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|Also Known As:||Humphrey Deforest Bogart||Died:||January 14, 1957|
|Born:||December 25, 1899||Cause of Death:||throat cancer|
|Birth Place:||New York, New York||Profession:||Cast ... actor stage manager road company manager office boy|
The very definition of the term "film icon," Humphrey Bogart rose from a bit player on Broadway, to a supporting B-movie actor, to eventually become the undisputed reigning box-office star of his day. After making his transition from the stages of New York to the studios of Hollywood with the crime drama "The Petrified Forest" (1936), Bogart endured an extended period playing second banana to more established stars, such as Edward G. Robinson in films like "Bullets or Ballots" (1936). Although productions like "They Drive by Night" (1940) and "High Sierra" (1941) gradually increased his Hollywood standing, it was Bogart’s turn as private eye Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon" (1941) that first gave audiences a taste of the world-weary cynical, yet moralistic hero he would become so closely associated with. The persona was further cemented with his performances in "Casablanca" (1942) and "The Big Sleep" (1946), with the former hailed by many as one of the greatest films ever made. In between these cinematic milestones he met his co-star and future wife, actress Lauren Bacall, with whom he would appear in a total of four hit films. Other important films in Bogart’s remarkable career included "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948), "Key Largo" (1948), "The African Queen" (1951) – for which he would win his only Academy Award – and "The Caine Mutiny" (1954). Brought down by cancer while still at the height of his creative powers, Bogart would be remembered as an unrepentant iconoclast, irrepressible rabble rouser, and a true American cultural treasure.
Born Humphrey DeForest Bogart on Dec. 25, 1899 in New York City, he was the eldest child and only son of Belmont and Elizabeth Bogart. Bogart enjoyed a somewhat privileged childhood, as his father was a prominent surgeon and his mother a classically-trained commercial illustrator. With a permanent home on New York’s Upper West Side, the well-to-do family also owned an upstate vacation property on Canandaigua Lake, where Belmont endowed his son with the lifelong loves of chess and sailing. Although raised in affluence, he was far from spoiled. Both of his parents were exceptionally busy and highly focused on their careers, and they expected the same of their son. Bogart was enrolled in several private schools from an early age, eventually being accepted at the prestigious Exeter Academy in Andover, MA. Their hopes for him to attend Yale University were dashed, however, when Bogart – always an indifferent, somewhat anti-social student – was expelled from Exeter for reasons that remained unclear. In 1918, the adventurous young man, enamored with the sea and filled with romantic notions of war, enlisted in the U.S. Navy aboard the U.S.S. Leviathan, where – again under circumstances never definitively explained – he injured his upper lip, resulting in his famous, character-enhancing scar.
Having acquitted himself admirably during his naval service, Bogart returned to New York where he worked a short series of jobs before a family connection gave him his first contact within the theater world. Having struck up a friendship with playwright and actress Alice Brady, he was hired by her father, film and theater producer William A. Brady, for whom he worked for a time in various positions. After a brief stint as a stage manager on Alice Brady’s production of "A Ruined Lady," she gave him his debut role a few months later in another of her plays, "Drifting," in 1921. While he did not necessarily take Broadway by storm, Bogart had finally found his vocation. From 1922 to 1935, he appeared in dozens of stage productions. Early on, he met and soon married actress Helen Menken, although this first union would end amicably little more than a year later. Another marriage to a stage actress, Mary Philips, followed in 1928. For a number of years, Bogart toiled in one-dimensional roles in lightweight productions, never satisfied with the quality of the work, but continually honing and refining his craft, regardless. After a few film shorts alongside the likes of Helen Hayes, Bogart made his feature film debut with a supporting role in "Up the River" (1930), starring fellow stage actor Spencer Tracy, a man with who Bogart would remain close friends for life.
