Humphrey Bogart

The American stage and screen actor, Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957), was one of Hollywood's most durable stars and a performer of considerable skill, subtlety, and individuality.

Humphrey Deforest Bogart was born on January 23, 1899, in New York City to Deforest Bogart, a surgeon, and Maud Humphrey Bogart, an illustrator. He attended several private schools, but performed poorly and was expelled at one point. Bogart spent several years with the U.S. Navy and worked briefly as a Wall Street clerk before entering the competitive world of Broadway theater. After a considerable struggle he achieved stature with his two most important stage appearances: in Maxwell Anderson's comedy Saturday's Children and Robert E. Sherwood's gangster morality play, The Petrified Forest. His characterization of the psychotic killer, Duke Mantee, in the latter, as well as in the popular film version with Bette Davis and Leslie Howard, led to typecasting him as a mobster in such movies as Dead End (1937), Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), and The Roaring Twenties (1940).

Achieved Star Status with Classic Films

Not until his performance as the cold, uncommitted private detective, Sam Spade, in John Huston's adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon (1941), did Bogart reveal his potential as a screen personality. He projected, as one critic remarked, "that ambiguous mixture of avarice and honor, sexuality and fear." His co-starring role with Ingrid Bergman as Rick Blaine in Michael Curtiz's war drama Casablanca (1943) added to his legend and led to his first Academy Award nomination. He lost, but the film won Best Picture honors. To Have and Have Not (1944), Hemingway's novel of the Depression transformed into a comedy of social consciousness by William Faulkner and Howard Hawks, cast Bogart with Lauren Bacall. The following year Bogart divorced his third wife and the two stars married; they had two children.

Although Bogart appeared in several poor movies, most of his films were above the standard Hollywood level, and The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) may be one of the greatest films ever released. His best motion pictures of the 1940s include Sahara (1943), a realistic World War II drama; The Big Sleep (1946), Hawks's sophisticated detective thriller based on the Raymond Chandler novel; and Key Largo (1948), Huston's toughened filming of the Maxwell Anderson play. Of Bogart's portrayal of the pathetic psychopath in Huston's study of human greed, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Pauline Kael wrote, "In a brilliant characterization, Humphrey Bogart takes the tough-guy role to its psychological limits—the man who stands alone goes from depravity through paranoia to total disintegration." What in Duke Mantee was mere melodramatic villainy had been transformed into grim psychological reality. In a very different film, the Huston/James Agee adventure comedy, The African Queen (1951), Bogart won an Academy Award for his humorously expressive depiction of the earthy, ginguzzling skipper who brings life to a straight-laced Katharine Hepburn.

In Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Hollywood exposé The Barefoot Contessa (1953), Bogart gave depth to his role as a shattered, alcoholic film director. In Beat the Devil (1954), he portrayed a disreputable adventurer. The Caine Mutiny (1954) provided Bogart with one of his finest roles, as the deranged Captain Queeg. In his last film Bogart gave a strong performance as an investigator of sports corruption in the sharp-edged boxing drama The Harder They Fall (1956). A year later, after a long struggle with throat cancer, he died in Hollywood. At his funeral, Bogart's long-time friend Huston paid him tribute: "He is quite unreplaceable. There will never be anybody like him."

Further Reading on Humphrey Bogart

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia (1979).

Sennet, Ted. Warner Brothers Presents (1971).