Humphrey DeForest Bogart
Bogart in uniform during World War I.
Far from growing up a street tough and even more famous today than when he was alive, Humphrey DeForest Bogart was the product (in 1899) of prominent New Yorkers Belmont DeForest Bogart, a surgeon, and Maud Humphrey, a magazine illustrator whose teachers included Whistler in Paris. The Bogarts' Upper West Side home was not all ease, though the family was comfortable financially. Maud was emotionally distant, a workaholic with little time for love; Dad had troubles too, and would eventually (after his son was grown and independent) end up addicted to morphine and in debt.
At age thirteen the future Bogie was sent to Trinity School, one of New York's institutions for gentlemen-in-training. There he showed early evidence of his penchant for flouting authority; he insisted on wearing a frowned-upon hat to school every day, imposing his own touch of individuality on the dress code. For this and other offenses, such as refusing to study German, Latin, and other subjects that were not of interest to him, the young revel was invited regularly into the headmaster's office for mostly fruitless discussion.
Destined in his parents' master plan to go to Yale, in 1917 he was shipped off to the prep school Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where his father had gone before him.
The budding troublemaker did not much care for it there either, and of course he made no effort to hide his feelings. By the end of his first year it was suggested that he might be happier with another school's curriculum.
What to do next? It was spring 1918 when Humphrey arrived home in New York, and the country was at war. Many young men were anxious to join the fighting overseas and show the Huns a thing or two; to Humphrey Bogart, it sounded like a grand adventure. He would probably get to go to Paris, meet some French girls. . . . Soon after returning from school, Humphrey went down to the receiving ship USS Granite State and joined the Navy, officially ending his formal schooling.
He did not have to travel far for his training; he was ordered to the Naval Reserve training Station in Pelham Park, New York. Graduating with a coxswain rating, he was next ordered to the USS Leviathan (SP-1326), the largest American troopship. The brand-new sailor reported on 27 November, more than two weeks after the war had ended.
The Leviathan was an ex-German passenger liner, Germany's largest, built by Blohm and Voss in Hamburg and originally named Vaterland. She was launched on 13 April 1913. When the United States entered World War I, on 6 April 1917, the U.S. Shipping Board seized her at Hoboken, New Jersey. The ship was turned over to the Navy in June and commissioned in July. Renamed in September, the Leviathan operated between Hoboken, Brest, and Liverpool. Until the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, the ship steamed back and forth across the Atlantic, ten round trips in all, carrying more than 119,000 troops.
It may have been while Bogart was attached to the Leviathan that an incident occurred that was to affect his image on the screen after leaving the service. As anyone who has watched his time-honored performances, Bogart talked as if his upper lip was paralyzed, and there was always a slight lisp. There are many explanations for this mannerism.
According to one story, a piece of shrapnel cut his mouth when he was at the wheel of the Leviathan, under fire from a U-boat. This would have been an interesting occurrence more than two weeks after the Armistice. In another version of events, Bogart was ordered to take a U.S. Navy prisoner to Portsmouth Naval Prison, New Hampshire. The two traveled side by side, with the prisoner handcuffed. As they changed trains in Boston, the con asked Bogart for a Lucky Strike, a supply of which Bogie always had and was happy to share. As he dug for matches, suddenly his ungrateful companion smashed him in the mouth with his manacles and humped up to escape. Bogart, his upper lip badly torn and bleeding, reacted quickly, drawing out his .45 automatic and dropping the prisoner. Initial Navy surgery on the lip was badly botched, and subsequent plastic surgery did not help.
However it really happened, the sailor was permanently scarred. But he was also left with a distinctive screen trademark that made him appear especially sinister in his numerous gangster roles.
In February 1919 he was transferred from the Leviathan to another transport, the USS Santa Olivia (SP-3125). For reasons unknown--late-night partying, probably--he missed his ship when she sailed from Hoboken for Europe in April. Bogart promptly surrendered to the port's naval authorities and was ordered to New York, to report to the receiving ship. He thus avoided being listed as a deserter, and his offense was recorded as a mere AWOL, for which he was awarded three days' solitary confinement on bread and water.