Now dividing his time almost equally between Broadway and Hollywood, Bogart landed the pivotal role of vicious criminal Duke Mantee in the 1935 stage production of Robert E. Sherwood’s "The Petrified Forest." The part – in support of the play’s star, Leslie Howard – earned the young actor glowing revues for a role very much against the callow youth types he normally played. It also earned him the respect of Howard, who insisted that Warner Bros. cast Bogart as Mantee for the filmed version. The studio – which had hoped to place established star Edward G. Robinson in the role – initially balked. After Howard stood firm, Bogart was given the part. The film adaptation of "The Petrified Forest" (1936), co-starring Howard and Bette Davis, was a substantial success and proved without a doubt that Bogart’s imposing stage presence carried over to the screen quite effectively. Warner Bros. promptly signed him to a standard contract, necessitating his permanent relocation to the West Coast. Enjoying a very successful stage career herself, Philips and her husband attempted to keep the long distance marriage going for another year before eventually agreeing to divorce in 1937. Bogart moved forward in a string of B-movies for the studio, either in roles that supported bigger stars like Robinson and James Cagney – "Kid Galahad" (1937) and "Angels with Dirty Faces" (1938) among them – or as the lead in B-movies such as "Swing Your Lady" (1938) and "The Return of Doctor X" (1939).
As Bogart struggled with the increasing dissatisfaction of his film work, he entered into a third marriage in 1938 with Mayo Methot, an actress he had met through mutual friends. She was a mercurial woman with a serious drinking problem and prone to fits of jealousy. So fractious was their marriage that at one point the press began to refer to the couple as the "Battling Bogarts." Although he was enjoying good notices for his work in such crime dramas as "They Drive by Night" (1940) and "High Sierra" (1941) – it was on the set of the latter that he began a friendship with screenwriter John Huston – Bogart was still being passed over for the more traditional leading man roles in favor of actors like Cagney and George Raft. When Raft turned down the offer to star in Huston’s directorial debut, "The Maltese Falcon" (1941), based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett, the role was offered to Bogart, who eagerly accepted. As Sam Spade, the actor created the prototype for every private detective to grace the screen in the decades that followed. Surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that included Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook, Jr., Mary Astor, and Peter Lorre, Bogart was perfect as the quick-tongued, jaded gumshoe, who nonetheless maintained his sense of honor and a tarnished idealism. The movie became an instant classic upon release, and even Bogart – normally overly critical of his own work – referred to Huston’s film as "practically a masterpiece."
Having gained newfound respect – not to mention a more lucrative contract with Warners – Bogart reteamed with director Huston and co-stars Astor and Greenstreet for the World War II espionage thriller "Across the Pacific" (1942). That same year Bogart delivered his legendary performance as expatriate nightclub owner Rick Blaine in "Casablanca" (1942). The result of happenstance, fate, and an undeniable chemistry between its stars, "Casablanca" was based on a then-unproduced stage play, rushed into production, and despite the high-wattage of its cast and crew, was not expected to perform exceptionally well at the box-office. Nevertheless, in his first romantic lead, Bogart took his ‘man with a hardened exterior, but the heart of a hero’ persona to an entirely new, mesmerizing level. Reteamed with Greenstreet and Lorre, his leading lady was European beauty Ingrid Bergman, who literally shimmered alongside Bogart on screen. The film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and as a result, catapulted Bogart to the top of Warner Bros.’ roster of stars, making him the highest paid film actor of the day. Despite the generally glowing critical acclaim of the time, "Casablanca" did only moderately well at the box-office. In the years that followed, however, it would become widely regarded as one of the best American films ever made, as well as having the distinction of being the most quoted. Interestingly, the most famous of these lines, "Play it again, Sam," was, in fact, misquoted, and was never actually spoken in the film.
