In 1936, Humphrey Bogart, a rich kid from New York City who became a professional actor by default, finally achieved stardom on Broadway and in the movies.
Leslie Howard’s Role in Bogart’s Stardom
The role that put him on the map was Duke Mantee, the ruthless mobster in the Broadway hit The Petrified Forest. Warner Bros. bought the rights to the Robert Sherwood melodrama and wanted Edward G. Robinson to play Mantee.
But Leslie Howard, who starred with Bogart in the Broadway production, held casting approval and insisted Bogart play Mantee on film.
The movie won Bogart acclaim and a Warners studio contract. But the studio proceeded to cast him as — surprise! — gangsters and other unsavory outsiders.
He hated being typecast.
Bogart Stars in The Maltese Falcon, Often Considered the First Film Noir
1941 brought Bogart’s next breakthrough, the landmark film noir The Maltese Falcon. Screenwriter John Huston was making his directorial debut with the twice-before filmed Dashiell Hammett detective story.
Huston and Bogart were a cinematic dream team and the movie was not only a hit — it also helped establish the Bogart persona mixing tough-mindedness and idealism.
The rest of the 1940s pretty much belonged to Bogart.
Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca
In 1942 came the wartime melodrama of intrigue, romance and patriotism, Casablanca, considered among the greatest of Hollywood films. Directed by Michael Curtiz and featuring a remarkable cast, Casablanca took the Best Picture Oscar.
As world-weary, cynical saloon keeper Rick Blaine, “Bogie” reclaims his idealism while sacrificing a star-crossed love. Bogart and Warners had found a character template for the ages. But amazingly, Bogart lost out on the much-deserved Best Actor statuette, which went instead to Paul Lukas for Watch on the Rhine.
(The role in Casablanca fit Bogart like a custom suit, reflecting his personal disdain for pretension, authority and anything “phony.” Not coincidentally, while Bogart felt compelled to wear a toupee on screen starting in the early 40s, he refused to wear it off camera. And he didn’t give a damn about being photographed without it.)