Humphery Bogart (1899 - 1957)

Bogart Remembered

Here's looking at you kid!Who was this world-weary, cynical screen star whose unique blend of toughness, tempered by pathos, made him a hero whose popularity has only grown in the forty years since his death? To those who knew him intimately, and for three generations of movie buffs, the legacy of "Bogey" still looms large in our collective minds.

Yet the world into which Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born on January 23, 1899, was surprisingly comfortable for a future tough guy. Unlike other screen heavies such as George Raft and Jimmy Cagney, Bogey didn't come from the streets. His father, Belmont DeForest Bogart was a successful physician in an affluent Manhattan neighborhood. Similarly, his mother, Maude Humphrey enjoyed a lucrative career as a well known magazine illustrator. Her drawings of baby Humphrey adorned advertisements for a baby food company.

There is little indication that the young Bogart was ever an open rebel. Nevertheless, his early years were marked by an assertive nature and inherent stubbornness, which would soon put him in conflict with his parents, particularly his rigid and implacable father. Bogey's formative years were spent at Trinity, a private Episcopalian School, and Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, which had been his father's old school. When he was forced to withdraw from Andover due to poor grades and irascible behavior, a discernible cleavage developed between father and son.

Yet Bogart's ties to his father were never severed. He would continue to speak of him only with deference and respect. When the elder Bogart was beset by hard times -- personal and professional -- his son was never far away. In September 1943, upon hearing of his father's failing health, Bogart, by now a big star, hurried back to his parents' home. There, two days later, the elder Bogart died in his son's arms. He left his son a ruby ring which Bogey would wear the rest of his life.

When America entered World War I, Bogart served in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. Leviathan. A shipboard accident left a legacy to film history when a wood splinter ripped into Bogart's upper lip. The resulting permanent scar contributed to the haunting face that would serve him well, particularly in the early days when he resided in the lucrative brothel of screenland gangsters. Yet the road to the top did not come easily. In those days, actors usually rose slowly through the ranks. To say that Bogey paid his dues is an understatement. The future tough guy served his apprenticeship playing an endless array of overgrown juveniles and minor romantic nonentities. His first stab at acting, moreover, was the result of little more than a lark.

Bogart's family had no experience in the theatrical world, but a neighbor whose son was one of Bogart's childhood friends gave him his start as a theatrical office boy. In 1920, Bogart was working as a stage manager in a road show production titled, The Ruined Lady. With a typical smugness, he mentioned to veteran actor Neil Hamilton that acting really didn't look very difficult. Hamilton gleefully suggested that perhaps Bogart might then give it a try. When a member of the cast suddenly took sick, Bogart decided to meet the challenge. The result was a complete disaster, and Bogart vowed to never make the same mistake again. However, when he realized that he could never get rich as a stage manager, he changed his mind.

For the next ten years he performed only on stage, sometimes exchanging lines with such fine performers as Clifton Webb and Ruth Gordon. He did not make it to Hollywood until 1930, when he teamed with Victor McLaglen in an otherwise forgettable film A Devil With Women. Other early forgettables include Up The River, where he shared the camera's eye with yet another young refugee from the stage named Spencer Tracy, and Bad Sister, which marked the debut of screen ingenue Bette Davis.

Fortunately, the Bogart persona was well suited to the troubled times. With America caught in the throes of the Great Depression, people were desperately searching for escape. To many, flamboyant gangsters like Al Capone, John Dillinger, and Baby Face Nelson were fascinating, even when repellent. Film gangster roles propelled the likes of James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, George Raft, and Paul Muni to box office success. Bogart became a part of this select circle. Warner Bros. packaged him well.

Later in life, Bogey would flippantly recall that in his first 34 films, he was shot in 12, electrocuted or hanged in 8, and was a jailbird in 9. In an interesting footnote, Warners would eventually change his date of birth to December 25, 1900, perhaps so the public could savor the irony of a "bad guy" being born on Christmas Day.

