Humphrey Bogart

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Humphrey DeForest Bogart (January 23 1899 - January 14 1957) was one of the greatest American film actors of his day, and remains a legend almost 50 years after his death.

Some of his famous roles include Casablanca, The Big Sleep, Angels With Dirty Faces, The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo, The African Queen (For which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor), and The Caine Mutiny.

Bogart remains something of a cult figure overseas, especially in France. In 1997, he was featured in the U.S. Postal Service "Legends of Hollywood" series.

Bogart's exalted standing in the Hollywood pantheon would have astonished most of the actors, agents and casting directors who knew him in the 1920's and '30's as a good but hardly great New York stage actor and a B-movie player in Hollywood.

Bogart began his acting career on the stage in 1921. He never took a single acting lesson, never had any formal training. But he was serious about his work, learned his lines quickly, absorbed his role deeply.

In 1934, turned in a sterling performance as an escaped killer "Duke Mantee" in Robert Sherwood's play "The Petrified Forest." The play hd 197 performances in New York, and Bogart made the audience gasp. Leslie Howard, who played the lead character, knew how important Bogart's performance was to the success of the play, and Howard refused to reprise his role in a Hollywood film unless Bogart played Duke Mantee. Bogart never forgot this, and named his only daughter Leslie after Leslie Howard.

After reprising his role in the 1936 film version of "The Petrified Forest", for which he received excellent reviews, Bogart was stuck in a series of crime dramas for Warner Brothers, almost always cast in a conventional tough guy role, with little acting range.

Bogart had been raised to believe that acting, especially acting tough-guy roles in "B" pictures, was something beneath a gentleman. Sensitive, caustic by nature, and feeling aggrieved by the inferior films he was forced to make, he cultivated the persona of a man exiled from better things in New York, cursed to live out his life among second-rate people and projects.

Bogart's father was a successful doctor and his mother, Maud Humphrey, was a very successful commercial illustrator. Indeed, she used a drawing of her baby Humphrey Bogart in a well-known ad campaign for Mellins Baby Food. In her prime, she made over $50,000 a year as an illustrator, a vast sum for a woman to earn in those days. But Maud Humphrey was a very distant woman, her husband was not well-suited to her, and the Bogarts' marriage was a troubled one.

As a child, Bogart was teased for his curls, his tidiness, for the "cute" pictures his mother posed him for. He was teased for the name "Humphrey."

From his childhood, Bogart learned the manners of a gentleman, learned to stage manage appearances, to hate hypocrisy, and to channel his pain into caustic wit. All of these things played a part in his movie image.

He also learned to love sailing, and several of his classic films in involve ships ("Key Largo," "The African Queen," "The Caine Mutiny.")

Starting with The Maltese Falcon, (1941) directed by his friend and drinking partner John Huston, audiences saw Bogart play leading characters with far more complexity.

And as America entered World War Two, it began to turn to a new kind of leading man, less conventionally handsome, less polished, but tougher and more willing to use violence to make the world safe and to get what he wanted.

After several others passed on the role, Bogart got his first romantic lead: playing Rick Blaine, the nightclub owner in Casablanca (1942). This remains, almost 60 years later, a fresh, riveting performance. Bogart brought a natural intensity and humor to the role. He had learned how to convey pain in his eyes, and how to show emotion with subtle shadings of his voice.

The boy who was teased for being girlish became a male icon for his toughness, insolent humor, and grace under pressure.

Bogart was married four times, but only the fourth marriage, to Lauren Bacall, was a happy one. They met while making To Have and Have Not and their collaboration in The Big Sleep is a Hollywood classic.

Bogart had always treated his body poorly, drunk and smoked heavily, and he came down with cancer. In 1955, he made several films but his health was failing. True to his code, he almost never spoke of the disease that made his body waste away. He would not see a doctor until January of 1956, and by then surgery of his esophagus, two lymph nodes and a rib was too little, too late. He was only 80 pounds when he died on January 14, 1957.


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