Theatre yesterday and today



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Humphrey Bogart, pre-movie stardom, circa the 1920s.

Possessing one of the most indelible personas marking Hollywood’s Golden Age, Humphrey Bogart’s unique charisma continues to persist in our collective conscience as many as sixty-four years after his death. While smoking an endless chain of cigarettes, he effortlessly romanced the likes of Ingrid Bergman and Lauren Bacall, whom he starred opposite when she was nineteen and would marry a year later. Movie star that he was, like many of his cinematic contemporaries (Cary Grant, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, to name a few), he began his creative life on stage, appearing in seventeen Broadway shows between 1922 and 1935. Here are some stories about those mostly forgotten thirteen years in this edition of “Theatre Yesterday and Today.”

Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born in New York City on Manhattan’s Upper West Side on the last Christmas of the twentieth century, December 25, 1899 (the townhouse, still standing, is one block directly behind my current residence). Like much of a good deal of biographical information on him, it has been questioned whether his birthday was made up for publicity purposes, but my research indicates it’s true. The famous scar over his lip also brings up different stories over its origin, with it being attributed to everything from a wound he received during his stint in World War I, to a bottle being broken across his face in a bar fight. The silent screen star Louise Brooks, who knew Bogart well during his earliest days as a young actor, wrote about that scar in a rather loving entry in her autobiography Lulu in Hollywood: “His handsome face was made extraordinary by a beautiful mouth. It was very full, rosy, and perfectly modeled — perfectly, that is, except that, to make it completely fascinating, at one corner of his upper lip a scarred, quilted piece hung down in a tiny scallop. When Humphrey went into films, a surgeon sewed up the scallop, and only a small scar remained. Photographically, it was an improvement, but I missed this endearing disfigurement. The scar on his lip has since become a symbol of his heroism.”

Affixed to the brownstone at 245 W 103rd Street in Manhattan.

Bogart was born to privilege by parents who were educated and who both earned good livings. In in addition to their Manhattan home, the family owned a sprawling 55-acre estate, Willow Brook, on the shore of Canandaigua Lake in Seneca Point in upstate New York. His father was a doctor and his mother an artist of national reputation. It was Maud Bogart who used young Humphrey as a child model, which garnered him ads in magazines for such products as Mellins Baby Foods (not Gerber, as has often been reported). “There was a period in American history when you couldn’t pick up a goddamed magazine without seeing my kisser in it,” the actor later said. Educated at the best schools, Bogart was a poor student, lazy by his own admission, and kicked out of the exclusive prep school, Phillips Academy — Andover, in Massachusetts. The discipline he sought and needed came when he enlisted in the Navy in 1918.

A Maud Humphreys Bogart drawing of her infant baby boy.

Eighteen-year-old Humphrey in the Navy.