Star of the Month: Humphrey Bogart

Sad last words of Humphrey Bogart
Sad last words of Humphrey Bogart

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Humphrey Bogart was an unlikely film legend. He was not tall and classically handsome like Errol Flynn, he had a scar on his lip and spoke with a slight lisp, and yet forty years after his death, Entertainment Weekly named Humphrey Bogart “The Number One Movie Legend of All Time” and two years later, in 1999, the American Film Institute ranked him as the “Greatest Male Star of All Time.” The Bogart persona of a cigarette-smoking, hard-boiled cynic with a heart has become so indelible that his name now appears in the dictionary. To “bogart” a cigarette or joint is to smoke it without sharing and to act aggressively is known as “bogarting.” The lower-class tough-guy image was just an image. The real Humphrey Bogart was an intelligent, cultured man, raised in high society who never intended to become an actor.

He was born on December 25, 1899, in New York City, to upper-class parents directly descended from New York’s Dutch settlers. His father, Belmont Bogart, was a respected doctor who had been left a considerable inheritance and his mother, Maud Humphrey, was a highly-paid portrait painter, famed for her advertising illustrations, for which her infant son, Humphrey, often posed. Bogart’s summers were spent sailing and playing chess at the family’s summer home on Canandaigua Lake. He briefly attended prep school in Massachusetts, where he was expelled for “high spirits.” Looking for adventure, Bogart joined the Navy in May 1918. Two weeks after the Armistice was official, he was assigned to the USS Leviathan, whose job was to escort the troops home from World War I. There are several stories about the origin of Bogart’s famed scarred lip, but the most enduring is that he was hit in the mouth by a handcuffed prisoner he was guarding who tried to escape.

After the war, Bogart learned that his father had lost most of the family wealth through bad investments, leaving his son with no real prospects or ability to go to college, even if he wanted to. His entry into show business was through a family friend, actress Alice Brady, who hired him as a stage manager for one of her shows. He did his job adequately, but neither felt it was a good fit. Bogart was disgruntled because he only earned $50 a week while actors made much more for what he saw as little work. Brady thought Bogart might have the makings of an actor and gave him the part of a Japanese waiter in the 1922 production of “Drifting.” Bogart’s father saw his debut and agreed with Alice Brady that his son showed promise. Although Bogart had never intended to be an actor, he saw the financial potential, and it would become his lifelong profession. When the economic Depression began to close down Broadway in 1929, Bogart saw the writing on the wall and went to Hollywood, where sound films were taking over the industry and Broadway actors who could “talk” were in high demand. He was signed to his first Hollywood contract at Fox Studios for $400 dollars a week, but after five films that did nothing for his career, Fox canceled his contract. Bogart returned to New York, admitting, “I wasn’t [Clark] Gable, and I flopped.” His first Hollywood experience may have been a failure, but it gained Bogart a life-long friendship with Spencer Tracy, who gave him the nickname “Bogie.”

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In 1934, his luck changed when he was offered the role of gangster Duke Mantee in the Broadway production of Robert Sherwood’s “The Petrified Forest,” co-starring Leslie Howard. The role was unlike anything he had played up to that point, but Bogart was so convincing as a cold-blooded killer that the play became a hit. Warner Bros. purchased the rights, and Howard promised Bogart that he could reprise his role in the film, but the studio announced that their star, Edward G. Robinson, would play Mantee. Bogart telegraphed Howard, who was on vacation in Scotland, to tell him the news. True to his word, Howard notified the studio that he would not do The Petrified Forest (1936) without Bogart, and the studio caved. Bogart returned to Hollywood to play Duke Mantee and stayed for the rest of his life. He never forgot this kindness, and nearly a decade after his friend’s death in World War II, Bogart would name his daughter Leslie Howard Bogart.

Now under contract to Warner Bros., Bogart found himself suffering the fate of many actors – typecasting. He had embodied Duke Mantee so well that most of the movies he made in his first two years were gangster films. One of the rare opportunities to get out of that rut came with Black Legion (1937), in which he played a working man with a family who gets swept up in a violent anti-immigrant gang. The National Board of Review named Black Legion the Best Film and Bogart the Best Actor of the year. It wasn’t the breakthrough it should have been for Bogart because his bosses still considered him a character actor, albeit a very important one. Fellow Warner Bros. actor James Cagney recalled that “the studio required him to show up without his knowing what the script was, what his dialogue was, what the picture was about. On top of this, he would be doing two or three pictures at a time. That’s how much they appreciated him.”

