Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957)

humphrey bogart
Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart is one of the great legendary figures of Hollywood's Golden Age. During the peak of his career in the 1940's and 1950's he appeared in several classic movies and created some unforgettable characters such as Duke Mantee in 'The Petrified Forest' in 1936, Sam Spade in 'The Maltese Falcon' in 1941 and Rick Blaine in 'Casablanca' in 1942.

Initially typecast as a gangster in the 1930's, Bogart later developed and broadened his onscreen persona and became famous and popular portraying a hard-bitten cynic who is, despite himself heroic, noble and a romantic. He was nominated three times for the Best Actor Academy Award and he won it once for his unforgettable portrayal of the rough boat captain, Charlie Allnut in 'The African Queen' in 1951. In the American Film Institute's list of top males screen stars he stands at number one.

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Humphrey Bogart was born in New York City in December, 1899, with the birth name Humphrey DeForest Bogart. The official birth date given is December 25 but there is a feeling that this may have been dreamed up for studio publicity purposes. His family were very prosperous and the chief money earner was his mother who was a well known commercial artist. His father was a surgeon and he had two younger sisters. The family divided its time between their primary residence on New York's fashionable Upper West Side and their summer estate on Canandaigua Lake in upstate New York.

He received a good education at Trinity School, NYC and then Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and was expected to follow his father into the medical profession. It is unclear whether he was expelled from the Academy or whether his father pulled him out for not working hard enough but he certainly did not graduate and in 1918 he decided to enter the US Navy.

His time in the Navy was spent ferrying troops back from Europe after the Armistice. He had a lifelong love of the sea and after discharge he joined the Naval Reserve. After working for an importer and as a bond salesman he joined 'World Films' owned by a friend of his family, William S Brady. After trying his hand at most behind the scenes tasks without much success he became fascinated by the apparent glamour of the acting life and he started making regular appearances on stage. His roles at this time were all minor romantic second leads.

First Marriages

Bogart's first two marriages occurred at the start of his acting career. His first wife was Helen Menken, a well known actress, whom he married in 1926 but the marriage never worked out and they divorced one year later. He married his second wife, Mary Phillips who also was an actress, in 1928 and for a while they worked on stage together. When the stock market crashed in 1929, production of stage plays fell off markedly. Bogart joined an exodus of young actors heading west to find work in Hollywood. Mary, the more established performer, stayed in New York, where she still had work.

Stage and Movie Success

When he arrived in Hollywood the era of Talkies was just beginning and actors with clear diction were in demand. He signed up with the Fox Corporation but his first films were not successful and his contract was cancelled. Movies for other companies also failed and in 1934 Bogart was forced to return to New York where Mary was still working as an actress. It proved the right move and he was very soon asked to test for a new type of role, that of an escaped killer, Duke Mantee, in the stage play 'The Petrified Forest'. He was given the part due in large measure to the insistence of the leading man, Leslie Howard, an English actor who was a friend of Bogart. The play was outstandingly successful and Bogart gave a clever performance which showed his ability to play tough guy roles as well as romantic leads. In 1936 when the movie was made, Leslie Howard again insisted that Bogart play the part of Duke Mantee. The movie was also a smash hit and Bogart was given a contract with the studio, Warner Brothers. He was now a genuine Hollywood actor.

Despite her husband's new success Mary refused to leave her New York theatrical base and the strain put on a divided marriage caused them to divorce in 1937. Bogart married his third wife the following year. She was another actress, Mayo Methot, a firebrand with a reputation for liking alcohol too much. The same could be said of her husband and the two soon became known as 'the Battling Bogarts'.

Bogart spent a large part of his early movie career making disappointing 'B' pictures. His work was regular, over 30 movies in 4 years after 1936 but he suspected, correctly, that he was just getting the leftover gangster roles which top stars like Cagney had rejected. Some of the movies stand out, such as 'Dead End' in 1937, 'Angels with Dirty Faces' in 1938, and 'They Drive by Night' in 1940 but he had to wait until 1941 for two parts which would propel him to superstardom.

Hollywood Superstar

'High Sierra' was scripted by John Huston, who was to play a major role in the remainder of Bogart's career, and it was directed, with great intelligence, by the masterly Raoul Walsh.

Bogart gave a clever portrayal of Roy "Mad Dog" Earle as a sympathetic, multi-dimensional character and the film was a critically acclaimed box-office hit. Also in 1941 came John Huston's directorial debut with 'The Maltese Falcon'. Bogart was able to project a more rounded character in the detective, Sam Spade, and he gave a more romantic side to his customary hard-man image. The movie featured a first class supporting cast including Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre who were also to feature in Bogart's next movie, 'Casablanca' the film with which he is most closely identified.


