Bogart doesn’t believe in his success, doesn’t think he’s a good actor . . . but a million women movie fans can’t be wrong
BOGEY The Bad Man
THE MAN who is being called the greatest movie villain of them all—certainly the most romantic —is not like that other screen villain, Basil Rathbone, an elegant Englishman; nor yet like villain Charles Laughton, a witty intellectual. He is Humphrey Bogart, who even in his most villainous moments exudes a charm that defies complete description, and who in his 43 years of life has been a constant rebel against authority and convention. Bogart, has moved in the past year from 2fth to seventh place in the list of favorite stars according to the box-office poll conducted by the Motion Picture Herald.
True, Providence has played a large part in this
spectacular popularity rise. Other male stars joining the armed forces (for which Bogart is ineligible because of his age) removed much of his competition from the scene. But he would almost inevitably have made the Big Ten anyway. He has always held that promise.
If you ask him why thus is so he will be unable to answer you. He does not believe he is a very good actor, or, for that matter, an actor at all. He considers that he has an excellent job, which he will do as well as he can so long as he is paid for it. Thus he obeys orders from his director unquest ioningly, without feeling, and when he is told to jump, fully clothed, through an oil scum into Warners’ tank, he jumps with good grace.
But what he does not take into account, while deprecating his own abilities, is the half a lifetime of experience in the theatre which is now his, with all its
Bogart doesn’t believe in his success, doesn’t think he’s a good actor . . . but a million women movie fans can’t be wrong
cumulative effect on his performances. He does not have to act consciously. He just acts—the way a skilled technician puts a radio together in the dark.
From the audience’s standpoint Bogart has always had too much charm for his own good. It is for this reason that feminine picture fans, observing the little smile at the corners of his mouth and the hurt look in his eyes as he kills someone on the screen, somehow seem to tender toward him rather than toward the corpse.
No one, least of all Bogart, suspected he possessed this rare and, to picture studios, priceless asset until he was cast as a gangster in a Broadway play, The Petrified Forest.” Throughout the entire play his role demanded of him only that he sit holding a gun and look as if he might shoot it off at any moment. “The gun,” he says, “was the start of the play. All I had to do was hold it.” Thus you become, in a measure, aware of the anomaly Bogart is to himself. He still does not believe his own success. Yet since the time of “Petrified Forest,” critics have been lavish in their praise of his performances, referring to them as “sensitive,” “restrained, subtle, and even “brilliant.”
“Don’t tell anybody how easy it is,” he once said aside to an uncertain new recruit from Broadway.
It was one of Mrs. Maude Bogart’s cherished beliefs that her small son, Humphrey, was a delicate child. She was the famous Maude Humphrey who drew pale pastel illustrations for magazines and she drew pale pastel portraits of her son, none of which looked very much like him. Actually he was so robust and so bursting with energy that he could not keep out of trouble even if he had wanted to and he did not want to.
The reason for this, he explains today, was that through the New York house of his parents (his father was Belmont de Forest Bogart, a famous surgeon) there constantly trouped a parade of brilliant, wellknown professional people; many of them were stage stars, since William Brady, the producer, was a family friend. In order to measure up to such a situation he had to assert himself, and in this case it took some doing.
HIS tendency to be a nonconformist was manifest at the early age of three, when his mother dressed him in patent leather pumps and white kid gloves. Little Humphrey went into towering rages, wanting no part of the Little Lord Fauntleroy role she envisioned for him. At dancing school he trod deliberately on the feet of his partners, just as at home he trampled on the feelings of his family.
In 1914—when he was 14—he fell in love while vacationing at Fire Island. “Her name was Pickles,” Bogart recalls vaguely, “and she had freckles.” They sealed their troth over a soda. When an infantile paralysis quarantine which kept them on the island for two months was lifted he was desolate. Youth requires proximity for romance, and a trip from Manhattan to visit Pickles in Fiatbush required five hours. He went only once.
When he was 16 he went to school at Andover. And the plain facts were that he broke every rule in the books, had to be peremptorily discharged, and was ashamed to go home and face his father. It was 1918; the world was at war; so he joined the Navy.
