From the time he decided to pursue acting, Humphrey Bogart was committed to the art. In the more than 80 films spanning his career, he was never once late to the set or unprepared for his lines. He held a deep respect for actors who were serious about their performances, and was professional in every aspect of his own career.
“[Bogart] achieved class through his integrity and his devotion to what he thought was right,” said friend Nathaniel Benchley in his biography, “Humphrey Bogart”. “He believed in being direct, simple, and honest, all on his own terms, and this ruffled some people and endeared him to others.”
Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born on December 25, 1899. He was the son of a reputable doctor, Belmont DeForest Bogart, and Maude Humphrey, a respected portrait artist. Bogart and his two younger sisters lived comfortably. The family had a permanent residence in a prominent section near New York City, and a seasonal retreat on Canandaigua Lake. It was at their summer home that Dr. Bogart taught his son how to play chess and sail, two activities that Bogart would enjoy for the rest of his life.
In May 1918, after a brief term at the Andover Academy in Massachusetts, Bogart enlisted in the Navy. He was assigned to the Leviathan, his duties at which would result in the famous scar that marked the right corner of his upper lip. Despite numerous rumors, however, the injury was not a result of shrapnel. The following story is probably closest to the truth of what really happened. A Navy prisoner, whom Bogart was escorting, asked for a cigarette. When he reached for a match, the prisoner smashed Bogart across the mouth with his handcuffs and fled. Bogart’s lip was severely torn, but he pursued and apprehended the man, refusing treatment until the prisoner was securely locked up.
Wetting his feet
Bogart’s career in entertainment developed slowly. In 1920, established stage actress Alice Brady noticed something special about Bogart and asked her father to hire him. Bogart eventually became a company manager, in charge of a touring play called The ‘Ruined’ Lady, and earned $50 a week. Neither Bogart nor Alice Brady felt he was suited for the job, however, and soon she gave him a line to read. Dr. Bogart, upon seeing his son in his first role as a Japanese waiter, leaned over and whispered to a companion, “The boy’s good, isn’t he?” Critics weren’t as quick to ascertain the unique quality that Dr. Bogart and Alice perceived, but it didn’t matter. Bogart had decided to become an actor.
During his time working in the theater, Bogart married twice. His first wife, Helen Menken, was an accomplished stage actress 10 years his senior who had immediately taken a liking to Bogart. He reportedly resisted the relationship, and was quoted as commenting to friends, “God, I don’t want to marry that girl.” Bogart and Helen eventually tied the knot on May 20, 1926. The marriage ended less than a year later, and Helen sailed overseas to star in a London theater production of Seventh Heaven.
Bogart’s second wife, Mary Philips, was also a stage actress. Bogart and Mary first met through mutual friends in 1923, and during their relationship they worked together in several theater productions, including Nerves and The Skyrocket. They married in April 1928 and were by most accounts a fun and amicable couple.
Undeniable stage presence
After starring in a number of stage productions, as well as several minor screen roles, Bogart’s breakthrough part was just around the corner. In 1934, producer-director Arthur Hopkins contacted him about a part in Robert Sherwood’s The Petrified Forest. Hopkins had Bogart try out for the part of Duke Mantee, an escaped killer who holds a handful of customers captive in a gas station. Duke Mantee’s persona was much different from the pretty-boy roles Bogart was used to playing, and it was in this new realm that Bogart’s talent shone through.
It is well-recorded that, when he walked onstage as the vicious Duke Mantee, there was a collective gasp from the audience. Bogart’s icy stare, dangling hands, and stooped convict’s shuffle had the audience convinced the actor was a killer – and he hadn’t even spoken yet.
In light of the play’s success, Warner Bros. bought the movie rights to The Petrified Forest. However, they had their own actor, Edward G. Robinson, in mind for the role of Duke Mantee. Fortunately for Bogart, friend and co-star Leslie Howard ultimately refused to act in the film adaptation unless Bogart retained the role. Warner Bros. eventually relented and signed Bogart, who then went on to prove he was just as powerful on screen as he was on stage.
Bogart was always grateful for Howard’s dedication and help in landing the breakthrough part, and he was later quoted as saying, “It’s not for nothing my daughter was named Leslie.”
From villain to hero
After The Petrified Forest was released, Bogart worked steadily under his contract with Warner Bros., and it was necessary for him to make a permanent move out West. Unfortunately, when the career paths of Bogart and Mary diverged, the marriage ended. After a brief try at life in Hollywood, Mary returned East to continue her successful career as a stage actress.
During a visit to a mutual friend, Bogart had crossed paths with aspiring actress Mayo Methot. Bogart was amused by her loud, unpredictable personality, and Mayo was extremely taken with the handsome newcomer. They quickly developed a serious relationship, and were married in August 1938. Although Bogart and Mayo cared for each other, the marriage was tumultuous from the start. It was no secret that Mayo had a violent temper, suffered from alcohol dependency, and was prone to paranoid jealousy. Mild arguments quickly escalated into physical confrontations, and they became known as the “Battling Bogarts.”
