Bogie Checks in
Humphrey Bogart was a relative unknown outside Broadway circles when he left New York for Hollywood in September 1935. Warner Brothers had hired him to reprise his role in the hit Broadway production of “The Petrified Forest.” It was a one-picture deal, so he assumed he’d be on the Coast for a three-month stay and then return home to New York and his wife, the actress Mary Philips. That was the plan but as it happened he would live in Los Angeles for the rest of his life.
He checked into the Garden of Allah as soon as he arrived. He’d been friendly in the 1920s with Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and other members of the Algonquin Round Table, whom he’d gotten to know in speakeasies and while out and about in the city. Like them, Bogie liked to drink, and it’s likely the relaxed, free and open atmosphere at the Garden appealed to him.
Bogart would live along the Sunset Strip for the next 11 years, including a return residency at the Garden ten years later. He was in for one of the most tumultuous periods of his life. Marriages number two and three would end and number four – the keeper, with Lauren Bacall – would begin.
He would also appear in over 40 films, mostly for Warners, many of which – “Casablanca” (1942), “To Have and To Have Not” (1944) and “The Big Sleep” (1946) among many others – would become classics of American film. He would become – not just a star – he’d become one of the enduring stars, the immortals.
Humphrey Bogart was born Christmas Day 1899 in Manhattan. His father was a surgeon and his mother was Maud Humphrey, a well-known commercial artist. He attended private schools, but was prone to misbehavior almost from the start. “I always liked stirring up things, needling authority,” Bogart later said. “I guess I got it from my parents. They needled everyone, including each other.”
He served in the Navy during WWI. When his service ended, he got a job stage managing a touring theatrical company. His first acting experiences came through understudying minor roles. He was soon cast in small roles, however, gradually developing into a serviceable Broadway actor. By 1924, he was playing leads and getting good notices.
Acting left Bogart with plenty of free time to pursue what would become lifelong predilections, drinking and women. One of his favorite haunts was Tony’s, a speakeasy in Midtown that was popular with theatre types and writers, like the journalist and future movie producer Mark Hellinger, as well as members of the Algonquin Round Table, one of whom, theatre critic Alexander Woollcott, was a friend of Helen Menken, a popular and well-connected actress Bogart was dating and would soon marry. Wollcott was a founder of the Algonquin Round Table and through him Bogie met Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and others in the group.
Bogie and Helen met in 1924 on a production in which she was starring and Bogart stage managing. They were married on May 20, 1926, in her suite at the Gramercy Park Hotel. Helen was the first of four actresses with strong personalities Bogart would marry. But she was more successful and slightly older, and in the end the chemistry was not right. They divorced after eighteen months but would remain friends long afterward.
Within five months, Bogart, now 27, had fallen in love and married again, this time to Mary Philips, age 25. She was a classic beauty, whip smart and was said to have been able to keep up with him drink for drink. She was successful but not dramatically more so than he. Between 1930 and 1935, Mary appeared in at least a dozen plays on Broadway.
Bogie appeared in nearly as many, the last of which was “The Petrified Forest.” Written by Algonquinite Robert Sherwood, it opened on January 7, 1935, and ran for 197 performances, closing in June 1935. Reviewers singled out Bogart for his nuanced performance as the gangster Duke Mantee. The attention nearly upstaged the lead, his friend Leslie Howard, who was also the play’s producer.
Playing the heavy in “The Petrified Forest” would prove to be Bogart’s first star-making turn. Leslie Howard was well-established by then, a British actor who in four years would become internationally famous for playing Scarlett O’Hara’s mad crush in “Gone with the Wind.”
Howard controlled the rights to the play, and when the show closed he sold the movie rights to Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers hired Howard to reprise his leading role as a world traveler who stumbles upon trouble in the Arizona desert, but filled the other roles with contract players. Bette Davis replaced Peggy Conklin as the wistful young daughter of the owner of the café where the action takes place.
Edgar G. Robinson was slated to replace Bogart as the gangster Duke Mantee. But Leslie Howard insisted that Bogart reprise the role in the film. Warners relented and hired Bogart at a weekly salary of $750 (over $17,000 today). Bogart would never forget the debt of gratitude he owed Leslie Howard.
Production wrapped on “The Petrified Forest” in December. Warner publicists began to worry about their new player’s public image. He drove a used Chevrolet, and his clothes were old, frayed and out of style. But Bogart waved them off. “I’ve seen too many guys come here, make one picture, and blow themselves to Cadillacs,” he said.
