogart played a tough, independent fisherman named Steve, who got pushed to his limit by some unsavory people, and then got his revenge.

Bacall became an overnight sensation with her famous first entrance. Leaning against a doorway, her head down and voice low, she told Bogart's character: "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? Just put your lips together, and blow."

Bogart fell in love with Bacall. The film's director, Howard Hawks, once commented: "When two people are falling in love with each other, they're not tough to get along with, I can tell you that. Bogie was marvelous. I said 'You've got to help' and of course after a few days he really began to get interested in the girl. That made him help more." Hawks also said of Bacall: "She had to keep practicing for six to eight months to keep that low voice. Now, it's perfectly natural. And the funny thing is that Bogie fell in love with the character she played, so she had to keep playing it the rest of her life."

Bogart had another strong, unspoken friendship with Walter Brennan[?], who played a harmless drunk named Eddie in To Have and Have Not. Hawks recalled: "The fellow who rented their boat said 'What do you take care of him for?' Bogart looked at him and said 'He thinks he's taking care of me.' And he wasn't very nice the way he said it. Those are the relationships that happen between men."

Bogart and Bacall's relation is at the heart of the complexly-plotted The Big Sleep. Hawks himself admitted "I never figured out what was going on but I thought [it] had great scenes in it... After that got by, I said 'I'm never going to worry about being logical again.'"

The author of The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler, thoroughly admired Bogart's performance: "Bogart can be tough without a gun. Also he has a sense of humor that contains that grating undertone of contempt."

Bacall allowed Bogart lots of weekend time on his boat. She got seasick on boats, and Bogart liked the boat to be an all-male preserve, stating "The trouble with having dames on board is you can't pee over the side." Bogart would frequently sail to Catalina with friends, or set some lobster traps.

Bogart allowed Bacall romantic crushes on Adlai Stevenson and Leonard Bernstein, knowing she'd married young before ever having much chance to date. But he made clear he'd leave Bacall if she ever had an affair. She never did. Bacall once wrote of Bogart: "You had to stay awake married to him. Every time I thought I could relax and do everything I wanted, he'd buck. There was no way to predict his reactions, no matter how well I knew him."

Bogart and Bacall moved into a $160,000 white brick mansion in Holmby Hills[?], an exclusive neighborhood between Beverly Hills and Bel Air[?]. Bogart and Bacall had two Jaguar cars, and three blooded boxer dogs. Bogart said "We moved where all the creeps live." But he enjoyed some of his neighbors, especially Judy Garland.

When Lauren Bacall learned she was pregnant, she was ecstatic. Bogart came home from a day at the studio, and she met him with the great news. He grew very quiet. He put his arm around her and led her gently into the house. He was quiet during dinner -- and then, after dinner, Bogart and Bacall had the worst fight they ever had. Bogart had finally found a woman he truly loved, and he didn't want to share her. He was scared of losing her affection to a baby.

When Lauren Bacall gave birth to a son, Stephen, Bogart became a father at 49. He'd had months to absorb the news, had even had his own baby shower. (Frank Sinatra had brought him baby rattles.) But Bogart still felt awkward about being a father. ("What do you do with a kid?" he asked a friend. "They don't drink.") Then they had their second child, Leslie.

In 1950, Bogart and his friend Bill Seeman arrived at the El Morocco Club in New York after midnight. Bogart had bought two giant stuffed panda bears for Stephen, and he and Seeman introduced the bears around as their "dates" and demanded a table for four. They propped up the bears in separate chairs, and began doing some heavy drinking.

Two young women at the club saw the pandas. One of them picked up one of the pandas. Bogart got angry and pushed her. After she fell to the floor, her friend picked up the other panda, Bogart said something cruel, and her boyfriend arrived and began throwing plates. After a wild scuffle, Bogart, Seeman and the pandas were thrown out of El Morocco and told never to return.

One of the women sued Bogart for $25,000. He showed up in court and was asked: "Were you drunk?" "Isn't everybody at three in the morning?" he replied. The case was dropped. Later, he mused: "Errol Flynn and I are the only ones left who do any good old hell-raising."

Bogart also loved to go to Romanoff's in Beverly Hills. A valet would take the Jaguar, and a maitre d' would lead Bogart to his regular booth. Friends would stop by to chat or talk shop: David Niven, Judy Garland, Richard Brooks[?], Swifty Lazar[?], Spencer Tracy. Rock Hudson was a rising star; when he saw him, Bogart would ask, "What the hell kind of name is "Rock" Hudson?"

Bogart considered Mike Romanoff[?] a poser but nonetheless counted him a close friend. Among other things, Bogart considered him a good chess player and appreciated his tendency to needle people. Mike Romanoff was a man with a cultivated Oxford accent[?], who insisted that his true name was "Prince Michael Alexandrovitch Dmitri Oblensky Romanoff," and that he was a blood nephew of the former Russian czar.

Mike Romanoff would greet Bogart by saying, "Good afternoon, Mr. Bogart. Are you going to be paying your bill today? I thought that might be a pleasant change."

