Humphrey Bogart — Meeting up with a New Menacing Man (1937) 🇺🇸
by Grace Mack
When an actor steps into the movie spotlight as a gangster, a killer or a villain of darkest hue, it is customary for writers to assure the reading public that in real life he isn’t like that at all; that actually he is as gentle as a lamb, loves little kiddies and wouldn’t harm a flea. Personally, I’ve always wondered whether readers like to have their villains so completely whitewashed, whether they wouldn’t prefer to keep on thinking that there is at least a dash of similarity between the actor and the character he portrays.
So, just for the sake of variety and because he would loathe it if I made him out to be a plaster saint, I am going to refrain from pinning a halo on Mr. Humphrey Bogart. And that’s what he gets for telling me: “I don’t give a damn what you write about me — go as far as you like — only DON’T label it The Loves of Humphrey Bogart or Humphrey Bogart’s Dream Girl. If you do, I’ll put ground glass in your soup the next time we have lunch together.”
Though he was well known on the stage, the rank and file of movie fans had never heard of Humphrey Bogart until he stalked into that little sun-baked restaurant in The Petrified Forest. In looks and manner he so closely resembled the man who had for months been front-paged as Public Enemy Number One, and so realistic was his performance, that among audiences everywhere you could hear the whispered comment, “He looks just like Dillinger.”
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Now, as a matter of fact, Bogart doesn’t look anything at all like Dillinger. (It was all done with whiskers — which he grew himself.) And of course I am not going to tell you that he is as cold and ruthless as the character he portrayed in The Petrified Forest. But I AM going to say that in real life he has that same vital, dynamic something which made his portrayal of the killer in that picture one of last year’s outstanding performances.
There is nothing zephyr-like about him. He is as explosive as a firecracker. To quote one of his friends : “You never have a discussion with Humphrey. It’s always an argument.”
He is direct in manner and speech and hates any form of pretense. He says what he thinks and believes. The things he says do not always come under the heading of what Hollywood calls “diplomacy.” Humphrey contends that Hollywood diplomacy is on the side of log-rolling and back-slapping.
Shortly after he signed his picture contract he was forced into a spot where he had to make a choice between doing. the politic thing and the thing which he, personally, believed was right. Characteristically, he chose the latter — even though he was well aware that it might put him in disfavor with the powers that be.
“But I couldn’t have lived with myself if I had done otherwise,” he explains. And means it.
He is a staunch defender of the underdog and is easily stirred by any form of social injustice. Recently he was a guest at a smart dinner during the course of which a certain celebrated case that has taken up considerable space in newspapers and magazines came up for discussion. For a time Humphrey managed to sit quietly through a lot of high-sounding phrases that were hollow with their own emptiness, spoken by people who, like the lilies of the field, had never either toiled or spinned for their daily bread. Suddenly he could stand it no longer and bringing his palms down on the table with an emphatic gesture he spoke his mind with no mincing of words — and then walked out on the party!
In telling me about this, he said: “Of course I cooled off as soon as I was outside and I realized that I had given an exhibition of bad manners. I was sorry for that. Still, I had meant every word I said — so I could scarcely go back and apologize.”
And that gives you a very good idea of the sort of person Humphrey Bogart really is. It strikes him as most peculiar that people should want to know about him.
When he was appearing in the Broadway version of The Petrified Forest he was forced to wear whiskers as a permanent adornment.
“I didn’t realize how tough I really looked,” he says, “until one night as I was coming out of a delicatessen I noticed a chap trying to flirt with my wife who was sitting in the car. Just for fun I decided to see whether my disguise was any good. I edged up on the chap and gave him the eye and if ever I’ve seen anybody scared, he was. He began to stammer an apology and assure me that it was all a mistake, that he thought the lady in the car was someone he knew. ‘Some day you’ll make one mistake too many,’ I told him. When I got into the car and drove away he probably figured that he had had a very narrow escape.”
Humphrey was born and grew up in New York City. His father was a surgeon and his mother an artist. He was sent to Andover to finish his schooling but his association with that academy terminated very abruptly. The reason: The headmaster caught Humphrey and some other students in the act of ducking a junior professor in the lake. I suspect that the ducking ceremony was Humphrey’s idea.
