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Humphrey Bogart: Bogie At Sea

By Tara Mae

On Christmas Day 1899, Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born into an old New York family of Dutch heritage. His mother, Maud, was a renowned illustrator, water colorist, and suffragette; at one point, she made more than $50,000 a year. She once employed baby Bogart as her model for her illustrations for a Mellins Baby Food advertising campaign. HIs father, Belmont DeForest Bogart, was a moderately successful surgeon. The family had ties upstate and family on Long Island. From Maud, Bogart inherited his creative spirit; from Belmont, he got his love of the sea. Throughout his life and his illustrious career, Bogart’s interests informed each other.

As the eldest of three children, Bogart grew up in a well-off but somewhat emotionally distant household at 245 West 103rd Street on the Upper West Side. He later noted, “I was brought up very unsentimentally but very straightforwardly...” Bogart’s early appreciation of acting was mainly explored during his family’s summers at a cottage on Canandaigua Lake, when he and local friends put on plays. The Seneca Point property, Willow Brook, was on a 55-acre estate and had a dock with a sailboat. In 1916, the family gave up summers on the lake in favor of vacationing on Fire Island.

Uninvested in school, he eventually attended Phillips Academy Andover based on family connections. During his senior year at Phillips, he was expelled. The reason remains unclear, but this effectively torpedoed his parents’ ambitions for his future. Bogart’s lack of scholarly drive also limited his job prospects. So, in deference to his lifelong love of the water, he joined the navy in the spring of 1918. Following the armistice, he ferried troops from Europe back to the United States. Bogart was honorably discharged with the rank of Seaman Second Class and above-average service reports in June 1919.

Bogart returned to New York to find both his father and his practice in poor condition. Much of the family’s wealth had been lost to bad timber investments. Bogart began a series of jobs, including shipping and bonds selling. Maintaining a tie to the water, he also joined the Coast Guard Reserve. Through a friendship with Bill Brady Jr., Bogart got an office job working for William A. Brady, a sports promoter, theater actor, and producer, at World Films. There, Bogart explored screenwriting, producing, and directing.

He failed at each pursuit. His first professional theater job was as the stage manager for A Ruined Lady, which featured Brady’s daughter Alice. Months later, he had his first role on stage; he delivered one line of dialogue. Bogart subsequently acted in many of Alice’s productions. He never took acting lessons, choosing to learn by experience. As his professional reputation grew, he signed a contract with Fox Film Corporation and befriended another up-and-coming stage actor, Spencer Tracy. They became drinking buddies. Tracy is credited with giving him the nickname “Bogie.”

The stock market crash of 1929 caused theater opportunities to become more scarce. Still, Bogart continued to act. Between 1922 and 1935, he appeared in 17 Broadway plays. His work on the stage got him noticed in Hollywood, and he transitioned to film roles. Initially cast as criminals and deviants, he is best known for his parts as a flawed but principled romantic lead.

His appreciation for sailing and the water was reflected in some of his most iconic performances. In To Have and Have Not and The African Queen, Bogart plays the captain of a fishing boat and steamboat, respectively. In Key Largo, his character is conscripted into helming a boat commandeered by a mobster and his gang. The boat in Key Largo is called the Santana, which was the name of Bogart’s 55-foot sailing yacht. He named his production company after the boat. In her memoir, his widow Lauren Bacall noted, “The only cause my husband Humphrey Bogart ever gave me to be jealous was not of a woman, but of a boat - a racing yacht called Santana.”

Married four times, three of his four wives, including Bacall, were native New Yorkers. All were actresses. In Bacall, Bogie found a well-matched partner, who shared his appreciation of the water, if not his fervor for his sailing. As a native islander, Bogart found comfort and peace at sea. He spent approximately 30 weekends a year on the water. Still a member of the Coast Guard Reserve, he offered it the use of Santana. Bogart apparently attempted to enlist in the Coast Guard during World War II but was declined because of his age.

Throughout his life, Bogart maintained a love of the water and recognized that being at sea was a way of staying grounded: “An actor needs something to stabilize his personality, something to nail down what he really is, not what he is pretending to be.” He died of esophageal cancer on January 14, 1957. He remains one of the most recognizable and respected actors, recognized for his craft and renowned for the pursuit of his passions

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