The spunky enlistee finally got out of the Navy with an honorable discharge on 18 June 1919. He had made it to seaman second class, with performance reports rating above average in proficiency (3.0 on a scale of 1.0 to 4.0) and superior (4.0) in sobriety and obedience.
What to do next? Back in New York, Maud complained about his lack of direction, as usual. His father, with friends in various businesses, including the National Biscuit Company and a Wall Street brokerage firm, tried to help. But Humphrey disliked business. He tried, but he did not last long at any of the jobs that were found for him. He preferred hanging out with his pals, riding horses, sailing, drinking, and smoking. He was a fun-loving socializer and a mischievous prankster, and would remain one for the rest of his life. But this did not keep him from also loving his work, once he finally found it, or from becoming a professional, devoted, hardworking actor.
One day he hatched the idea of approaching the father of a friend for a job, because he was fed up with his current position--running messages around New York City on the subway. The friend's father, William S. Brady, owned a stage company and a film studio, and Humphrey Bogart's work for him represented the beginning of his acting career.
After being promoted to assistant stage manager, Bogart's performing debut came during a rehearsal, when he filled in for the indisposed juvenile lead. Despite the poor quality of this first attempt, he was hooked. In 1920 he landed his first part, in a Brady road production of The Ruined Lady. He first appeared on a New York stage two years later in Drifting, and he continued to perform in plays for the next thirteen years.
He began getting small parts in movies only in the late 1920s, and the general public became aware of his existence when he appeared as vicious killer Duke Mantee in the 1936 film version of The Petrified Forest. After more than fifteen years of working full-time in the business, Humphrey Bogart's name was known in Hollywood.
In 1943 he and third wife Mayo Methot traveled to North Africa with the USO in an effort to do their bit for the boys overseas, but the couple's performances were apparently not as entertaining as their offstage fights. Although they shared a genuine affection, the hard-drinking duo frequently fell into disharmony. Their disagreements were loud and sometime featured displays such as door-banging and object-throwing. The USO's enthusiasm for husband-and-wife teams may have dwindled after the Bogart experience.
Back in California, Humphrey continued to do his bit by joining the Coast Guard Auxiliary and reporting for duty once a week, in Balboa. It was here that he began meeting secretly with Lauren Bacall, whom he met on the set of To Have and Have Not in 1944, when his alliance with Mayo had suffered through all but the final battles. He and Bacall were married in 1945, his fourth and final marriage. They had two children.
Bogart and Bacall were liberal Democrats, supported both FDR and Harry Truman, and initially opposed the efforts of the House Committee on Un-American Activities to identify communists within the movie industry, although they later recanted. Like his character Rick in Casablanca (which won him a 1943 Academy nod), Bogart was in no way a political activist or the advocate of any particular cause, but he spoke up and took sides when he felt it had to be done.
At the time he made Casablanca, his only affiliation with the military was chess games that he played with servicemen through the mail. But the Moroccan story would have lasting significance to its countless viewers as an anti-Nazi statement. It opened not more than two weeks after the Allies had landed in North Africa; and just as the movie's circulation increased, FDR, Churchill, and Gen. Charles de Gaulle were attending a well-publicized summit meeting in Casablanca. Good timing for the studio, this sequence of real-life wartime events also established Bogart as a lasting symbol of resistance to fascism.
He will always be remembered for classics such as High Sierra, (1941), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), and The African Queen (1951, for which he won the Academy Award for best actor). Among his most memorable roles was that of the unstable Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny (1954; it won him another best-actor nomination).
Cracking jokes almost until the end, Humphrey Bogart died in 1957.
Source: Wise, James E., Jr., and Anne Collier Rehill, Stars in Blue: Movie Actors in America's Sea Services (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997): 93-98.
Acknowledgment: The Navy Department Library gratefully acknowledges the Naval Institute Press for giving permission to post this chapter on our website. All rights are reserved by the authors and publisher.