He was the Silver Screen’s consummate tough guy, voted the Number One Star in Hollywood history by the American Film Institute. He played down and out drifters, ambitious treasure hunters, suave expatriates, and even mad scientists, all with equal aplomb. He was a loving husband and family man, totally belying his “gangster” movie persona. Although he was a physically short man (he stood a mere 5’8") he will be forever remembered as one of Hollywood’s true giants.
He was, of course, Humphrey Bogart.
Born on Dec. 25, 1899, in New York City, Bogart’s father was a successful surgeon, while his mother was a commercial illustrator who commanded a five-figure salary – an enormous amount at the turn of the century. In fact, Baby Humphrey’s first “job” was as a model for his mother, who used a drawing of her boy in a popular ad campaign for Mellin’s Baby Food. A childhood accident left young Bogart with his trademark lisp (not an incident during his years of Navy service, as is often reported), for which he was often teased by neighborhood children.
Born a child of privilege, Bogart attended some of the finest private schools, including the prestigious Phillips Academy (in preparation for Yale medical school), from which he was later expelled. The reasons for his expulsion are unclear, but most agree that his lifelong dislike for authority figures had something to do with it.
After a stint in the Navy, Bogart entered the theater in 1921, when he played a Japanese butler, a role for which he received less than favorable reviews. From 1922 through 1935, he appeared in 21 Broadway shows, including a production of Sherwood Anderson’s The Petrified Forest, in which he was cast in the gangster role of Duke Mantee, a role that Bogart himself felt unsuited for (he had, up until this point, played mostly clean-cut, albeit shallow juvenile or romantic roles, and would have preferred the part of Boze Hertzlinger, the football player). Nevertheless, Bogart accepted the role, and played 197 performances opposite leading man Leslie Howard.
When Warner Brothers bought the film rights, they chose Howard to reprise his leading role, but cast Edward G. Robinson as the heavy. When Howard heard the news, he cabled Warners from Scotland, and threatened to quit the production himself unless they gave Bogart the Mantee role. Seeing that Howard was adamant, Warners relented and cast the relatively unknown Bogart. “Bogie” (as he had been dubbed several years earlier by Spencer Tracy) never forgot Howard’s support, and named his first daughter Leslie in his honor.
Fame did not come easily to Bogart, however. Although his performance as Mantee was a critical and popular success upon the movie’s release in 1936, it merely led to a succession of gangster and villain roles (the low point coming in 1939 when Bogart played the title character in The Return of Doctor X, a role he loathed). His personal life was equally difficult, and his first three marriages ended in divorce.
Regardless of his personal problems, Bogart kept plugging along through the studio system throughout the 1930s, often losing the better leading roles to such bankable stars as George Raft, James Cagney and Spencer Tracy. Although he did some good work in supporting roles during this time (his portrayal of Jim Frazier in Angels With Dirty Faces is particularly good), it would not be until 1941, and the movie High Sierra, that Bogart would truly come into his own.
High Sierra was destined to be the turning point in Bogart’s career. Raft turned down the role of Roy “Mad Dog” Earle (apparently, he was tired of playing characters who died at the end of the picture), as did Cagney, and finally Bogart was given a part with some real depth and character. Raft also turned down the role of Sam Spade in 1941’s The Maltese Falcon, a role that would cement Bogart’s reputation as an “A-list” actor. Of all the stars in Hollywood’s Golden Age, Bogart is one of the biggest in the area of memorabilia, with his original film posters reigning as some of the most collectible.
A three sheet (41" x 81") for The Maltese Falcon sold for $10, 350 in March 2005 and the French Grande (47" x 63") sold for $12,650 in November 2005 in a Vintage Movie Poster Auction held by Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries. Additionally, a very rare Warner Brother’s copy of the script belonging to the film’s producer sold for $7,200 in Heritage’s March 2005 auction.
