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Bogart: Never Damage Your Own Character

“I was born when you kissed me. I died when you left me. I lived a few weeks while you loved me.”

The American Film Institute ranked Humphrey Bogart as the greatest male star in the history of American cinema, Entertainment Weekly selected him as “the greatest movie legend of all time.” A few detailed biographies have been published since his death in January 14, 1957, one of the most complete written is Bogart by Ann Sperber and Eric Lax, full of revealing anecdotes. Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born on Christmas Day, 25th December 1899, in New York. Bogart’s father, Belmont DeForest was a wealthy surgeon and his mother, Maud Humphrey (artistic director of The Delineator, she used Humphrey for a Mellin’s baby food ad). She suffered erisipela and her husband administrated her morphine; he injected it himself due to a traumatism. The Bogarts lived in an Upper West Side apartment on Riverside Drive next to the Brady family. A young Humphrey endures his first failed fling in the Canandaigua Lake with Grace Lansin, a theatre pal. In Fire Island Bogart kisses his first girlfriends. He’d sailed on the Comrade yatch. The Santana (which he bought in 1945) would be the Comrade replacement and second home.

Bogart attended briefly the Phillips Academy in Andover. After working as agent of inversions for S.W. Strauss & co. he enlisted in the Navy in 1918. After the armistice he got an office job for William Brady Sr.’s company World Films. In 1921 he would make his debut onstage in Drifting with Kenneth MacKenna (who’d marry Mary Philips in 1938) in Fulton theatre in Brooklyn. Bogart frequented the speakeasies in 1924, becoming a heavy drinker. About his injured lip, according to Louise Brooks “his lip wound gave him no speech impediment, either before or after it was mended.”

Bill Brady encouraged Bogart to marry Helen Menken (“7th Heaven” Broadway star) in 1926 whom he’d divorce a half past year later. He signed for Vitaphone in 1930, after the Wall Street Crash, and met his second wife actress Mary Philips during the play Nerves, acting together in Broadway’s Like That. Bogart expressed insecurity to his brother-in-law Stuart Rose about his sexual life with Mary. Bogart was hired by Universal in 1931, starting his first of 6 motion pictures co-starred with Bette Davis: Bad Sister (the last movie with Davis was Dark Victory in 1939).

Tired of his “white Pants Willie” roles and depressed after the deaths of his father Belmont and sister Kay, he had to pay off the family debts and prepare vigorously his next Hollywood assault.

His breakout happened in The Petrified Forest (1936), thanks to Leslie Howard’s insistence. His performance was described as “superb”, and his effort playing the criminal Duke Mantee as sheer “class” by The Hollywood Reporter. In 1937 (the year he divorces Mary Philips) he plays gangster Baby Face Martin in Dead End directed by William Wyler. His alley scene with Claire Trevor (nominated to Best Supporting actress) oozes despair, framed by Toland’s gritty cinematography.

In 1938 Bogart married Mayo Methot (The Portland Rosebud actress in the The Mad Honeymoon play by William Brady) with whom he worked in Marked Woman. The relationship with Mayo would mark the lowest point in Bogart’s emotional stability, since “Sluggy” (he also called her Madam) behaved in paranoid and aggressive mood, even stabbing Bogart once.

Bogart played another outlaw in High Sierra directed by Raoul Walsh in 1941. According to Walsh, on the set of They Drive by Night: “the salary was his only thrill.” His role as Roy Earle in High Sierra was called “the twilight of the American gangster” by The New York Times. “I wouldn’t give you two cents for a dame without a temper,” Bogart says to Ida Lupino. Irving Rapper (High Sierra‘s dialogue director) remembers Bogie infatuated with Ida.

About Kendrac

I'm an Aragonese/Catalonian freelance writer, poetress and film critic. My favourite genre is independent cinema. My real name is Elena Gonzalvo.
  • Alan Kurtz

    On page 3, you write: “My favorite performance of Bogart is In Another Place (1950) directed by Nicholas Ray.”

    Yet in the preceding paragraph you refer to “Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950).”

    May we assume one of these titles is correct? If so, it might be nice to use it consistently, especially since that’s your favorite performance of Bogart.

  • kendra

    The correct title is “In a Lonely Place”, sorry that was a typo!

  • Alan Kurtz

    I keep reminding my fellow Blogcritics writers, we can’t rely on our editors to help wring mistakes out of our prose. BC’s editors are for the most part nonprofessionals with neither the time, the skill, nor the inclination to read our stuff carefully. A recent example comes from BC’s politics section, where in his very first sentence the author misidentifies George H.W. Bush “as 43rd President of the United States.” (He was #41; his son was #43.) And this slipped by in, mind you, the politics section, where any editor worth his salt would’ve spotted and corrected that immediately.

    As a writer, I strive to live up to the second adjective in the motto that BC founder Eric Olsen emblazoned on the masthead of each and every page on this site: “A sinister cabal of superior writers.” The sinister part is a joke, of course; but I take superior very seriously.

    And for those of us who subscribe to that ethos, we have to do it ourselves, since our editors are useless in that regard.

  • kendra

    I want to thank you, Aln, for having pointed this mistake out, and the Blogcritics editors team for having fixed it.

  • nate

    Good review of a timeless icon

  • kendra

    thanks, Nate! Bogart is a timeless figure, The London Times wrote his screen persona was the male equivalent to the hooker with a heart gold that Marilyn Monroe constructed.