Bogey could give a strangely sensitive dimension even to gangster roles. He had an uncanny ability to reveal the spiritual side of the lowest of characters. In the 1941 classic, High Sierra, Bogart plays an unforgettable scene in the dark with Joan Leslie under the star-filled western sky. Playing a Dillinger-like killer, Roy Earle, to Leslie's innocent, club-footed Velma, he explains the motions of the planets and the stars. For an instant, we see him not as a killer, but as a pathetic figure, like any one of us, hanging desperately onto the little ball of the earth as it turns beneath the heavens.

The critics raved over his performance in High Sierra, a film which has gone down in history as the first Bogart film, the first in which his film persona was fully realized. Success had been a long time coming. At age 41, with 11 years of film making behind him, Humphrey Bogart finally emerged as a star.

Over the next three years, Bogey would make nine movies, two of which remain forever enshrined in the pantheon of classics.

In 1941, a young screenwriter named John Huston, who co-scripted High Sierra, was about to embark on his first directorial assignment. The film was to be the second remake of Dashiell Hammett's novel "The Maltese Falcon." Bogart was not Warner's first choice to play Hammett's tough private eye, Sam Spade. The role had originally been offered to George Raft, who turned it down because he was leery of entrusting his career to a fledgling director. Raft, Cagney and Muni had all nixed the Roy Earle role in High Sierra, which gave Bogey his big break. Now, once again, a spurned role would allow Bogart to enter the realm of film greatness through the back door.

For many buffs, The Maltese Falcon is Bogey's finest and most thoroughly enjoyable film. Falcon would capture an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and cement a lifelong friendship between Bogart and Huston. From his first sizing up of enigmatic Brigid O'Shaughnessy, to the final surrender of his love and lover to the police, it was obvious that Bogey and the role he played were one and the same. The critics were in awe.

With the country at war by the end of 1941, Hollywood began to mobilize its own troops. In 1942, Hal B. Wallis launched production of a romantically charged tale of wartime intrigue set in an obscure corner of France's colonial empire. When the film was released in November of 1942 it opened to mixed reviews. Then, in an incredible stroke of luck, a major conference of allied leaders, including Churchill, Roosevelt and DeGaulle, was convened in the French Moroccan city of Casablanca in January, mere weeks before the 1943 Oscar ceremony. Suddenly, Wallis's film, based on an obscure unproduced play, "Everyone Comes to Rick's", had a famous title splashed across the headlines. The name "Casablanca" became synonymous with Allied victory and patriotism. The film triumphed at the Oscar ceremony.

Casablanca.. one of the most romantic films in Cinema history

Above is the poster of the 1942 classic

Casablanca may well be the most widely imitated American film. The cast was marvelous. Character actors Claude Raines, Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet, Conrad Veidt, and S. Z. Sakall, teamed with the suave Paul Henreid and an awesomely beautiful Ingrid Bergman, in helping the film capture the Oscar for Best Picture of 1943.

But the movie belonged to Bogey. He not only towered above everyone else, he also established a new and exciting romantic image. In the embittered owner of Rick's Cafe Americain, we see the complete Bogart screen persona -- cynical, weary, sentimental, and noble. While he had been popular with women and men for his tough guy roles, it took Casablanca, and the romantic song, "As Time Goes By" to uncover the fact that Bogey had genuine sex appeal.

Avid Bogart fans never tire of the scenario: Bogey assures his equally cynical French counterpart, superbly played by Claude Raines, that he came to Casablanca "for the waters." When reminded that Casablanca has no waters, Bogey simply acknowledges, "I was misinformed."

In the end, nobility triumphs over cynicism. As they walk together into the night, Bogey turns to his unlikely partner. "Louie," he says, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!"

Another beautiful friendship was soon to enter Bogart's life. They had met briefly on the set of Passage to Marseilles. He was 44. She was just 19. During her brief career as a model, she was noticed by the wife of director Howard Hawks adorning the cover of Harper's Bazaar. Following a screen test in which she was superbly photogenic, Hawks signed her to a personal seven year contract. By then she had already changed her name from Perske to Bacall. While Hawks would rename her Lauren, she always preferred to be called Betty.

Hawks immediately cast her as the sultry female lead in the upcoming production of To Have and Have Not. Betty was told that Warner's intended to have her play opposite either Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart. Not surprisingly, the thought of working with Grant set her back on her heels. As for Bogart, well, he was a real trouper, but nothing to get terribly excited about.

