Friday, 14 June 2013


A look at the Hollywood icon renowned for being economical with words, but never with style.
Laconic, effortless and the man who stole the heart of Ms Lauren Bacall, Mr Humphrey Bogart was the most insouciant actor of his time. In strong contrast to present-day Hollywood stars, he never ran towards the cameras with a fireball a feet or two behind him and he never used two words if one would do. In fact, most of Mr Bogart's great movie moments - and there were many - gained their strength from the fact that he said virtually nothing at all, capable as he was of saying everything necessary by the way he lit a cigarette or gazed ahead - nothing more overtly dramatic than that

"The expression 'laid-back' could have been invented for the one they called Bogie and the truth is they just don't make them like that any more."

But he wasn't entirely as he seemed. Although he became the archetype of the American tough guy and a symbol of US egalitarianism between the wars, Mr Bogart was not a man of the people. His family was comfortably off when he was young and he went to good schools - although he was expelled in 1918 in a scenario evocative of The Catcher in the Rye. Even though Mr Bogart's background wasn't entirely one of silver-spoon assurance, it was comfortable enough to give him the laid-back air that was to be the backbone of his performances on screen as well as in life. And that was the reason why Bogie had such a huge effect on men everywhere. Quite simply, they wanted to be like him because they loved his confidence and cool authority, and the effect they had on women, on and off the screen. In fact, Mr Bogart was the creator of a school of acting, influencing stars such as Messrs Jean-Paul Belmondo and Yves Montand, who admired the sexual charisma that came naturally to Mr Bogart but had to be learnt by others. 


Mr Bogart's acting career had a shaky start. He began in the theatre, with varying success, but it was Hollywood that made him, with its gritty film noir approach to its superheroes who were hard on the outside but soft on the inside and, despite an apparent indifference to women, were totally in love with them. Men of undemonstrative gestures and few words, their one-liners not only thrilled audiences at the time, but they remain potent today - and in no case more clearly than that of Bogie. There are certain expressions that, although associated for all time with him, have become part of the lexicon of language wherever English is spoken. Perhaps the most perfect examples of Bogieisms are from Casablanca, the 1942 film in which he starred with Ms Ingrid Bergman. "Here's looking at you, kid", and, inevitably, "Play it again, Sam" which (although a misquote from the actual words in the film, which are, "Play it, Sam") are known to us all. 

After three marriages, Mr Bogart met Ms Lauren Bacall, who became as much an icon of American glamour as he was. If it wasn't exactly love at first sight then it was very near it, and the sexiest couple in Hollywood was created - and, like their marriage, it lasted until Mr Bogart's death from esophageal cancer in 1957. 

Ms Bacall, Mr Bogart, Mr Walter Brennan and Mr Howard Hawks on the set of To Have and Have Not, 1944

What was the secret of Mr Bogart's appeal? Most importantly, he interested men as well as women. They took him as a template for US masculinity. He stood for the honesty and integrity of ordinary, decent men. American men, whether middle-class professionals or blue-collar workers who found their identity in his laid-back approach to dress and gesture on and off the screen. "Less is more" is a mantra that could have been created with Bogie in mind. And that was why he was always so totally convincing in the wide variety of roles he played. The clipped comment, the laconic movement: it is no exaggeration to say that they were the basis of masculine America for at least two decades, lasting unquestioned until the age of defiant youth in the early 1950s when Messrs Marlon Brando and James Dean became the new heroes. But even then, from his fedora to his casually belted trench coat, Mr Bogart was still about the confidence that means you don't have to try too hard.

 Six decades after his death there is still no hope that there will ever be a star who could be dubbed the new Humphrey Bogart. His world has gone but his memory remains. 

Words and voice-over by Mr Colin McDowell, MR PORTER.COM

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