Humphrey Bogart, Tough Guy with a Soft Center

Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart has become one of the great legends of Hollywood. He made a number of movies which have become classics and many of the characters he created such as Rick Blaine and Duke Mantee have become an integral part of our culture.

In his memorable career he became famous for portraying heroic men with cynical exteriors but  warm and tender inner selves. He has uttered onscreen some of the most memorable lines ever written. Who can forget, 'Here's looking at you kid' or 'We'll always have Paris' from 'Casablanca'. He won the Best Actor Award in 1952 for 'The African Queen' and he richly merits his position at number one in the AFI's list of greatest movie stars of all time.

Humphrey Bogart Biography

Early Years

He was born in December, 1899, as Humphrey DeForest Bogart. There is some confusion as to the exact date as some sources believe the 'official' date of December 25 was done for publicity purposes. He came from a prosperous family, his father was a surgeon and his mother a well known commercial illustrator and he was educated at top establishments, firstly Trinity School, NYC and then Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass in anticipation of his taking up a medical career.

However he had other ideas and turned his back on the academic life, partly due to the fact that he was expelled from Philips Academy and in 1918 he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
On discharge he joined a theatrical company owned by William S Brady, a family friend, originally as an office boy, then as a stage manager.

He became attracted by the glamorous, nocturnal lifestyle of the acting world and he began making regular stage performances, mainly in light comedies playing youthful romantic roles.

With first wife, Helen Mencken, 1926
With first wife, Helen Mencken, 1926

The Young Actor

During this period he met his first wife, a well known stage actress called Helen Menken. They married in 1926 but divorced within a year. He married his second wife, Mary Philllips, also an actress, in 1928, and they worked together in several stage plays. Within two years, Bogart, feeling his stage career had faltered, headed west to movies and Hollywood, leaving his young wife behind, still working in New York.

He arrived in Hollywood just as Talkies were taking off and with his clear, clipped enunciation he found work easy to come by and he signed a contract with Fox Film Corporation. Bogart's first few films for Fox were all disappointing and his contract was cancelled. He appeared in some movies for other studios but all were duds. During this period it was Mary's earnings from the New York stage which was keeping them afloat.

A Hollywood Actor

In 1934 Bogart returned to New York in the hope of re-starting his stage career. It proved to be a fortuitous move. He was suddenly in the right place at the right time. He was asked by director Arthur Hopkins to test for a very different role, that of an escaped killer, Duke Mantee, in Robert Sherwood's 'The Petrified Forest'. He got the part and both he and the play proved to be an outstanding success.

Bogart's talent was able to show in tough guy parts rather than vapid romantic The movie which also co-starred Bette Davis, came out in 1936, and proved to be as big a hit on screen as on stage. Bogart was given a contract with Warners. He was a Hollywood actor at  last.

A casualty of Bogart's new-found success was his second marriage. Mary was unwilling to follow her husband to Hollywood and they were divorced in 1937. The following year Bogart married for a third time, to Mayo Methot, an actress with a hot temper and a liking for alchohol.  It was a tempestuous relationship and they soon became known as 'the Battling Bogarts'.

Angels with Dirty Faces, 1938
Angels with Dirty Faces, 1938

Hollywood Stardom

Bogart's movie career during the 1930's was undistinguished. He worked regularly, making over 30 pictures between 1936 and 1940, and invariably playing tough guy roles. He complained that Warners was passing on the inferior parts rejected by big stars like James Cagney. There are some exceptions such as 'Dead End' in 1937, 'Angels with Dirty Faces' in 1938, and 'They Drive by Night' in 1940 which stand out amongst the dross but it was in 1941 that he was given the roles that would make him a star.

The Maltese Falcon

When George Raft turned down the role of ex-convict Roy Earle, as he did not want to die in the film, Warners passed the part on to Bogart. The film was 'High Sierra' and thanks to a combination of John Huston's script, Raoul Walsh's intelligent direction, and the excellent performances of Bogart and co-star Ida Lupino, it was a smash hit with both the public and the critics. Later the same year Bogart was teamed with Huston again, for 'The Maltese Falcon', Huston's debut as a director. As well as creating in Sam Spade the first film-noir detective, Bogart also was given a romantic, more honourable side to his tough guy image. It gave him a fuller, more rounded, screen persona and he was now firmly established as a major Hollywood star. But the best was yet to come.

