Hollywood’s Phenomenon: Bogey
By: J. Marlando
It’s difficult for me to realize that a great many people these days have no idea who Humphrey Bogart is or, I should say, was—I grew up with him as a favorite movie star and fall into melancholy whenever I face the fact that he has been dead for over fifty years. In my day, so to speak, the movies were still a magic media—we had super stars that appeared on the silver screen that were bigger than life and of whom we were faithful fans of. There is some of that today, I know, but it isn’t like way back then when Hollywood was…well, Hollywood.
Bogart was an icon He mostly played the tough guy—detectives and gangsters—but also romantic leads as rock-solid characters. His role in Casablanca, which I will be talking about a little later, became an obvious classic—it is still enjoyed today and will be enjoyed tomorrow—if you’ve never seen it, make it a point to rent it or buy it. I have it in my collection of the movies I love and watch it once or twice a year. Incidentally, the studios hesitated to give Bogart a romantic lead because he had everything but a romantic-lead-look or reputation. In fact, Bogart could not be called a handsome man at all and, he often spoke with a slight lisp. Nevertheless, Humphrey Bogart was a constant box-office success and no one ever dreamed that Casablanca was destined to become one of the world’s most beloved classic movies.
Before we explore Bogart’s movies, however, we will explore the man himself: Humphrey Deforest Bogart was a December Baby, born on Christmas Day in 1899. He had somewhat of a strange childhood.
Humphrey, the young boy
His father was a successful Manhattan surgeon deeply addicted to opium and his mother was a famed magazine illustrator who earned more than twice the money the father did. The Bogart family in the least was financially well off so Bogart was born into a secure a family life…financially but, it seems, a family life that lack affection and the kind of nurturing that children need. No doubt unhappy at home and at the same time seeking adventure he joined the Navy at age 18. The year was 1918.
It is said that it was during his Navy years that Bogart got his lip scarred but this was probably a publicity story from the studios. Another story is that it happened during a barroom brawl but Bogart himself said it was a scar from a childhood accident and that is probably the truth. In any case, some offer that Humphrey Bogart’s distinctive speech pattern was caused by the scar on his lip but actually Bogart had worked hard and practiced the way he delivered lines for the camera. As one reporter said, “His painful wince, his leer, his fiendish grin were the most accomplished ever seen on film.”
Anyway, when he came home after his stint in the Navy, he returned to a father in poor health and poorer financial security—Dad Bogart had made a number of poor investments. And so at that juncture of the future actor’s life, the young Bogart worked as a shipper for a while and then sold bonds. He also joined the Navy reserves. He had no career notions and probably was feeling far more lost than found. Then, through a friend—Bill Brady—whose father headed World Films Bogart was able to try his skills at screen writing, directing and even producing. He didn’t show any exceptional talent and so he ended up being a stage manager for Alice Brady’s play, “A Ruined Lady” and a few months later Bogart would give his first try at acting. Ms. Brady had penned a new play, “Drifting,” with Bogart being cast as a Japanese butler with one line which he delivered…nervously.
During this time Bogart began drinking a lot and spending a lot of time in speakeasies—these were the days of prohibition so it was probably during these years that the young actor developed his real-life character based on a rather distraught childhood and some wonderful years as a U.S. sailor. His parents must have been at least somewhat elitists because he openly hated pretentiousness and snobbery in people and he often defied the conventional. All of these attributes and attitudes would certainly shine forth in his future movie characters.
As a stage actor his reviews were not very good—one reviewer called him “inadequate.” It didn’t matter, Bogart played in nearly 20 Broadway Productions between 1922 and 1935. In 1922, when he was playing in “Drifting” he had met actress Helen Menken and married her. They divorced a year and a half later. In the following year he married Mary Philips another actress and, it is said, another actress with a wild temper. Indeed, Humphrey Bogart had a liking for strong, self-assured women but not overbearing, self-centered women which it seems his first two choices might have been. On the other hand, Bogart’s tendency to drink a lot with friends could have also played a role in the broken marriages?
In any case, after the Stock market Crash of 29, Broadway roles were not as plentiful so Bogart began going back and forth between New York and Hollywood for work. Eventually he was signed by Fox for $750 a week. It was during this time that Broadway actor Spencer Tracy and he became good friends and great drinking buddies. In fact, it was Spencer who first called Humphrey Bogart “Bogey” and as fans know, the name stuck.
Actually good friends Bogey and Spencer only played in one movie together, an early “talkie” called “Up the River.”
It was during this time that Bogey’s parents divorced and in 1934 his father died deeply in debt. The actor, Bogart, paid off the family’s debts. It is at this juncture of the actor’s life that Bogey was most discontent, however. He was unhappy with his acting career and his second marriage was falling apart. Depressed and drinking even more than usual he had no idea what the future would be; that one day the American Film Institute would rank him “The Greatest Male Star in the history of cinema.”
Bogey and his Classic Roles
Humphrey Bogart was in 82 movies starting in the early 1930s. His first big success was in a film with title, “The Petrified Forest.” A fairly simple plot of an escaping gangster (Humphrey Bogart) holding hostages in an isolated, roadside cafe in the area of Arizona’s Petrified Forest. The movie is weighty with talent including Leslie Howard and Betty Davis, adding weight to Bogey’s importance as a movie star. However, his image as a leading man would not evolve until 1941 with “High Sierra.” The screenplay had been co-written by Director John Houston another drinking buddy of the actors. In any case, Bogey plays another gangster with the name of “Mad Dog” Roy Earle and reveals all the characteristics that Humphrey Bogart would become known for. His second big hit was “The Maltese Falcon,”” the only big Bogart film I personally dislike because of direction and editing, but, my opinion aside, it was a gigantic success with the public. Then, after the Maltese Falcon, came…Casablanca.