Assigned to convoy duty aboard the Leviathan he set forth expecting great adventure. He got it the second day, but not the kind he had anticipated. A junior officer ordered him to scrape up a pile of debris from the deck. “That’s not my detail,” said seaman Bogart, with a bored smile.
Picking himself up from the deck a moment later he stood at attention, a new look in his eyes. Not only was this his first taste of discipline, but it had been given in a language he could understand and respect.
“Sorry,” the officer was saying, “but don’t say that again when you’re given orders.”
“I won’t, sir,” Bogart replied, his head still spinning. And he never did.
He was 18 when the Armistice was signed and he was still no nearer to knowing what he wanted from life. He spent two years at odd jobs which barely paid his expenses (as a tugboat inspector for a railroad, and
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Bogey, the Bad Man
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as purchasing agent for a business concern. Then one day he had lunch with childhood chum, Bill Brady. “Dad’s going into a new business, an independent picture company he’s calling World Films. Why don’t you apply for a job? It might change your luck.”
It sounded to Humphrey like opportunity breaking his door down. When he came away from the interview with Old Man Brady, he was World Films’ studio manager and purchasing agent.
The late twenties found Bogart still working for Brady and writing on the side. He had become convinced from World Films’ initial effort (a ponderous tale called “Life,” starring Nita Naldi and Rod la Rocque, which was so bad it could not be exhibited) that what the movies needed was better writing, better stories. In the capacity of his job he had spent over $90,000 on the picture, and it appeared to Bogart that even he could have written better stuff for the money.
Frequenting Greenwich Village he sat in the cafés and learned the chatter of the “intelligentsia.” After months of absorbing atmosphere, browsing and reading, he felt at last he was ready to write. He wrote and the result was, characteristically, an epic of violence, of vehement speeches, and of much bloodshed.
Brady remarked after reading the script that it had possibilities, but neither he nor Lasky nor Wanger nor the janitor (to whom it finally was given for handling) seemed inclined to realize on them. Bogart’s efforts appeared inevitably to follow the same itinerary of readers and in the end to land on the scrap heap.
And So To Broadway
The day he finally decided that he was not, after all, a writer, he burst into Brady’s office and announced that he wanted another job. “I’m not getting anywhere,” he complained.
Luckily he had caught Brady in a rare profligate mood. “Tell you what, son, I’ll make you the manager of one of my Broadway shows.”
“Why9” Bogart asked, unimpressed.
“It’ll be a change. You can take a crack at acting now and then, and from there on the sky’s the limit.”
Bogart accepted. Brady stood beside him on opening night and delivered a kick when he was slow with the curtain. Remembering the incident with the Navy officer, Humphrey took the kick with equanimity. The event nonetheless served to begin a stormy relationship between the two men. Once Bogart leaped the orchestra pit in a fury and chased Brady down the aisle (at a rehearsal, of course), and on at least six occasions they had to be separated by force.
Bogart’s first bid as an actor was as a juvenile. His mother read him the reviews at breakfast the morning after opening night. Alexander Woollcott had described his performance as “what
might mercifully be described as inadequate,” and this was the kindest notice of the lot. Undiscouraged, after a short interval Bogart took the lead opposite Mary Boland in “Meet The Wife.” Everything went well until he celebrated too enthusiastically one night, and at the following performance all but ruined the play and precipitated a nervous breakdown for the star by completely forgetting his lines. Miss Boland was required to ad lib whole scenes. Afterward she informed him that never again would Humphrey Bogart set foot in a theatre where she was employed, and that she would personally see to it. Only a little over a year later, however, she was asking for him for “Cradle Snatchers.”
Then Bogart met the girl who was to become his first wife — Helen Mencken. This happened because Alice Brady (starring in one of her husband’s first shows, “Drifting”) had to be rushed to a hospital one Saturday afternoon while the play was running. Her place had to be filled by the following Monday. Late Sunday night Bogart was still cueing a lovely red-haired actress he had managed to have chosen for the part. She was unknown then, but later she repaid Bogart’s faith in her by bringing Broadway to its feet with her superb performance in “Seventh Heaven.” Bogart and Miss Mencken were married shortly thereafter.
