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The Actor Humphrey Bogart – A Short Biography

Updated on November 12, 2017
Humphrey Bogart in 1940
Humphrey Bogart in 1940 | Source

Introduction

American actor and cult hero Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born on Christmas Day in 1899 in New York City. He came into prominence in the silver screen in the 1940s and 1950s. Humphrey Bogart cemented his place in entertainment history with his Oscar-nominated role in “Casablanca.” The American Film Institute released its list of Top 100 American films. The Academy Award Best Picture Winner, “Casablanca” was ranked number two, after “Citizen Kane.” The American Film Institute also named him as the top male film star of the 20th century in 1999.

Humphrey Bogart won the Academy Award for his lead role in “The African Queen,” which was released in 1951. Of the more than 80 movies he made in a span of 30 years in Hollywood, Bogart received three Academy Award nominations. He was also nominated for a BAFTA award.

Bogart was a Hollywood tough guy, and in his personal life, he was a cynical recluse. Known as “Bogie” to his friends, he was also a founding member of the Hollywood Rat Pack, which included Mike Romanoff, Angie Dickinson, Judy Garland, Sid Luft, David Niven, and Frank Sinatra, among others. The name was adapted from a remark given by Lauren Bacall after seeing what the group had done after an all-nighter in Las Vegas in 1955.

Early Years

He was an American of English and Dutch heritage and adopted the Episcopalian religion from childhood. Humphrey grew up with two sisters, Catherine Elizabeth and Frances, raised by unsentimental parents who were not demonstrative or affectionate.

Humphrey Bogart’s father, Dr. Belmont DeForest Bogart, was a cardiopulmonary surgeon who also enjoyed boating and fishing. His mother was Maud Humphrey, a highly successful commercial artist who had training as an illustrator in France and New York. He was the couple’s first child. Humphrey’s mother earned more money than her husband who has a substantial practice as a medical specialist. Unfortunately, his mother committed suicide later in life, while his father succumbed to drug addiction.

Bogart’s mother and father were well off. He and his sisters spent their early years in a high-end Upper West side apartment. The family also maintained a cottage in upstate New York where they spent time regularly. The young Humphrey was educated in some of the best schools in the country. Nevertheless, the young student was not very interested in after school activities, and was rather indifferent to instruction. He started his education at the Delancey School, a private institution, and continued at Trinity School, one of the most prestigious schools in New York. Years later, he was expelled from the Phillips Academy, a boarding school for various reasons, including poor performance in academics, inappropriate conduct, drinking, smoking, and claims that he threw a school official into a pond. Because of lack interest in education, Bogart chose not to attend college, much to the dismay of his parents.

On Broadway

Before starting a career in acting in 1921, Humphrey Bogart served his time with the United States Navy towards the end of the First World War. From 1918 to 1921, he was part of activities that involved ferrying troops to and from Europe. It was during this time that he acquired his signature lisp. Although the events remain unclear to this day, it was also during his Navy service that he acquired the scar on his lip that singled him out from the other actors of his day.

Early in his acting career, Bogart played juvenile roles in country-house comedies in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. He was a bit player, but he enjoyed a good run in the city’s theater scene. His moderate success on Broadway paved the way for his later adventures in Hollywood. Bogart first enjoyed public adoration in the mid-1920s as the lead in the 1925 play “Cradle Snatchers.” Nevertheless, he did not conquer Hollywood instantly. His involvement with the movies started with two short films. The first movie he did in Los Angeles was “The Dancing Town” in 1928, and the second one was “Broadway’s Like That” in 1930. They did not do well enough to place him in the limelight.

After signing a contract with Fox Film Corporation, Humphrey Bogart was cast in supporting roles, which did not help to propel his career. He made around ten films that were not as successful as he had hoped, and so he left California and went back to the East Coast. He continued acting onstage. On his return to Broadway, he found critical acclaim in 1936 with his role in “The Petrified Forest.” It was soon adapted into a Hollywood movie, which brought Bogart back to the West Coast. The movie was a success. Because of this, he was given opportunities to play roles in films once again. During this time, he was typecast in films such as gangster. He also starred in various B-movies playing tough guys.

"The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind."

— Humphrey Bogart

Bogart Video Documentary

Hollywood Breakthrough

In 1941, Humphrey Bogart became part of a film that will bring attention to his talent and range. This film was instrumental in landing him a role one year later in the movie, “Casablanca,” the film that propelled him to stardom.

His reputation as a major Hollywood actor was established in 1941 in a film entitled, “High Sierra.” Humphrey Bogart played the notorious criminal Roy Earle who was paroled only to take part in a high profile armed robbery. Bogart portrayed this gangster role with a level of complexity that would make him a Hollywood legend after his death in 1957. Weary and middle-aged Roy Earle was the antihero character that allowed Bogart to showcase his acting chops. “High Sierra” paved the way for another role that helped establish him as a lead Hollywood actor. Before he was cast as Rick Blaine in Casablanca in 1942, Bogart made another movie in 1941. In “The Maltese Falcon,” he assumed the character of Detective Sam Spade. The film adaptation of the book of the same name is now considered a Hollywood classic. With the film’s box-office success and Bogart’s Oscar nomination for the role, he soon became the biggest male lead star of Warner Brothers.

Humphrey Bogart made many other screen classics in the 1940s, including “To Have and Have Not,” “The Big Sleep,” “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “Key Largo.” In the 1950s, he continued to play the lead in pictures that also became important Hollywood films, including “In a Lonely Place,” “Sabrina,” and “The Caine Mutiny.”