To the Studio, Casablanca was just one more run-of-the-mill war stories like others they were pushing out during the war years but this one had a most unexpected romance along with the intriguing adventure that struck both the heart and mind. Bogart plays a romantic lead in this masterful work something the Hollywood rulers might not have allowed had they’d known the potential of the script. Nevertheless, Humphrey Bogart plays the role of Rick Blaine a disenchanted lover who leaves Paris to escape the German occupation. He ends up in Casablanca as a cynical saloon owner.
His cynicism has been caused by losing the love of his life, Llsa Lund, as played beautifully by Ingrid Bergan who unexpectedly shows up at Rick’s Saloon…with her husband Victor Laszio, played by Paul Henreidan underground freedom fighter who is hated by the Nazis. He needs transit papers, however, to escape Casablanca and Rick is the only one who has them. Thus, the dramatic plot unfolds. In the end, Ricks’ cynicism fades away as he helps both Llsa and her husband escape as a heroic statement of his deep love for her and his patriotism to the allies. It’s simply a wonderful show that also stars Peter Loirre Claude Reins Dooley Wilson,the beloved S.Z. Sakall and the perfect villain, Conrad Veidt The performances of all are so memorable, so skillfully played with such developed characters that it is no wonder it won three Academy Awards and remains ranked as one of the greatest pictures of all time. Here are some scenes from the classic:
The next super movie on Bogey’s “hit” list is Key Largo, also among my favorites.
By 1948 Humphrey Bogart had met the love of his life in (real) life—Lauran Bacall who was married to Bogey when she co-starred in Key Largo with him. Clair Trevor is also in the film and gives a brilliant performance as Johnny Rocco’s girlfriend who is played by Edward G. Robinson.
This motion picture takes place in a backwater motel on Key Largo where a hurricane is forming and a gang of gangsters are hiding out keeping everyone else at the place prisoners. Lauran Bacall, incidentally, plays Nora Temple, the window of Frank McCloud’s war buddy, played by Bogey of course. And yes, a romance unfolds between them even under the stressful circumstances. Oh yes, Lionel Barrymore seen right in the photogtraph below: plays a wonderful but cantankerous old man as one of the prisoners adding lots of empathy to the story. The entire cast simply creates the motion picture into an amazing experience of terror, tears and triumph and still worth watching today.
I especially like this particular show because it reveals Humphrey Bogart’s secret of why he was so overwhelming popular as an actor. I’ll share this a little later on but for now, we’ll keep covering the grand master movies that Bogey starred in.
In this same year Humphrey Bogart starred in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. An adventure of two men Fred C Dobbs (Bogey) and Bob Curtin played by Tim Hold join up with an old-time prospector, played by Walter Houston, centered in this shot from the film.
The three men strike out to find gold in the high Sierra Madres in Mexico where they face one dilemma after another including encounters with banditos. Nevertheless, they eventually find the gold their seeking which leads to the unexpected ending.
Humphrey Bogard absolutely demonstrates his superb acting ability in this motion picture and his vast range of characterization. He is the actor’s actor here deeply and consistently the complex character—Fred DobbsCredit: hump who he plays. Indeed, this film was selected to be preserved by the Unites States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1990.
There are so many intriguing and thought-provoking characters that Bogey portrayed over the years in such a great many of his movies. I can’t cover them all in the space of an article of course but another masterpiece I am compelled to talk about is, The African Queen, shot in 1951.
Here is a movie focused mostly on Hollywood’s legendary icons—Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.
The show begins with Samuel and his sister Rose Sayer—portrayed by Robert Morley and Katherine Hepburn are running an African jungle, Christian mission. This is when the war first broke out between Britain and the Germany. Soon enough some German military thugs enter and burn down the native village. They beat Rose’s brother so severely he never recovers and leaves Rose alone. Charlie Allnut—played by Bogey—happens by and convinces the distraught Rose to leave with him and sail down the river on his boat, The African Queen.
During the journey Charlie tells Rose about a German gunboat, The Konigin Luise (In English, The Queen Louisa) that patrols the lake that the river spills into. Rose decides that it is their duty to destroy the gunboat and this begins the unforgettable adventure or two very opposite people falling in love. I have seen the movie at least a dozen times and I never tire of it. Bogey won Best Actor for this one by the way.
There are other Bogey movies I truly like and admire but those I’ve listed are my favorites.
So what made Humphrey Bogart such a phenomenon…what made him the “greatest male star in the history of cinema?”
When we see or think about Humphrey Bogart we do not encounter a tall, dark and handsome stereotype or a guy with bulging muscles but in fact quite the opposite. He was not a very good looking fellow, he was on the short side and even the movie moguls of his time stood in awe (and confusion) of why both men and women flocked to see him.
So what was his “secret?”
We can probably guess that Lauran Bacall knew when she married him He had what women want in a man and what men want in themselves…an unwavering character; an inner-strength that stands firm even under the direst of circumstances. This was the character he portrayed on screen and this was his basic character off screen—he was a man of principles without wearing those principles on his sleeve or looking down his nose at others. Beyond all else, he was certainly his own man.
In view of his incredible success as an actor, there was another side to Bogey that was not in full view of the public. And why I believe that if we could ask him how he would like to be remembered, it would not be as an actor but rather as a sailor who loved the ocean. as shot by Life Magazine. When I think of Bogey the man, in the privacy of his own life, I think of his great love of being out on the water celebrating his own freedom.
This was Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) when out of the spotlight and now, the sailor home from the sea.
If You enjoyed this article, you'll enjoy John Wayne--click below