Nevertheless, she was understandably nervous about being teamed with Warner Bros.' biggest star. Initially, she insists, there were no fireworks, bells, nor banjos. Soon, however, she began to appreciate Bogey as a seasoned pro who saw everything and missed nothing.

By the time they began filming To Have and Have Not, it was obvious that they were falling in love. Audiences were soon allowed a rare treat: before their very eyes came the unfolding of a genuine love affair. As Alistair Cooke explained, not only did Bogey and Betty love one another deeply, they were able to convey the magic of that chemistry on the screen.

On May 10, 1945, Humphrey Bogart and Betty Bacall were married in Ohio on Louis Bromfield's farm. In the tinsel world that is Hollywood, where marriages crumble as quickly as yesterday's cake, theirs would last. (Bogart was previously married to Helen Menken (1926-1927), Mary Phillips (1928-1937), and Mayo Methot (1938-1945). All three wives were actresses.)

Together, Bogey and Betty made four films: To Have and Have Not; The Big Sleep; Dark Passage; and Key Largo. The remarkable chemistry only grew stronger. Katharine Hepburn, who watched them together during the filming of the African Queen, noticed it immediately. They simply had an enormous opinion of each other's charm, Hepburn would say years later.

Their devotion to one another continued unabated through 11 years of marriage. Returning home, following an operation on the cancer which would soon take his life, Bogey took one look at Betty, and his eyes swelled with tears. Turning to a close friend he whispered, "People say, 'why do you get married?' Look what I have here!"

Marriage to Betty provided Bogey with two ingredients sorely missing from his life: a loving and committed partner and the stability of a family of his own. With the birth of his son Steve four years later, Bogey, at age 49, became a father for the first time.

Moreover, much of his best work was still in front of him. Many actors have taken a stab at Raymond Chandler's fast-talking detective Philip Marlowe, but none so adroitly as Bogey in the 1946 version of The Big Sleep.

His portrayal of greedy prospector Fred C. Dobbs, in Huston's 1948 masterpiece, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, remains one of Bogey's best. By this time Bogart was starting to outgrow his famous tough guy persona. Some in the audience found it hard to accept him as a scheming, wily, little gold miner. Perhaps this is the reason why Bogart took a back seat to an outstanding Oscar-winning performance by veteran actor Walter Huston. (It was an award made sweet for all in the cast since their director was Huston's son John.)

Bogart's reward for years of perseverance and professionalism finally came in 1951. Again, the Huston connection made it possible. In what was then the Belgian Congo, filming began for what many consider Bogart's finest picture, The African Queen. This time he was matched with one of the screen's living legends, the incredible Katharine Hepburn.

The production was an ordeal for all concerned. Amid a myriad of obstacles, including mosquitoes, leeches, wild animals, intense humidity, tropical illness, and primitive conditions, the perfect film was made. Bogey and Hepburn got on splendidly as aging, unlikely lovers. Their unique pairing created extraordinary chemistry. Viewers were delighted.

For his role as the weather-beaten, hard nosed tugboat skipper, Charlie Allnut, Bogey would receive the ultimate accolade; a long awaited and well deserved Academy Award for Best Actor for 1951. The Award was all the more meaningful considering his competition included such heavyweights as Montgomery Clift, Arthur Kennedy, Fredric March, and hot newcomer Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire.

The Oscar was a fitting climax -- but by no means an end -- to an outstanding career. It was an honor which Bogey would hold close to his heart for the remainder of his life.

Despite his popularity, Bogart never became a tinseltown ornament. He had a built-in disdain for pomposity and pretension. His was not the world of the glamorous Hollywood parties. His real love was the sea. He was never more at peace than when manning his boat "The Santana." (His production company, Santana Pictures, was named after the boat.)

Interestingly, Bogart never really considered himself a star. He was an actor with the deepest respect for his profession. Never a conformist, Bogart had the courage to march to the beat of a different drummer, as he showed in his opposition to McCarthyism.

How tough was the real Bogart? The answer is, very tough, but he was never a pugilist. To the contrary, he would often talk his way into, then out of, physical confrontation.

