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Humphrey Bogart (1899 – 1957)

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Humphrey Bogart

When the Brattle Theatre, near Harvard, started its annual revivals of Casablanca (1942) in the sixties, students showed up for screenings dressed as Rick Blaine, their trench coats and snap-brim hats mirroring Humphrey Bogart’s screen image just as his tough-guy pose mirrored their own youthful rebellions. Had Bogie been alive, he probably would have been amused and even touched, though he never would have shown it. Cynicism was a hard-won prize for the star. Born into New York society, the son of a prominent doctor and a popular portrait artist, he turned to acting after flunking out of school. Initially cast as callow young sophisticates, his failed attempt to break into films in the early thirties brought him back to Broadway, where he played a psychopathic gangster in The Petrified Forest. When the play became a movie in 1936, stage costar and close friend Leslie Howard refused to do the film without him, and Warner Bros. signed Bogie to a long-term contract. They kept him mainly in supporting roles—turning scripts down helped toughen him up, too—until John Huston wrote High Sierra (1941) for him and then used his directorial debut with The Maltese Falcon (1941) to make Bogart a star. That was enough to win over producer Hal Wallis, who had the script for Casablanca written to showcase Bogart’s world-weary cynicism. Bogie had already proved himself a surprisingly effective leading man opposite stars like Ingrid Bergman and Ida Lupino, but it was a feisty newcomer who would really bring out the lover in him. Although almost two decades his junior, Lauren Bacall was his match in cynicism and sass when director Howard Hawks paired them in To Have and Have Not (1944). The onscreen chemistry continued in three more films together. Offscreen, she provided a stability that had eluded him in three failed marriages. She also gave him two children who brought out a softer side that would have surprised people who only knew him from his film roles. Bacall even put her own career on hold to accompany him during location shooting for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and The African Queen (1951). Their relationship, whether trading barbs in The Big Sleep (1946) or simply posing for family photos, was the stuff dreams are made of.

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