Just like the rest of the world, Hollywood’s attention was on World War II in the early 1940s, and Bogart’s film output was no exception. Movies of the period included the naval adventure "Action in the North Atlantic" (1943), the desert tank action piece "Sahara" (1943), and "Passage to Marseille" (1944). The latter film reteamed Bogart with "Casablanca" alumni such as Greenstreet, Lorre, Claude Rains, and director Michael Curtiz. Next came a film that would have a much grander effect on Bogart’s personal life than his box-office credentials – director Howard Hawks’ "To Have and Have Not" (1944). Loosely based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway, it co-starred 19-year-old fashion model Betty Perske – soon to be known by her stage name of Lauren Bacall. The sparks ignited onscreen between the two were no cinematic illusion, as the pair soon fell passionately in love, despite the disparity in their ages by over 20 years. Bogart, unfortunately, was still in the midst of a miserable marriage, and so his and Bacall’s early romance was kept very much under wraps, taking on the outward appearance of a mentor-apprentice relationship, while they expressed their mutual adoration via discreet rendezvous and through secret correspondence. When Bogart at last divorced the now raging Methot in early 1945, he and Bacall were married mere weeks later. The marriage would be her first and his last, and by all accounts one of Hollywood’s rare happy and lasting unions.
Their onscreen collaboration proved instantly popular and Bogie immediately paired again with Bacall and director Hawks for "The Big Sleep" (1946). An early film noir based on the novel by Raymond Chandler and written for the screen by William Faulkner, it starred Bogart as perhaps the quintessential private detective, Philip Marlowe. While the film was faulted by critics for its labyrinthine plot – some said incomprehensible – nearly all lauded Bogart’s portrayal of the rumpled knight errant and the continually enjoyable onscreen chemistry with his sultry new bride. At the height of Hollywood’s film noir era, he starred in many of the best alongside cinema’s greatest femme fatales, including "Dead Reckoning" (1947) with Lizabeth Scott, "The Two Mrs. Carrolls" (1947) with Barbara Stanwyck, and "Dark Passage" (1947), which once again teamed him with Bacall. The star next partnered with writer-director Huston for the desert adventure of greed and survival, "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948). Bogart starred as a down-on-his-luck American in 1920s Mexico who joins another adventurer (Tim Holt) and an old prospector (Walter Huston) in a perilous quest for a fortune in gold. Despite its critical acclaim and garnering of three Oscars, audiences were not initially quick to embrace a movie without a female love interest or any clear-cut hero. Time, however, embraced "Sierra Madre" as a true classic, and the movie was cited as being hugely influential on filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson.
In the years that followed World War II, America was swept up in wide spread anti-Communist fervor, spurred by a distrust of its former ally, the Soviet Union. Led by Huston and other Hollywood luminaries, Bogart, Bacall and several other film stars formed a group called the Committee of the First Amendment which traveled to Washington D.C. to protest the hearings being held by the House of Un-American Activities Commission (HUAC), claiming that it was unfairly harassing many actors and artists. Unfortunately, the move only drew suspicion, and in a 1948 issue of Photoplay magazine, Bogart felt compelled to defend himself with an article entitled "I’m No Communist," claiming that he and his wife were duped into their participation. Regardless, Bogart remained one of film’s most powerful stars, and he began to assert his growing independence via his new production company, Santana Productions. The title of his latest business venture was derived from the name of a sailing vessel seen in Bogart’s latest noir masterpiece "Key Largo" (1948). Directed again by Huston and co-starring Edward G. Robinson, it would be Bogart’s final – and possibly best – onscreen pairing with Bacall. Trapped in an island hotel off the coast of Florida during a raging hurricane, Bogart, Bacall and her father (Lionel Barrymore) find themselves at the mercy of fugitive gangster Johnny Rocco (Robinson) in a taught thriller bordering on perfection.
Released under his Santana Productions, Bogart next appeared in the films "Knock On Any Door" (1949), "Tokyo Joe" (1949), and director Nicholas Ray’s "In a Lonely Place" (1950). A bleak existential noir masterpiece, the latter film featured what many have come to regard as one of Bogart’s most complex, albeit least mentioned, screen performances as a struggling screenwriter who may or may not be a brutal killer. By now an independent freelance movie star, Bogart made his last films for Warner Bros. with "Chain Lightening" (1950) and "The Enforcer" (1951), much to the studio’s displeasure. Next came the romantic-adventure "The African Queen" (1951), which starred Bogart as an anti-social, gin-swilling river boat captain hired to shepherd a button-downed missionary (Katherine Hepburn) on a dangerous mission in German East Africa at the outbreak of World War I. An instant classic, the film garnered Oscar nominations for both Hepburn and director/co-writer Huston. It was, however, only Bogart who would take home a statuette – his first and only – for Best Actor. The actor himself was known to cite this work as his favorite performance, although in true Bogey fashion he would later quip that, "the only way to survive an Oscar is never to try to win another one."