Living in Hollywood was exciting at first, but Bogart became understandably bored with his on-screen roles. He made 12 pictures with Warner Bros. during the first two years, and in eight of those he played a gangster/criminal. Bogart was looking for variety and the chance to prove his versatility. In 1940, he readily accepted the leading role in the screenplay adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon. It was a perfect fit. Bogart’s flawless depiction of private eye Sam Spade, portrayed with an exciting mix of cunning, sexuality, and honor, made Hollywood stand up and take notice.
Bogart had re-defined his career as an actor, and it was just in time for the casting of the romantic war drama Casablanca. Directors engaged talented beauty Ingrid Bergman as Bogart’s co-star, and watched (amid a flurry of revisions) as the story naturally metamorphosed through the last day of shooting. The result was a movie that still vies for the best picture ever made. Released on January 23, 1943, it captivated audiences everywhere. Casablanca won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Director, and received nominations in five other categories, including Bogart for Best Actor.
Love of a lifetime
In 1944, Warner Bros. paired Bogart with 20-year-old Betty Perske, a personable up-and-comer who went by the stage name Lauren Bacall. A sultry beauty, Betty already had a highly successful modeling career with Harper’s Bazaar, and was looking to break into the movie business. The two were slated to star in a screenplay adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel To Have and Have Not. Upon meeting her, Bogart told Betty, “I saw your test. We’re going to have a lot of fun together.”
He could not have been more right. The electricity between Bogart and Betty was tangible, and yet their connection was much more than physical. Betty’s self confidence and dedicated work ethic matched Bogart’s, and her warm, nurturing manner complimented his softer side nicely. Bogart’s connection with Betty gave him the final push he needed to end the ailing marriage with Mayo. Their divorce was final on May 10, 1945, and Bogart and Betty were married less than two weeks later on May 21.
The newlyweds settled into a rustic home, tucked back in a semi-secluded section in Beverly Hills, where they accumulated an array of animals. Their pets included 14 chickens, eight ducks and a large dog. In 1947, Bogart secured his financial future with a unique contract from Warner Bros., which guaranteed him $1 million a year for 15 years. In 1949, Betty gave birth to their son, Stephen Humphrey. Although he was initially cautious (and perhaps a little intimated) when they discovered Betty was pregnant, Bogart reveled in his new role as a parent. Three years later, daughter Leslie was born to complete the family.
Friends fondly remembered how the children’s curiosity and innocence amazed Bogart. When Steve was six, Bogart brought him on a regular weekend excursion on Santana, Bogart’s 54-foot sailboat. After watching others set lobster traps, Steve tried to catch one of his own. He lowered a cricket cage off the deck and checked it constantly until bedtime. When his son was asleep, Bogart placed the upper body of a lobster in Steve’s cage (it was all that would fit) for the boy to find in the morning. Steve, though he recalled the “catch,” never knew Bogart was responsible.
A “meat and potatoes” guy
Bogart’s favorite place for lunch or dinner was Romanoff’s, a popular Beverly Hills restaurant. He shared a special friendship with the owner, whom he called “Prince,” and the two often played chess. He enjoyed harassing Prince, especially when it came to Romanoff’s mandatory shirt and tie policy. Bogart, who liked to dress casually for lunch, fought with Prince over the matter. The battle was settled when Bogart had a jeweler design a one-inch wide, enameled bow tie. After examining the pin, Prince allowed Bogart to be seated. “Damn you – I hate you,” Prince said, “but it passes.”
In 1952, Bogart once again redefined acting parameters when he starred in The African Queen with Katharine Hepburn. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor, beating out Marlon Brando’s nomination for A Streetcar Named Desire. The movie was one of the year’s most successful. A New York Times critic raved, “Bogart, in what is very likely the best performance of his long career, plays a man who is crude only on the surface; there is a goodness underneath his unshaven appearance and the actor does a fine job of bringing this quality out in the action and dialogue.”
Still, the humble star tried not to let it go to his head. “The best way to survive an Oscar is to never try to win another one,” Bogart said. “You’ve seen what happens to some Oscar winners. They spend the rest of their lives turning down scripts while searching for the great role to win another one. Hell, I hope I’m never even nominated again. It’s meat-and-potato roles for me from now on.”
A valiant fight
Following the success of The African Queen, Bogart starred in several other notable movies, including Sabrina, Beat the Devil and The Caine Mutiny. Unfortunately, in 1957, his amazing career was cut short. Despite undergoing radical surgery to remove a cancerous growth around Bogart’s esophagus, the disease continued to spread. He put up a valiant fight, but in the early morning hours of Monday, January 14, Bogart lost his battle with cancer.
The following Thursday, January 17, Betty held a memorial at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills. Because Bogart wished to be cremated, she placed a glass encased model of his boat, Santana, in lieu of a casket.
Friend and director John Huston gave a simple, heartfelt eulogy, and Reverend Kermit Castellanos presided over the service. In addition to reciting the Ten Commandments, Castellanos also read Alfred Lord Tennyson’s hymn “Crossing the Bar.” It was a fitting and comforting tribute to a man who lived earnestly, spoke openly and in doing so was not afraid of what the future would bring.