Bogart, Humphrey (1899-1957)

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Bogart, Humphrey (1899-1957)

The man who would tell Ingrid Bergman, "Here's Looking at You, Kid," at the conclusion of Casablanca (1942) was born Humphrey DeForest Bogart in 1899. He would become one of the twentieth century's greatest icons of tough masculinity, a complex blend of "good guy" and "bad guy" at a time when World War II had many Americans re-examining their personal codes of loyalty, honor, and character. Underneath his coarse exterior, Bogart, or simply "Bogie," betrayed an underdog vulnerability and a genuine desire to find the "right" answer in a world that was increasingly chaotic and off-kilter. The star was also well known for his celebrated marriage to co-star Lauren Bacall, whose sultry wit reflected his cynicism but who always drew out his romantic, heroic side.

Although Bogart became known for playing brutish characters from the wrong side of town, he was raised in the world of upper-middle-class New York City. He was eventually expelled from the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and joined the Navy for service during World War I. It was in the war that he suffered an injury which left his lip slightly paralyzed, resulting in the stiff and affected facial gestures which became one of the actor's trademarks.

Bogart began his career on stage in the 1920s and entered Hollywood by playing minor roles a decade later. But when Leslie Howard lobbied for him to co-star in The Petrified Forest (1935), he proved that he was well-suited for gangster or villain characters. He generally played this type until High Sierra (1941) in which he (with the film's screenwriter John Huston) developed a trope of masculinity which was complicated by ambivalence, pragmatism, and complex moral fortitude. Here, Bogart starred as Mad Dog Earle, an ex-convict on the run and destined for his own demise, who lays bare a particular emotional sensitivity through his sympathy for a simpler, gentler Joan Leslie. He continued to develop his star persona through this kind of role in The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1941), both of which are considered his watershed films. Though he maintained a turbulent relationship with Warner Brothers, the studio which helped forge his image, Bogart made a comfortable fit with its house style which relied on the gangster genre and films which drew on the topical social problems of the day.

In 1943, the star met his match in Lauren Bacall on the set of To Have and Have Not (1944). Twenty-five years his junior, Bacall was a fashion model who had recently been discovered by director Howard Hawks' wife. She was precocious and demure and with, Hawks' help, the two stars launched a chemistry that would be re-lived in The Big Sleep (1945, also directed by Hawks) and result in a famous and closely-watched marriage that lasted until Bogart's death. He had been married three times with little success—when he encountered Bacall he was husband to former actress Mayo Methot and their violent feuding had earned them the title "the Battling Bogarts." It took over a year for him to extricate himself from this marriage and fans initially viewed the Bogie/Bacall union with skepticism.

The verbal sparring between Bogart and Bacall in To Have and Have Not —in which the latter utters the notorious "put your lips together and blow" phrase—became a signature of their interpersonal dynamic off-screen as well. Film critic Molly Haskell celebrates them as one of "the best of the classical couples" because they brought to the screen "the kind of morally and socially beneficial 'pedagogic' relationship that Lionel Trilling finds in Jane Austen's characters, the 'intelligent love' in which two partners instruct, inform, educate, and influence each other in the continuous college of love." Bogart, who was known for his misogyny and violent temper, had found a woman who knew how to put him in his place with an economical glance or a spontaneous retort. It was common for his "rat pack" of male friends to populate the house but Bacall was perceived as a wife who rarely relinquished the upper hand. Their marriage produced two children, Stephen (after Bogart's character in To Have and Have Not) and Leslie (after Leslie Howard).

A noticeable shift occurred in the kinds of characters Bogart played in the 1940s. The tough guy attempting to be moral in an immoral world became less socially acceptable as many American husbands and wives tried to settle into a home life that would help anesthetize them from the trauma of war. The complicated and reactive principles associated with the star's persona suddenly seemed more troublesome and less containable. His film Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), in which Bogart plays a greedy, conniving prospector, marks this trend but In a Lonely Place (1948) is a lesser known and equally remarkable film, partly because his role is that of a screenwriter disenchanted with Hollywood. It was at this time that he also formed his Santana production company which granted him more autonomy in his choice and development of projects.

In the early 1950s, Bogart became one of the key figures to speak out against the House Un-American Activities Committee which gave him an opportunity to voice his ideals of democracy and free speech. He also revived his career with The African Queen (1951), for which he won an Academy Award. Later, he experimented with more comedic roles in films such as Billy Wilder's Sabrina (1954) and We're No Angels (1955). In 1956, the long-time smoker underwent surgery for cancer of the esophagus and he died of emphysema in early 1957.

Bogart's status as a cultural icon was renewed in the 1960s when counter-culture audiences were introduced to his films through film festivals in Boston and New York which then spread to small college towns. The Bogart "cult" offered a retreat into macho, rugged individualism at a time when burgeoning social movements contributed to increased anxiety over masculine norms. This cult saw a resurgence in the 1990s with a spate of biographies about the star and the issuance of a commemorative postage stamp.

—Christina Lane

Further Reading:

Bacall, Lauren. Lauren Bacall by Myself. New York, Ballantine, 1978.

Bogart, Stephen Humphrey, with Gary Provost. Bogart: In Search of My Father. New York, Dutton, 1995.

Cohen, Steven. Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies of the Fifties. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1997.

Haskell, Molly. From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies. New York, Penguin Books, 1974.

Huston, John. An Open Book. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.

Hyams, Joe. Bogart and Bacall: A Love Story. New York, DavidMcKay Company, 1975.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Bogart: A Life in Hollywood. Boston and New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

Sklar, Robert. City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1992.

Sperber, A.M., and Eric Lax. Bogart. New York, William Morrow and Company, 1997.