Career salvation would come in the form of actor George Raft, who was also unhappy with the scripts Warner Bros. was offering. Raft had earlier turned down Dead End (1937), which was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, and had been a solid success for Bogart. In 1940, Raft was offered the leads in High Sierra (1941) and The Maltese Falcon (1941) and turned both down, the latter film because he didn’t feel that it was going to be “important,” and he didn’t want to work with John Huston, who was making his directorial debut. Huston would later say that “Bogart, to my secret delight, was substituted. And that started a whole new career for Bogie.“

Bài Hay  Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest

The Maltese Falcon was a bona fide hit for Bogart, with Variety predicting that the film would “add immeasurable voltage to his marquee value,” but it, and other crime films, were criticized for being too violent, leading to a call for stricter film censorship. In response, Bogart wrote an essay for The Hollywood Reporter in October of 1941. “Movies don’t cause crime any more than prison wardens cause crime,” he wrote. “It has been charged against the motion picture industry that we take a sympathetic attitude toward gangsters, thugs, racketeers and criminals. I deny that. […] So many criminals get killed in The Maltese Falcon that there’s a special announcement at the end of the film saying, “If any persons are alive in this picture, it is purely coincidental.”

With the success of The Maltese Falcon, Warner Bros. finally acknowledged Bogart’s star power by giving him the romantic male lead in Casablanca (1942), the film for which he is probably best remembered and the film that made him a top star. Ironically, shortly before production began, studio founder Jack Warner asked Ingrid Bergman, “Who would want to kiss Bogart?” to which she replied, “I would!” Bergman recognized what the studio didn’t, that Bogart had a certain sex appeal. Casablanca created a new image for Bogart. He was no longer just a killer, but a cynical romantic, a man whose lined face showed that he’d been tested by life. While production had been difficult, with the script being rewritten every day and the actors never knowing how it would all end until it was shot, Casablanca won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Bogart was nominated for Best Actor, losing to Paul Lukas in Watch on the Rhine (1943). In November 1943, Bogart traveled to the real Casablanca on a USO tour of Italy and locations in West and North Africa, entertaining the troops. He tried to re-enlist in the Navy in 1944 but was turned down because of his age. Instead, he volunteered with the Coast Guard Reserve, where he reported for duty once a week to patrol the coast.

That same year, Bogart’s personal life changed when he was cast opposite a Hollywood newcomer, 20-year-old Lauren Bacall, a New York model making her first film, To Have and Have Not (1944). Despite appearing self-confident on-screen, Bacall was so nervous during her first scenes that she had to keep her head down to stop it from shaking. The chemistry between the two was undeniable and continued off-screen. In May 1945, Lauren Bacall became Bogart’s fourth wife, and four years later, gave birth to their son, Stephen, named after Bogart’s character in To Have and Have Not. Bogart and Bacall would appear in four films together, including The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948).

Bài Hay  Humphrey Bogart

In 1948, Bogart ended his professional relationship with Warner Bros. and, like many of his contemporaries, worked as a freelance actor. He formed his own company, Santana Productions, which produced several starring vehicles for Bogart, like Knock on Any Door and Tokyo Joe (both in 1949), In a Lonely Place (1950), Sirocco (1951) and Beat the Devil (1953). The 1950s began on a positive note for Bogart. He spent 1951 filming The African Queen with John Huston and Katharine Hepburn on location in Africa, with interiors shot in England. Playing an alcoholic boat captain who falls in love with a missionary showed a different side of Bogart, and he won his only Academy Award for Best Actor. While expressing his gratitude at the ceremony, Bogart later dismissed the honor, saying, “The best way to survive an Oscar is to never try to win another one. 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.”

One of those roles was as the deranged Capt. Queeg in The Caine Mutiny (1954), giving Bogart a third Best Actor Academy Award nomination, which he lost to Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront. For the next three years, he would play such diverse roles as a businessman competing with William Holden for the love of Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina (1954), a Hollywood director in The Barefoot Contessa (1954) and masquerading as a priest in The Left Hand of God (1955). Shortly after appearing in The Harder They Fall (1956), Bogart developed a persistent cough and doctors diagnosed esophageal cancer. After a long and painful fight, Humphrey Bogart died on January 14, 1957. Speaking the night before Bogart’s funeral, John Huston said, “The better I got to know him, the more I admired him. He was a very serious man. He took great pride in being an actor. There’ll never be another Bogart.“

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