Academy Award winning actor and icon Humphrey Bogart is known as being the type to play some of the toughest guys on the silver screen. However, when Bogart first came to Hollywood, the studios did not know where to fit him in with the other actors. Until finally, he worked his way to playing the stoic, tough guy we all call “Bogey.”
After Bogart’s service in the U.S. Navy, he started his career in the theater as a stagehand and steadily worked his way to actor. As he gained recognition for his acting, Bogart divided his time between working on his craft on the stage and minor roles in films. It was not until 1935, where his performance as “Duke Mantee” in the Broadway production of Robert E. Sherwood’s play “The Petrified Forest” brought him high praise for his work. Some of the critics focused more on Bogart’s performance than on the star of the play, Leslie Howard.
When Warner Bros. bought the production rights to the play, Leslie Howard and Bette Davis were cast. However, Howard was prepared to back down from starring in the picture if Bogart was not chosen to reprise his role for the film. When Howard heard the news of actor Edward G. Robinson replacing Bogart, Howard sent a cable to Jack L. Warner which said, “Bogart Play Mantee No Bogart No Deal L.H.” Warner had no choice but to cast Bogart and he did. Bogart would be forever grateful to Leslie Howard for the opportunity which changed Bogart’s career, even honoring the actor by naming his first born son after him.
Although Bogart’s performance in “The Petrified Forest” (1936) brought won him a studio contract, the role of “Duke Mantee” remained a temporary curse on Bogart’s career. During the rest of the 1930s, when Hollywood was steeped in the gangster genre, Bogart either played the villain or a dark-shaded character.
It was in 1939 when first-time director Vincent Sherman was approached by Jack L. Warner for the film “The Return of Dr. X” (1939). Warner said one thing to Sherman, “I’m giving you this guy Bogart and for God’s sake, see if you can get him to play something besides Duke Mantee!” Bogart was cast as “Dr. X” – a doctor brought back to life and in order to stay alive, he must live on blood. Not surprisingly, the film was not anything that would change Bogart’s career. Bogart only talked about this picture once and said, “. . .If it had been Jack Warner’s blood, or Harry’s, or Pop’s, maybe I would not have minded as much. The trouble was, they were drinking mine and I was making this stinking picture.”
It was the film “High Sierra” (1941) that put Bogart on top. In “High Sierra,” Bogart starred opposite Ida Lupino in this film about a recently pardoned man named who is employed by two would-be gangsters in order to rob a hotel. It received critical acclaim for the script and for the actors’ performances, especially Bogart’s portrayal as “Roy Earle.” The following year, Bogart made the film which launched him into the Hollywood icon stratosphere as “Rick Blaine” in the classic tale of star-crossed lovers in “Casablanca” (1942). From then on, as they say, the rest is history.