Their courtship had lasted three years; their marriage survived for one month.
In 1927 Bogart was given the opportunity to make several movie tests. A lip injury from a U-boat shell ruined them, and his immediate chances as well. He was sufficiently fascinated with Hollywood, however, to submit to an operation, after which he was given a contract by Fox, who fancied him to be another Clark Gable.
He failed to be another Gable, or even to earn his small contract salary in Westerns, because he couldn’t ride; and in the midst of the depression he returned broke to New York. There was only one bright spot then in his life—the lovely and gentle Mary Phillips, his second wife.
During the next year he tried radio, only to have his salary cut in half because “he didn’t sound like a gentleman.” Mary had better luck, managing to get a small part in a good play. Meanwhile Bogart hounded the casting offices, landing jobs in five shows which rehearsed a total of 20 weeks and played a total of five days. His longest run during this time was in “Our Wife,” which opened simultaneously with the hank holiday and closed two weeks later.
The following season Bogart got his first chance at a heavy role in “Invitation to a Murder”—and this was the beginning. After that he was offered the gangster part in “Petrified Forest.” The play was not only an immediate success, but many of the reviews devoted paragraphs of praise to his performance. Quite suddenly he was “in”—a star. “Overnight the big names
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of the theatre knew me,” Bogart remembers, cynically. He has not many illusions, either about himself or about other people. He did not give himself credit for the smash hit he had made any more than he had blamed himself for the aimless years that preceded it.
The break might have amounted only to a flash in the pan, however, if he had not extracted a promise from Leslie Howard to play the same role if the play were made into a movie.
Warner Brothers bought the play and later signed Bogart, but when he went to Hollywood he found that Edward G. Robinson had been assigned to his part. He cabled Howard in Scotland and reminded him of his promise. Howard was a man who believed in keeping his given word; Bogart got the role.
Bogart’s success since that time is the result of a formula. “Always keep working; never be available,” he tells new actors who ask him for advice. Throughout recent years he has taken any picture role offered him, good or bad, and is unique in being the only top star at his studio who has never waged a battle for position.
Mary Phillips divorced him in 1937, having long since gone back to New York and her own career on the stage. Mutually they agreed that their ways of life and careers were too divergent for the background of marriage. Life had presented him with a new discrepancy. One year of loneliness was all he could stand, and by the end of it he married Mayo Methot, with the reservation that being Mrs. Humphrey Bogart be her sole career.
Mayo thought that was a fine idea. They have formed a pattern with one persistent quotient; they are always together. Mayo manages to be with “Bogey” (the name Hollywood inevitably gave him) every moment he is not before the camera, including location trips.
The past seven years have developed a Bogart who knows where he is going.
He has pyramided one success upon another to stardom, and now holds the position of being one of the two most valuable properties of his studio.
Women who go pleasantly pale during his performances are enjoying vicariously the impact of a personality that was forged from the time he was a lonely little boy in a home filled with celebrities, up through what he now calls his “misspent youth,” two heartbreaking marriages and the other vicissitudes which have beaten him into the hard, steely-eyed adult they watch from a safe distance.
In addition the wartime actor shortage hits given him the advantage of romantic roles such as that in “Casablanca,” which revealed new facets of his ability, as also does his characterization in “Sahara.”
Bogart holds no brief for life or himself. He will accept what any situation offers and make the best of it, believing deeply that “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
He is famous for his biting sense of humor—which is most ruthless when directed toward himself-his coolheaded intelligence, and a certain honesty with life. He believes he has made his own life. Why, then, should he ask any quarter from it?
The truth about the enormously successful Bogart today is that he is still an incorrigible, a man who would like to escape from the world his cynic’s brain sees, but who cannot because of a stubborn integrity. He is an extremely sophisticated man, in the better sense of the word—a worldling living and working in a worldly, rich, pampered community, when according to his personal construction he is geared to a more adventurous pace. As the captain of a corvette, a racketeer or even a spy, he would be living at his speed. He is easily the most nervous man in Hollywood, exploding regularly, and only his sense of humor saves him for the audiences who swarm expectantly into the theatres where his pictures are showing.
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