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Humphrey Bogart: The last Hollywood hero


Named as the very best film star of the 20th century in 1999 by the American Film Institute, the influence of Hollywood legend Humphrey Bogart simply cannot be understated. Flourishing alongside the likes of Cary Grant and James Stewart, Bogart offered an effortless, almost ethereal class to his work that neither of his peers possessed, coming into his own in the early 1940s after a decade of treading water. 

Raised in New York at the turn of the 20th century, Bogart was born in 1899 into wealthy beginnings, attending the private Delancey School before attending the prestigious Trinity School from the fifth grade. Later attending the boarding school Phillips Academy, Bogart left early, failing four of his six classes due to his consistently rebellious behaviour and general disinterest in the education system. 

With few career prospects, Bogart enrolled in the United States Navy at the end of WWI, a decision that would sculpt the young adult into the actor we know today, giving him a steely, self-effacing resolve as he matured from boy to man. Returning home, Bogart adopted a more liberal stance to the world around him and spent much of his time in speakeasies where he admired the late hours actors worked, as well as the attention they received. Deciding to take up the craft, Bogart steadily trained his acting mind, appearing in around 17 Broadway productions from 1922 to 1935.

Often playing romantic support roles, villains or brutish juveniles, Bogart quickly became typecast as he made the transition to cinema, often blending into the background of many films of the early ’30s, including Up the River, Love Affair and Three on a Match. Confused and disillusioned, Bogart returned to Broadway, where he triumphed as the character Duke Mantee in Robert Sherwood’s The Petrified Forest before finding footing in cinema as the play was adapted for the silver screen. Whilst it appeared as though Bogart’s fortunes were changing, it would take several more years until he would be recognised as a star, pedalling menial gangster roles until the end of the 1930s. 

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The 1940s was when Bogart’s Hollywood fortunes would change, with his multi-dimensional starring role in High Sierra placing the actor in the forefront of the Hollywood shop window whereupon he was picked up for John Huston’s classic The Maltese Falcon in 1941. In the space of just a couple of years, Bogart had gone from Hollywood obscurity to a popular leading man, following up that success with All Through the Night and Across the Pacific in 1942. 

Reaching the very peak of his popularity in Casablanca in 1942, Bogart gave one of the most iconic performances in cinema history as Rick Blaine in a film that struck a sentimental, pertinent chord with the American people after the nation had entered WWII. The actor became the go-to leading man for Warner Brothers as Bogart’s success snowballed throughout the remainder of the 1940s with the releases of To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Key Largo.

During this same period, Bogart married fellow screen actor Lauren Bacall, elevating such films as The Big Sleep and Key Largo with their effortless on-screen romance, becoming staple stars of Hollywood in the process. Though Bogart was very much still in his prime, the 1950s represented the twilight of his career, starring in Sabrina, In a Lonely Place and The African Queen, where he would win an Academy Award for his efforts. 

A complex, stylish and sophisticated screen actor, Humphrey Bogart made a name for himself with his notable swagger, bravado and ‘tough guy’ persona, making his cynical outlook on life a strangely endearing quality. Becoming a legend of the American screen upon his premature death in 1957, Bogart would only be truly recognised as a pioneer of contemporary Western cinema after his death, embodying the epitome of ‘cool’ that so many actors have tried (and failed) to capture since.