Bogart was married three times before he met and married Lauren Bacall. His second marriage was to stage actress Mary Philips who came to Hollywood with him when he starred in “The Petrified Forest.” But Philips was not willing to let her own career go for his. Bogart resented it, so when she went back to the New York stage, he began seeing another actress —Mayo Methot. When Philips found out, she left him. Methot was straightforward, made Bogart laugh, and they both liked to drink, so in 1938 they married.
Bogart and wife Mayo Methot in 1940.
Happiness, if any, was short-lived. The press called them the “battling Bogarts,” after their legendary drunken fights. Methot was an antagonistic drunk, often calling out the masculinity of men who stopped drinking before she did. Bogart would take up her challenge, drink all night, then go to work without sleeping.
When John Huston convinced Warners to remake “The Maltese Falcon” saying that its first two versions hadn’t been done right, Bogart was cast after George Raft turned it down. The film made Bogart a star, and he was cast in Casablanca. None of the actors were very happy during shooting. Methot even jealously threatened to kill Ingrid Bergman. (For the record, they never had an affair.) Actress Louise Brooks claims Bogart’s unhappiness with Methot helped him harness emotions that made him a “compelling screen presence.” When Bogart came home one night to find Methot in a drunken rage, she lunged at him and stabbed him in the back with a butcher knife. Luckily, he sustained only a surface wound.
Mary Astor and Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, 1941. This was the third version of the Dashiell Hammett book in ten years. The first was made in 1931 and starred Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade, and the second, titled Satan Met A Lady in 1936 starred Warren William and Bette Davis.
His next movie, “To Have and Have Not,” would introduce a new love — Lauren Bacall.
Director Howard Hawkes was looking for a new actress for the film — a woman who could match Bogart’s cool demeanor and create a new kind of romantic tension. He found it in 19-year-old model, Betty Perske. Hawkes modeled Bacall after his wife. As podcaster Karina Longworth said, “the great irony was that in creating a movie star in the image of his wife, presumably to have an affair with, he created a perfect match both on and off screen for Bogart.” As Bacall later remembered, there was “no clap of thunder, no lightning bolt when they met, just a simple how-do-you-do.”
Young Bacall on set, year unknown.
Bacall was nothing like the worldly, self-assured character she played in the film. Inexperienced with acting and men, she was nervous to the point of shaking on set, and Bogart tried to get her to relax by joking with her. She found that keeping her chin down and her eyes up steadied her, which ironically read as strength on camera and became her trademark look. Whatever was going on between them seemed to be only on camera until one night Bogart came to say goodnight, took her chin into his hands and kissed her. She wrote her phone number on a book of matches, and later that night he called.
Bogart and Bacall in The Big Sleep, 1946.
Daily lunch dates became late-night meetings at her apartment. Gossip columnists visiting the set knew something was happening, and Bacall was warned about Bogart’s wife. Although Bogart told Bacall he was forced into marrying Methot, he felt guilty about leaving her and still went back when the shoot ended. They wrote love letters, and Bacall drove two hours to see him when he was stationed in the coast guard.
Bogart and Lauren Bacall on their wedding day May 21, 1945.
“To Have and Have Not” became a huge hit, making Bacall a sensation, and they were immediately cast again in “The Big Sleep.” The on again off again relationship was torturous. Bogart’s inability to make a break with the past only delayed the inevitable. He worried about competing with Bacall’s career, that she was too young, or he too old. To Peter Lorre he said, “She’ll be gone in five years.” Lorre responded, “Five years is better than nothing.” Bogart began divorce proceedings and sent Bacall a ring and a telegram that said, “Please fence me in baby — the world is too big, and I don’t like it without you.” Turns out they had twelve years and two children together before Bogart passed away from esophageal cancer three weeks after his 57th birthday.
Bogart and Lauren Bacall in Dark Passage, 1947.