Bogart’s last collaboration with his friend John Huston came in the form of "Beat the Devil" (1953), a sly parody of previous Huston classics, in particular "The Maltese Falcon." Following a group of greedy, unscrupulous gold diggers chasing an unattainable treasure in a Kenyan seaport, it was written by Truman Capote and featured the likes of Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida and Peter Lorre. Although it would later achieve cult status, the difficult to categorize movie did not perform well at theaters or with critics. Perhaps due to the fact that his Santana Productions lost so much money on the picture, Bogart would later regard "Beat the Devil" as one of his least favorite films. Moving into the later stages of his career, and with nothing left to prove, Bogart had the luxury of lowering his usual fee to land the leading role in the psychological wartime drama "The Caine Mutiny" (1954). As the paranoid disciplinarian Capt. Queeg, Bogart deftly combined the isolated loner characteristics of Rick Blaine with the self-serving, small-mindedness of his Dobbs character in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre." For his performance, he was nominated for yet another Academy Award – he lost to Marlon Brando for "On the Waterfront" (1954) – with Queeg eventually becoming regarded as Bogart’s last truly great movie role.
With his health now beginning to fail, although he refused to seek treatment, Bogart continued with his always impressive film output. He vied for the attention of Audrey Hepburn with playboy brother William Holden in director Billy Wilder’s romantic-comedy "Sabrina" (1954), and starred opposite Ava Gardner in "The Barefoot Contessa" (1954). He played an escaped convict making up for a shady past in the comedy-drama "We’re No Angels" (1955), a man impersonating a priest in the romantic-adventure "The Left Hand of God" (1955), and a ruthless prison escapee – Bogart’s last villainous role – in the thriller "The Desperate Hours" (1955). Bogart’s final role was that of a sardonic sports writer-turned-boxing promoter in the sports noir "The Harder They Fall" (1956). Seriously ill throughout the filming, the actor, a life-long heavy drinker and smoker, had by then been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Despite aggressive treatments that included surgery and chemotherapy, the cancer continued to spread. Friends and fellow stars Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn were a few of the last people to see the greatly diminished movie icon in his final days. Shortly after his 57th birthday, Humphrey Bogart died after slipping into a coma on Jan. 14, 1957 at his home in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles. He left behind Bacall and two small children, Stephen, a son, and Leslie, a daughter.
In the decades that followed his death, Bogart inarguably became a worldwide film icon, possibly the biggest outside of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. He remained one of the most quoted actors in history, with lines like "Here’s looking at you, kid," and "The stuff that dreams are made of," as well as "We’ll always have Paris," being but a few examples. Unknown to many pop culture enthusiasts, it was Bogart and Bacall who formed the original nucleus of the legendary Hollywood ‘Rat Pack’— that informal society so closely identified with Frank Sinatra and his pals Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. Films like Jean-Luc Godard’s "Breathless" (1960) and Woody Allen’s "Play it Again, Sam" (1972), paid direct tribute to the actor with the fedora and an ever-present cigarette pinched between his fingers. On television his characters and movies were referenced in everything from Bugs Bunny cartoons to episodes of "Magnum P.I." (CBS, 1980-88). And as if to put the final punctuation on the matter once and for all, in 1999 the American Film Institute named Humphrey Bogart as the No. 1 leading man in its list of the 50 Greatest American Screen Legends. One would be hard pressed to find a serious cinema historian who would argue otherwise.
Bryce P. Coleman
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