Bogart’s best role, and the one for which he is probably most remembered, came in the following year when he played the American expatriate Rick Blaine in Casablanca. Bogart injected quite a bit of his own personality into Blaine, and the payoff was handsome. Although Bogart lost the Best Actor Oscar that year (it went to Paul Lukas for Watch on the Rhine), the film itself won for Best Picture of 1942, and the American Film Institute (AFI) recognized the film’s iconic status in 1998 when it named Casablanca its #2 American movie, right after Citizen Kane, although it ranked #1 on the AFI list of Greatest American Love Stories. The AFI also named “As Time Goes By” #2 on its list of Greatest American Movie Songs, and Rick Blaine as the #4 all-time movie hero. In addition, Casablanca had more quotes than any other film in the AFI’s 2005 poll of great movie lines, with six entries, including, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” which came in at Number Five (And no, “Play it again, Sam,” was not on the list, as that oft-quoted line never appeared in the film. The actual line was, “You played it for her, you can play it for me… If she can stand it, I can! Play it!”) And of course, Bogart himself grabbed the #1 position on the AFI’s list of Greatest American Male Screen Legends.
The original American one sheet (27" x 41") of Casablanca, a true classic, sold for $25,300 in March 2005 and the half sheet (22" x 28") in March 2006 for $23,000, both by Heritage.
His star now on the rise professionally, Bogart’s personal life took a turn for the better as well in 1944 when he met Lauren Bacall while filming To Have and Have Not. Marriage #4 was destined to be the best and happiest, and the couple became public darlings both on and off screen.
The remainder of the 1940s would see some classic films helmed by “Bogie,” including The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948), and Tokyo Joe (1949), although the film that was arguably his biggest success was still before him.
1951 brought with it the role of Charlie Allnutt in a film adaptation of C.S. Foresters The African Queen. Playing opposite Katherine Hepburn, this was the role that would finally win Bogart a Best Actor Oscar. Although Bogart didn’t particularly care for the role in the beginning, according to director John Huston, he grew into it during the production, eventually developing a rich and complex character.
The Caine Mutiny, in 1954, was Bogart’s last major movie, although he would make another half dozen films in 1955. In Janary 1956, he underwent an operation for throat cancer, in which his esophagus, two lymph nodes and a rib were removed, but it was too little, too late. The screen’s favorite tough guy would continue to waste away during 1956, until he weighed a mere 80 pounds. He died in Hollywood on Janury 14, 1957, his last words being, “I should never have switched from scotch to martinis.”
Though Bogart’s posters are extremely collectible, it is unfortunate that most of the great film roles for this legendary star came during the 1940s, when Warner’s United States poster producing period was at a low ebb. Many, if not most, of Warner’s domestic film paper from the period were photomontage posters done in two or sometimes three colors. Considered by many collectors to be the least attractive vintage posters made, the European paper for this period far outshines their U.S. counterparts, with Italy taking the prize for the most striking images. With great artists such as Luigi Martinati, Anselmo Ballester and Ercole Brini, the Italian Bogart posters are some of the most prized by collectors of classic cinema material.
For example, the gorgeous Italian four-panel poster for To Have and Have Not sold for $19,550, while the fabulous Italian poster by Ballester for Bogart’s film Sirocco brought $8,050, and the same artist’s poster for Knock on Any Door brought $5,031, all in a November 2005 Heritage Auction. In addition, the striking Italian one sheet for To Have and Have Not sold for $7,475 in Heritage’s March 2006 event.
And though Bogart’s image was not on the poster, his role in the Audrey Hepburn film Sabrina makes it a “Bogie” film in the eyes of many collectors. The outstanding Italian four panel by Ercole Brini brought $18,400 in Heritage’s November 2005 Vintage Movie Poster Auction.
Bogart continues to be as popular today as he ever was, and his posters are at the top of nearly every collector’s want list. From lobby cards to heralds to one sheets to six sheets, Bogie reigns not only as a great actor, but as a highly collectible one as well.
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