Bogart would smile and reply: "Are you going to be putting any alcohol in your drinks today? That might be a pleasant change."

If Lauren Bacall was with Bogart, Romanoff might turn to her and say: "I see that you are still dating the same aging actor."

His Later Career

Around 1951, Bogart starred in the film The African Queen, with Katharine Hepburn, and again directed by his friend John Huston. It was a difficult shoot, on location in Africa. One day the boat The African Queen sunk. (Lauren Bacall recalled: "The Natives had been told to watch it and they did -- they watched it sink.")

John Huston recalled: "Bogie didn't particularly care for the Charlie Alnutt role when he started, but I slowly got him into it, showing him by expression and gesture what I thought Alnutt should be like. He first imitated me, then all at once he got under the skin of that wretched, sleazy, absurd, brave little man. He realized he was onto something new and good. He said to me, 'John, don't let me lose it.'"

Hepburn's proper spinster character scolded Bogart's Charlie Alnutt: "Nature, Mr. Allnutt, is what we are put in this world to rise above." Bogart had a famous put down too: "You crazy, psalm-singing, skinny old maid!"

In 1951, the Charlie Alnutt role won Bogart a second Academy Award for Best Actor. He had vowed to friends that if he won, his speech would break the convention of thanking everyone in sight. He'd say instead: 'I don't owe anything to anyone! I earned this award by hard work and paying attention to my craft.' But when Bogart won the Academy Award, he thanked John Huston, Katharine Hepburn, the cast and crew of the film. He had always felt Hollywood people didn't like him much, and he was deeply moved to find himself so popular now.

The Caine Mutiny was Bogart's last major film. He dropped his asking price to get the role of Captain Queeg, then griped with some of his old bitterness about it. ("This never happens to Cooper or Grant or Gable, but always to me. Why does it happen to me?")

Bogart had always treated his body poorly, and often drank heavily when not working. (Typically contrary, the one night he refused to get drunk was New Year's Eve.) He smoked unfiltered Chesterfields. Once, after signing a long-term deal with Warner Brothers, Bogart predicted with glee that both his teeth and hair would fall out before the contract ended. That sent a fuming Jack Warner to his lawyers.

In 1955, he made three films: The Desperate Hours, The Left Hand of God, and We're No Angels. Each film had a special satisfaction. The Desperate Hours gave him a third chance to play a hostage drama. During The Left Hand of God, Bogart was able to befriend Gene Tierney, and encourage her to get the psychiatric help he thought she badly needed. In We're No Angels, he got a starring role for Joan Bennett[?], who'd been out of work for three years after a family scandal.

But his health was failing -- Bogart had cancer of the esophagus. He almost never spoke of it and refused to see a doctor until January of 1956, and by then surgery of his esophagus, two lymph nodes and a rib was too little, too late.

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy came to see him. Bogart was too weak to walk up and down stairs. He tried to joke about it: "Put me in the dumbwaiter and I'll ride down to the first floor in style. Come on -- I'm a little guy -- I'll fit."

Hepburn has described the last time she and Spencer Tracy saw Bogart: "Spence patted him on the shoulder and said, 'Goodnight, Bogie.' Bogie turned his eyes to Spence very quietly and with a sweet smile covered Spence's hand with his own and said -- 'Goodbye, Spence.' Spence's heart stood still. He understood."

Bogart had just turned 57 and weighed only 80 pounds when he died on January 14, 1957. He was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Glendale, California.

The funeral was at All Saints Episcopal Church. They played selections from Bogart's favorite composers, Johann Sebastian Bach and Claude Debussy. Lauren Bacall had asked Spencer Tracy to give the eulogy but Tracy was too upset. John Huston gave the eulogy instead, and reminded the gathered mourners that while Bogart's life had ended far too soon, it had been a rich one. Huston said: "He is quite irreplaceable. There will never be another like him."

Huston also noted of Bogart: "Himself, he never took too seriously -- his work most seriously. He regarded the somewhat gaudy figure of Bogart, the star, with an amused cynicism; Bogart, the actor, he held in deep respect... In each of the fountains at Versailles there is a pike which keeps all the carp active; otherwise they would grow overfat and die. Bogie took rare delight in performing a similar duty in the fountains of Hollywood. Yet his victims seldom bore him any malice, and when they did, not for long. His shafts were fashioned only to stick into the outer layer of complacency, and not to penetrate through to the regions of the spirit where real injuries are done."

Katharine Hepburn: "He was one of the biggest guys I ever met. He walked straight down the center of the road. No maybes. Yes or no. He liked to drink. He drank. He liked to sail a boat. He sailed a boat. He was an actor. He was happy and proud to be an actor. He'd say to me, 'Are you comfortable? Everything okay?' He was looking out for me."

Bogart once said of himself: "I don't approve of the John Waynes and the Gary Coopers saying 'Shucks, I ain't no actor -- I'm just a bridge builder or a gas station attendant.' If they aren't actors, what the hell are they getting paid for? I have respect for my profession. I worked hard at it."

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