Casablanca

 The success of 'The Maltese Falcon' was due in no small part to the brilliant supporting cast including Sydney Greenstreet, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Elisha Cook. In 1942 Bogart teamed up once again with Greenstreet and Lorre in an iconic wartime romantic drama, 'Casablanca', which gave Bogart the chance to show what he could do in a romantic lead role.

  His portrayal of the nightclub owner, Rick Blaine, a hardened cynic who was still able to love, showed that Bogart had found acting depth and could play a tough guy struggling with his softer side. The movie captured the wartime mood and the emotional dilemmas faced by the public at the time.

Casablanca was an enormous success and is still irresisible today. It won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Director, and was nominated in five other categories, including Bogart for Best Actor. It was a major surprise that he did not win the award.

Bogie and Bacall
Bogie and Bacall

Hollywood Superstar


Bogart's career was now at its peak and would stay that way. He was a superstar, the highest paid actor in the world, and for the next decade he would star in many other quality films in which he was able to show his diverse and very real acting talents. In 1944 he met a young, beautiful model turned actress, Lauren Bacall while filming 'To Have and Have Not'. They started a romance which created a sparkling chemistry both onscreen and off. It gave Bogart the impetus to finally end his faltering marriage to the increasingly unstable Mayo Methot. They divorced in May 1945 and Bogart and Bacall were married 11 days later. They had two children, Stephen, born in 1949 and in 1952, his daughter, Leslie Howard (named after his friend, the English actor who got him his first break in 'The Petrified Forest' and who had been killed in World War II.) It was his fourth and only truly happy marriage.

'To Have and To Have Not' was a big box-office hit and Warners responded by offering Bogart an unprecedentedly generous contract at $1million a year for the next 15 years. He and his new wife were teamed again for three more movies: the iconic 'The Big Sleep' in 1946, 'Dark Passage' in 1947 and 'Key Largo' the following year. Bogart had also teamed up with John Huston again in 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' in 1948 in which he gave a virtuoso acting performance as the seedy and grasping gold prospector, Fred C. Dobbs. In 1950 came one of Bogart's best and possibly most underrated performances in 'In a Lonely Place', a  powerful examination of behaviour in a violent crisis, with Bogart as an unstable  character, incapable of controlling his anger.  Around this time Bogart became the first Hollywood actor to start his own production company, which he called Santana after his private yacht.

End of a Career

 He received his Best Acting Oscar in 1951 for his offbeat but compelling performance as a drunken boat captain in 'The African Queen', co-starring Katharine Hepburn and again directed by John Huston. His movies during the last years of his life were a diverse mix of characterizations such as Queeg in 'The Caine Mutiny" (for which he received his third Best Actor Oscar nomination), a staid businessman in 'Sabrina', and a movie director in 'The Barefoot Contessa'. His final films were sady unworthy of him:  'We're No Angels', 'The Desperate Hours', and 'The Left Hand of God' all in 1955, and the boxing drama, 'The Harder They Fall' in 1956.

By this time Bogart was seriously ill with cancer of the oesophagus. He had several bouts of surgery but to no avail. He died at his home in Hollywood on January 14, 1957. He was 57 years old.

Summary

Bogart was a unique, charismatic screen prescence and he appeared in a number of classic movies that will always be appreciated. There is an undeniable onscreen magic in movies such as 'Casablanca', the Treasure of the Sierra Madre' and 'To Have and To Have Not'. It is difficult to imagine any other actor in Bogart's place. He created his own screen persona, tough and cynical, but you just know there's a romantic heart beating under the surface. In 1997, Entertainment Weekly magazine named him the number one movie legend of all time. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked him the Greatest Male Star of All Time. I, for one, will not disagree.

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Comments 4 comments

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

Thanks for a thorough film biography of the great Humphrey Bogart. All of the films you mention were wonderful movies, but my personal favorite Bogart film was "Sahara," (1943) a dramatic and well acted war movie. Good work, as usual, gunsock.


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

Thank you for this. :-)


montecristo profile image

montecristo 5 years ago from Hampton Roads, Virginia

Great info. Thanks for sharing.


marwan asmar profile image

marwan asmar 5 years ago from Amman, Jordan

Thanks for bringing back long lost memories......a great actor

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