Bogey's true toughness can be measured in far more important ways -- by his steadfast conviction, by his refusal to compromise cherished principles, and by the respect he engendered from all who knew him well. According to a close friend, Bogart showed his toughness in his ability to live life fully and to be able to handle whatever came his way. At no time was this more apparent than during the last year of his life.

It started with a small cough during the filming of his final picture, The Harder They Fall. The cough worsened, and on February 28, 1956, The New York Times reported that Humphrey Bogart was entering Good Samaritan Hospital for the removal of a slight obstruction on his esophagus. Bogey would never work again.

He fought valiantly against the cancer that was destroying him. Although none heard him admit it, his friends were painfully aware that Bogey was dying. He faced death bravely -- appearing to treat it as yet another difficult role, to be taken on and beaten.

Bogey drifted into a coma on January 13, 1957. At 2:10 the following morning he was pronounced dead.

On Thursday, January 17, a brief service was held in All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills. In place of his coffin, a glass enclosed model of the "Santana" was placed by the altar. Among those attending were Gary Cooper, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Billy Wilder, Jennifer Jones, Dick Powell, and Danny Kaye. A crowd of 3000 gathered outside the church.

Before the body was cremated, John Huston paid a final tribute to his friend:

" ... His life, though not a long one measured in years, was a rich, deep life. He got what he asked for out of life -- and more. He is quite irreplaceable. There will never be another like him!"

Humphrey Bogart made 79 films between the years 1930 and 1956. He won one Oscar and gathered three Academy Award nominations: Casablanca (1943); The African Queen (1951); and The Caine Mutiny (1954), where he was again near perfect as the disturbed and tyrannical Captain Philip Queeg. It might well be argued that he was deserving of two additional Oscar nominations -- for his splendid work in The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

This is not to say that Bogart never gave a bad performance. He couldn't cut it as a cowboy. Even his most avid fans would prefer to forget The Oklahoma Kid and that silly paper thin moustache he sported in the 1940 western, Virginia City. But perhaps his all-time stinkeroo was his zombie role in the 1938 disaster The Return of Dr. X.

Yet some of his lesser remembered films also provided a showcase for his remarkable talent. In Sabrina (1954), Bogey's first incursion into drawing-room comedy, he practically stole the picture from co-stars William Holden and Audrey Hepburn. And in a vastly underrated film, In A Lonely Place (1950), Bogey once again dropped his tough guy pose. His captivating portrayal of a Hollywood screenwriter accused of murder remains one of his best.

Bogey somehow gave us something we all desperately wanted. Woody Allen recognized this when he paid homage to Bogey in his film and play, Play It Again, Sam; the hilarious yet touching adventures of a nerdy movie buff haunted by Bogart's ghost.

Alan Frank, who has written prolifically on the lives of screen legends, recalls how as a child he saw Bogart on location during the filming of The African Queen. Even at that young age, he felt impressed in the presence of this "very special man."

A similar feeling was shared by a ten-year-old youngster in a Chicago movie house, when, for the first time, this writer watched Bogey take on Edward G. Robinson and the force of evil in the unforgettable Key Largo. Nearly four decades later, in the hit song of the same name, composer Bertie Higgins, would laconically recall how he and his own "Betty" once had it all, "Just like Bogey and Bacall."

And then there is that word, "honor." Who else could have told a seductive Mary Astor that he was not going to play the "sap," and that she was going to "take the fall." Lovely though she was, she had killed his partner, and he had to send her over. For Sam Spade, and for Bogey himself, it was above all a matter of honor.

Of course, the airport scene from Casablanca has achieved a dimension all its own. When Rick tells a tearful Ilsa that in this crazy world, "the problems of three little people don't add up to a hill of beans" and reminds her that however much they had lost, "We will always have Paris," even hardened men begin to reach for their handkerchiefs.

We'll never forget him. Our imagination will never be the same. We will always see Rick and Ilsa alone in that hotel room in Paris. Time is short. The Nazis are ever so near. Two champagne glasses touch. Rick and Ilsa kiss, as if for the last time. The gloss in those sleepy eyes. The look. The wink. "Here's looking at you, Kid."