Casablanca Movie Trailer

Casablanca

Fans of Hollywood films typically associate Humphrey Bogart with the movie, “Casablanca,” which was directed by Michael Curtiz. The film was released in 1942. Bogart and the lovely Ingrid Bergman were given the lead roles. Bogart played the character of expatriate Rick Blaine, a nightclub owner caught in a complex web. He was also caught in a romantic tug of war with the irresistible Berman.

Contrary to rumors, the onscreen chemistry between Bergman and Bogart did not extend to real life. In fact, Bergman once said that she hardly knew her leading man even though they kissed. However, their onscreen romance earned the movie and the actors accolades from fans and critics alike. Bogart was nominated for the Oscar, but he lost to “Watch on the Rhine’s” Paul Lukas. The movie won the Best Picture Academy Award in 1943. After Casablanca, Bogart became one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood. He also became the highest paid actor of his time with an annual income of almost half a million dollars.

Screen persona

In Broadway, Bogart started his acting career playing male ingénues. It was very different indeed from the roles that made him a Hollywood legend. Humphrey Bogart did not possess the perfectly chiseled handsome features of some of the film industry’s favorite leading men. On the contrary, Bogart had a bony face with a scar—rough and masculine. He was less the charmer and more the realist with a tough exterior. Yet, he offered an image of manliness that movie fans flocked to see. He was also open to the public about his fondness for whisky, and did not attempt in any way to conceal his drinking.

What endeared Bogart to fans was his ability to convey duality on screen. He played heroes with an intriguing dark side. He promoted cynicism and made it endearing to filmgoers. Even when he played tough guy characters, he would show a vulnerable side. The attitude of detached coolness and world-weariness appealed to the public, possibly because they were tired of portrayals of one-dimensional strong characters that express only anger and discontent.

His powerful effect on audiences worldwide gave him plenty of opportunities to be cast in films that were critically acclaimed while also recognized box office hits. Aside from his major films, most of which are now revered classics, Bogart also appeared in minor films. Some of these are “Sahara,” “Passage to Marseilles,” “Dark Passage,” “Beat the Devil,” and “The Barefoot Contessa.”

Bogart and Lauren Bacall in 1944 "To Have and Have Not"
Bogart and Lauren Bacall in 1944 "To Have and Have Not" | Source

Romance and Marriage

Humphrey Bogart was married to three women before finally settling down with the love of his life. His former wives were Martha Gellhorn, Mary Welsh, and Mayo Methot. In 1945, after filing for divorce with his third wife, Humphrey Bogart was married to actress and glamour girl Lauren Bacall. It was his fourth marriage and her first. Bogart and Bacall tied the knot on May 21 in Ohio, in a private ceremony held in the home of Louis Bromfield, the Pulitzer winning author a close friend of the actor.

The first three marriages were not as successful as his relationship with Bacall, who was his co-star in numerous films, including “Key Largo,” “Dark Passage,” “To Have and Have Not,” “The Big Sleep,” and “The Petrified Forest.” When they were married, Lauren Bacall was 24 years younger than Bogart. Nevertheless, they found lasting love and happiness and had two children. Their firstborn son was named Stephen Humphrey Bogart. They had a daughter three years later and named her Leslie Howard Bogart. Steve’s name was taken from the character his father played in “To Have and Have Not,” the movie where Lauren and Humphrey first met while filming it in 1944. Meanwhile, Leslie’s name was taken from her father’s co-star in the movie, “The Petrified Forest.” The happy couple raised a family in Los Angeles, in a mansion at Holmby Hills.

Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in the 1951 classic  movie "African Queen"
Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in the 1951 classic movie "African Queen" | Source

Bogart’s Legacy

Bogart made his last full-feature film, “The Harder they Fall,” in 1956. He died on January 13, 1957 one day after falling into a coma. Bogart was 57 years old. He died of esophageal cancer, which was diagnosed in 1956. He underwent surgery, but by the time it was detected the cancer had already spread and treatments did not influence its course. Bogart’s health deteriorated swiftly, and he needed to use a wheelchair for mobility. In his funeral at the All Saints Episcopal Church, the director John Huston gave the eulogy, ending his tribute to Bogart with these words: “He is quite irreplaceable. There will never be another like him.”

Humphrey Bogart delivered some of the most memorable lines in Hollywood history. Many generations of fans of American movies know that he said the immortal line from Casablanca, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Humphrey Bogart received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame posthumously. The ceremony was held on February 8, 1960. More recently, in June 24, 2006, he was honored in his native New York with a commemorative ceremony wherein a section of 103rd Street in New York City, the stretch between Broadway and West End Avenue, was renamed, “"Humphrey Bogart Place.” His wife and children were in attendance.

Bogart’s admirers believe that his singular place in film history is largely attributed to the image of integrity that he projected. He was a man of his word, and he kept to code of honor that seems to have been lost in the film industry today. They say that contemporary actors can learn a lot from Humphrey Bogart. He made great films, but he also made B-movies. Yet, there is not one movie in his filmography that can be considered as “really bad.” He was a hard-worker who committed to each and every role he played.

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    • dougwest1 profile image
      Author

      Doug West 2 years ago from Raymore, MO

      Bogart is one of my favorites too. I really like "The African Queen" - very cool!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Bogart is one of the all-time greats. Wonderful biography.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Very interesting and readable hub about a great actor. Well done Doug. Voted up.