In 1943, Nancy Hawks spotted a 19-year-old model named Betty Bacall on the cover of the March edition of Harper's Bazaar. Fascinated by her sultry looks and "scrubbed clean, healthy, shining and golden" appearance, Nancy urged her husband, director Howard Hawks, to screen test Betty for the new picture he was working on, To Have and Have Not (1944), loosely based on the Ernest Hemingway 1937 novel of the same name. Hawks, too, was impressed with what he saw — so much so that he immediately brought Betty to Hollywood, where he began managing her career. Thereafter, he changed her name to the sexier-sounding "Lauren" and asked Nancy to advise her on clothing, shoes and general demeanor. Hawks also sent Betty to a voice coach to lower her naturally high-pitched, nasal voice to a deeper, sultrier tone. When both Hawkses were satisfied with their new protégée, Howard took Lauren to the set of To Have and Have Not and introduced her to the star of the picture, Humphrey Bogart. The meeting was pleasant enough, but — contrary to popular belief — nothing particularly steamy happened. "The first three, four weeks that we were working on the film, were were just working on the film, just having a good time," Lauren later recalled. "But certainly there was no romance of any kind. That just accidentally just kind of happened, much to my amazement and, I suppose, his as well."
|Bogie and Bacall in To Have and Have Not|
In To Have and Have Not, loosely based on the Ernest Hemingway 1937 novel of the same name, Bogart played Harry "Steve" Morgan, a fisherman and American expatriate living in the French colony of Martinique during the summer of 1940. One night at the hotel bar, he meets an attractive young American wanderer named Marie "Slim" Browning and quickly becomes smitten with her and she with him. They begin a whirlwind courtship, but their romance is complicated when Steve gets deeply involved with the French Resistance.
The affair between Bogart and Bacall began before anyone noticed, including the two of them. She would often write to her mother about him — how he would tell jokes to put her at ease during filming and how "very fond" he was of her. Fond was all he was until about three weeks into production. At the end of shooting one day, he went by her dressing room, leaned over, put his hand under her chin and kissed her. Then he took a book of matches out of his pocket and asked her to write her phone number on the back. And she did. After that, Bogie and Bacall began to see each other and grew closer and closer each day. They tried to be as discreet as they possibly could, but their electrifying body language and the way they delivered their dialogue immediately gave them away. Lauren was a safe haven for Bogie, who was terribly unhappy in his marriage to the actress Mayo Methot, whose unbalanced and violent nature would often put him in difficult situations. In contrast, Bacall, whom he called "Baby", was loving and caring, always ready to go to him whenever he called.
|In The Big Sleep|
After To Have and Have Not opened to great critical and financial success, Warner Bros. quickly capitalized on Bogart's pairing with Bacall by teaming them up again for the noir The Big Sleep (1946), which also reunited them with director Howard Hawks. Based on Raymond Chandler's 1939 novel of the same name, The Big Sleep stars Bogart as Philip Marlowe, a Los Angeles private detective investigating the involvement of a society girl, Vivian Rutledge (Bacall), in the murder of a pornographer. Shorty before filming began, Bogart put an end to the affair in hopes to salvage his marriage, or at least get Mayo to stop drinking, but the separation lasted only one month. Bogie and Bacall were too far gone on each other to stay apart. They were truly in love and the fact he was married, and even the variance in age (he was 25 years her senior), made absolutely no difference.
|Bogie and Bacall on their wedding day|
The end of filming on The Big Sleep coincided with the conclusion of Bogart's marriage to Mayo Methot. On May 21, 1945, eleven days after the divorce was granted, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall got married in the great hallway of the Malabar Farm in Lucas, Ohio, the country home of author and Bogie's close friend Louis Bromfield. Several days later, the Bogarts returned to California and settled in a furnished house in Beverly Hills.
Original planned for a 1945 release, the premiere of The Big Sleep was pushed back to capitalize on the "Bogie and Bacall" phenomenon, which had grown after their marriage. Also, Bacall's agent had asked that several portions of the film be reshot to enhance their chemistry and counteract the negative press she had received for her performance in Confidential Agent (1945). Upon its August 1946 release, The Big Sleep was a smash hit among audiences and critics alike, although some found its plot somewhat confusing and difficult to follow. But that did matter, because they felt that the electrifiying chemistry between Bogie and Bacall was more important than a well-told story.
|Publicity still for Dark Passage|
Bogart and Bacall's next pairing was Delmer Daves' suspenseful noir Dark Passage (1947). Bogie plays Vincent Parry, a innocent man framed for murdering his wife, who escapes prison to find the real killer. Along the way, Parry meets painter Irene Jansen (Bacall), who believes in his innocence and offers to help him. Despite its use of innovative cinematography and filming techniques, Dark Passage was released to disappointing reviews and box-office results.
The following year, the couple was cast in yet another film noir, Key Largo, their last picture together. In this John Huston production, Bogart plays ex-Major Frank McCloud, who travels to a hotel in Key Largo, Florida, to visit the family of a friend from the Army killed during the war. There, he meets his friend's widow, Nora Temple (Bacall), who runs the hotel with her father-in-law. When a hurricane hits the island, the hotel gets taken over by a mob of gangsters led by Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and confrontations soon ensure. Key Largo was another hit for Bogie and Bacall and went on to become one of the most iconic and celebrated gangster films of all time.
|As Nora and Frank in Key Largo|
In between films, Bogart and Bacall savored their marriage in the best of ways, with extensive travels through Europe and sailing trips in their 54-foot yacht, Santana.
He'd never had kind of a real marriage life, and the first few years we had the most wonderful time. It was a real three-year honeymoon.
|The Bogart family|
However, by the time Key Largo was made, the excitement seemed to have dulled a little. Until the day Lauren told him she was pregnant. Bogart was terrified of becoming a father. After all, he was 49 years old. How would he relate to a newborn at that age? When Stephen Humphrey Bogart (named after his father character in To Have and Have Not) was born in January 1949, all those doubts went away and Bogie wholeheartedly embraced his new role as a father. Three years later, the Bogart family welcomed a new member: a baby girl named Leslie Howard Bogart, in honor of Bogie's friend and mentor, Leslie Howard.
In the mid-1950s, Bogart develop a racking cough and started to find it painful to swallow, which led a considerable drop in weight. In January 1956, after much insistence from his friends and family, he finally agreed to see a doctor. The diagnosis came several weeks later and crushed everyone: Humphrey Bogart had esophageal cancer. An extensive surgery to remove his entire esophagus, two lymph nodes and a rib followed, but by then it was too late so stop the disease, even with chemoteraphy. With time, Bogie grew too weak to even walk up and down the stairs, but he fought the pain valiantly, with Lauren always at his side, making sure that he was comfortable and always refusing to accept the inevitable.
On January 13, 1957, after a visit from close friends Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Bogie fell into a coma and died the next day, at age 57. He was buried with a small, gold whistle once part of a charm bracelet he had given to Lauren before their marriage, on which was inscribed an allusion to an iconic line from their first film together. It read: "If you want anything, just whistle".
On August 12, 2014, he finally whistled.
What it felt like to be so wanted, so adored! No one had ever felt like that about me. It was all so dramatic, too. Always in the wee small hours when it seemed to Bogie and me that the world was ours — that we were the world. At those times, we were.
My tribute to Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall:
Tough Guy With a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart by Stefan Kanfer (2011) | Bogart: The Untold Story (1996)