Playing opposite Ingrid Bergman, it was Bogart's first romantic lead role, as Rick Blaine, the club owner in wartime Casablanca. His clever portrayal gave depth to the character, showing him as a romantic beneath his tough exterior. The movie was an outstanding success and has remained popular ever since. Bogart was nominated for Best Actor Oscar but lost out, to general surprise, to Paul Lukas in 'Watch on the Rhine'.

Lauren Bacall

Bogart was now a top box-office draw and the best paid actor in Hollywood. During the next ten years he would appear in many top quality movies and show the world his great acting ability. In 1944, whilst filming 'To Have and Have Not' he met a young model who was just setting out on her acting career. Her name was Lauren Bacall and when she and Bogart started a romance it caused fireworks both onscreen and off. Bogart was now able to end his unhappy marriage to Mayo Methot whose jealous outbursts on set had caused him great problems. Their divorce came through in May 1945 and he married Lauren Bacall just eleven days later.

For Bogart it was his first truly happy marriage and he and Bacall went on to have a happy family life. Son Stephen was born in 1949 and daughter, Leslie Howard was born in 1952. She was named after the actor who had given Bogart his break in 'The Petrified Forest' in 1934 and who had been killed in an World War II air crash.

Bogart had another great success with 'To Have and To Have Not' and he was offered a remarkably generous contract by Warners of $1million a year. He made 3 further movies with Lauren Bacall including 'The Big Sleep' in 1946 and 'Key Largo' in 1948 and also in 1948 he and John Huston made 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre'. His portrayal of the distinctly unheroic prospector, Fred C. Dobbs was one of his finest performances but he topped it in 1950 with 'In a Lonely Place', in which he gave a masterly acting performance displaying rage and violent self-loathing. The movie was made by Bogart's own production company, Santana Productions, named after his private yacht.

Bogart gave another superb performance in 'The African Queen' in 1951, for which he won his Academy Award for Best Actor. He co-starred with Katharine Hepburn and again he was directed by John Huston who seemed to have the knack of getting the best out of him.

Final Years

He continued to play a variety of character roles such as Captain Queeg in 'The Caine Mutiny' (for which he received his third Best Actor Academy Award nomination), a film director in 'The Barefoot Contessa', and a businessman in the Billy Wilder comedy 'Sabrina'. His final films were made when he was fighting increasing ill-health and were disappointing: 'We're No Angels', 'The Desperate Hours', and 'The Left Hand of God' all in 1955, and the drama about boxing, 'The Harder They Fall' in 1956.

By this time Bogart's lifetime of heavy drinking and smoking had caught up with him. He was seriously ill with cancer of the oesophagus. After several unsuccessful operations, Humphrey Bogart died at his Hollywood home on January 14, 1957 aged 57 years. After cremation his remains were buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.


Although Bogart died over half a century ago, his appeal has been increasing over the years, unlike many of his contemporaries. He is revered of course for his acting talent and for his catalogue of great roles in classic movies but he is also remembered with great affection for his personal qualities. He was, in a quite uncomplicated way a normal human being, a drinking man, a smoker and a loving husband and father, and he simply oozed "cool". He was a mass of contradictions which made him an object of fascination: a cynic who was also romantic, a tough guy who was also sensitive. He cleverly created his movie persona and it his lasting legacy. We should be very grateful.

Humphrey Bogart Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Actor ... The African Queen (1951)

Two Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actor ... Casablanca (1942)
Best Actor ... The Caine Mutiny (1954)

Humphrey Bogart Filmography

The Dancing Town
Broadway's Like That
Up the River
A Devil with Women
Body and Soul
The Bad Sister
Women of All Nations
A Holy Terror
Love Affair
Big City Blues (uncredited)
Three on a Match
The Petrified Forest
Bullets or Ballots
The Case of Mrs. Pembroke
China Clipper
Isle of Fury
Black Legion
The Great O'Malley
Marked Woman
Kid Galahad
San Quentin
Dead End
Swing Your Lady
Crime School
Men Are Such Fools
Racket Busters
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse
Angels with Dirty Faces
King of the Underworld
The Oklahoma Kid
You Can't Get Away with Murder
Dark Victory
The Roaring Twenties
The Return of Doctor X
Invisible Stripes
Virginia City
It All Came True
Brother Orchid
They Drive By Night
High Sierra
The Wagons Roll at Night
The Maltese Falcon
All Through the Night
The Big Shot
Across the Pacific
Action in the North Atlantic
Passage to Marseille
To Have and To Have Not