When the war came along he joined the navy. “Not because I had any glorified idea of making the world safe for democracy,” he assured me, “but because I craved adventure.”
“It didn’t take me long to discover that I wasn’t cut out for a routine job,” he says. “Punching a time clock just naturally seemed to rub me the wrong way and I hated the idea of spending eight hours a day, six days a week, looking at the same set of figures and the same four walls.”
Geographically, Wall Street isn’t very far from Broadway and that was Humphrey’s next step. He had grown up with Alice Brady and her brother and through them had become interested in the theatre. Their father, William A. Brady, gave him a job backstage.
The job was that of assistant stage-manager for a show in which Helen Menken was the star. The show opened in Philadelphia and there was the usual opening night confusion about getting the scenery in place and the props assembled. Between the first and second acts there was something like an hour’s wait. The star became very temperamental and demanded that somebody DO SOMETHING. Finally, to hush her up, Humphrey “gave her a slap on the fanny” (I’m quoting him) pushed her into her dressing-room and locked the door.
“Now you stay there and keep your mouth shut till I call you,” he told her emphatically.
Such behavior on the part of an assistant stage-manager naturally made Miss Menken very indignant. But apparently it also aroused her interest for some time later she married him.
The marriage did not last and the reason is obvious. They were too much alike. It was like trying to synchronize two volcanoes.
“Our quarrels usually started over the most inconsequential things,” says Humphrey, “such as whether she should feed the dog caviar when people were starving. I contended that the dog should eat hamburger — and like it. She held out for caviar. And what started out to be just a little difference of opinion would suddenly become a battle royal which ended with one or the other walking out in a fine rage.”
After a year of domestic drama Humphrey and Helen decided to call it quits. Meantime, he had “evoluted” from an assistant stage-manager into an actor. He appeared in several Broadway successes but did not attract particular attention until he went into a play called Nerves.
“It was the first time the critics had given me any praise,” says Humphrey with characteristic honesty, “and it gave me a very bad case of swelled head. Playing opposite me was a very attractive girl by the name of Mary Phillips. In one scene while I was delivering a very dramatic speech she was supposed to walk away from me and say nothing. One night I noticed that she was putting a lot of that into her walk — so much so that the audience focused their attention on her instead of me. After the show I bawled her out plenty for stealing my scene. ‘You can’t do that,’ I told her. ‘That’s my scene.’ There was an amused twinkle in her eyes as she looked up at me. ‘Suppose you try to stop me,’ she challenged. Well, I didn’t try to stop her because while I was talking to her I suddenly became aware that here was a girl with whom I could very easily fall in love.”
Not only could — but did. And their marriage has stuck.
“Mary is a mixture of New England and Irish,” says Humphrey, “and she furnishes just the sort of a balance wheel I need. Marrying her is probably the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me.”
Mary, by the way, appeared on Broadway last season with Dick Barthelmess in The Postman Always Rings Twice. She is now under contract to M.G.M. and you’ll be seeing her on the screen soon.
The future of any movie star is an uncertain quantity. It would require a major prophet to tell what Humphrey Bogart may be doing a year or two from now. But my guess is that if Warner Brothers don’t soften him up too much you will see him stepping right up with the Number One favorites. This deduction is not the result of any high-powered crystal-gazing. It is based upon the case histories of such box-office magnets as Clark Gable, Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney, all of whom made their first movie hits in roles that suggested menace.
Bogart appeals to men because he gives the impression of vitality, virility. He appeals to women because they, instinctively, sense that certain volcanic quality which he radiates. Volcanic men, naturally, suggest danger — but the intriguing sort of danger with which the female of the species has ever enjoyed flirting.
So keep your eye on Humphrey Bogart. Something tells me he’s headed for the top.
Humphrey Bogart is going places since The Petrified Forest.
Humphrey Bogart is virile and volcanic, and as a screen menace has moviegoers interested.
Source: Motion Picture, January 1937