In New York, Mary Philips had opened in “A Touch of Brimstone” around the time Bogart was settling in at the Garden of Allah. After the play closed in December, she joined Bogie in Hollywood and spent the holidays and his birthday with him. She left soon afterwards at the end of February and opened in the Broadway premiere of “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” playing the murdering, adulterous waitress Cora — the role played by Lana Turner, in the 1946 film version, and Jessica Lange, in the 1981 remake.
“The Petrified Forest” also opened in February to strong box office and critical reception. Bogart, listed fifth in billing, nearly stole the show again. “There should be a large measure of praise for Humphrey Bogart who can be a psychopathic gangster more like Dillinger than the outlaw himself,” the New York Times reviewer wrote.
Warners signed him to a twenty-six week contract at $550 a week (about $13,000 today). After a long career in supporting roles on Broadway and in movies, Humphrey Bogart, age 35, was on his way.
Mary returned to Los Angeles after “Postman” closed in April. They lived in Bogart’s villa at the Garden of Allah until July, when they rented a Spanish-style house on Horn Avenue in Shoreham Heights, an upscale development one block uphill above the Sunset Strip. Mary didn’t stay long. She was soon cast in “The Show Is On,” which opened on Broadway on December 25, Bogie’s birthday, and ran for eight months.
The Battling Bogarts
While she was away, Bogart reconnected with Mayo Methot, an acquaintance from Broadway. In December, Bogie and Mayo were cast in “Marked Woman,” which starred Bette Davis. Mayo was born in 1904 in Chicago and raised in Portland, Oregon. She began acting on Broadway in 1923, and made her first screen appearance in 1930. She had appeared in about 20 movies before “Marked Woman,” all in supporting roles.
Mayo checked a lot of boxes for Bogie. She was opinionated, liked to have a good time, loved to sail — her father was a sea captain — and liked to drink. But while Bogart was a maintenance boozer who paced himself, up to a point, Mayo kept going even after she was blotto. She had an unfortunate tendency to become angry and combative when she drank.
But they were besotted with each other, and a riotous affair ensued. “He met Mayo, fell into something with her (drink and bed, I should think),” Lauren Bacall, the fourth Mrs. Bogart, wrote in her memoir. He “warned Mary not to come out, then went to Chicago, where she was in a play with Roland Young. He got there and found that they were having an affair, and that was the end of their marriage.”
Mayo was married, too. Her husband, Percy Morgan, and his brother John had recently opened the Cock ‘N Bull, a British-style tavern on the Sunset Strip, a mile west of Bogart’s house on Shoreham Drive. The double extramarital affair soon became fodder for gossip. An item in the Times in May 1937 noted that “Humphrey Bogart [was] spotted at the Billy Wilkerson’s Vendome restaurant in Hollywood, with Mayo Methot, the girl he’s supposed to marry when his divorce troubles are over.”
The troubles ended in a Los Angeles courtroom three months later. At the hearing, Mary testified that there were times when Bogart arrived home in the early hours of the morning and there were times when he arrived not at all. “With such grievances to tell,” the Times reported, “Mary Philips Bogart, former actress, obtained a divorce yesterday.” (Mary was hardly a “former actress.” “The Show Is On,” her most recent performance, had recently closed after a seven-month run.)
Mayo and Percy Morgan divorced, too, but California law required a yearlong wait before the divorces were final, so Bogie and Mayo had to wait to remarry. In the meantime, they were in effect engaged. “Gossips who predicted that the Humphrey Bogart-Mayo Methot romance wouldn’t last are all wrong,” a Times gossip item reported in October 1937. “They will be married as soon as both receive their finals — Bogart from Mary Philips and Miss Methot from Percy Morgan.”
They married in August 1938. The wedding day ended with the newlyweds making a spectacle of themselves by erupting into a loud, drunken argument at the reception. Bogart stormed out and stayed away all night. (Some accounts say he and some pals drove to Tijuana.) The next morning, in the sober light of day, they reconciled. It was their first public brawl as man and wife.
It wouldn’t be the last. Brawling in public would become their trademark, earning them the nickname “the Battling Bogarts” in the columns. But underlying tension would grow over the next few years as Mayo became increasingly unbalanced as her paranoia about Bogie’s backstage romances increased. Her fear would prove to be self-fulfilling, of course. As a result of his love for a beautiful, young leading lady, he’d return to the Garden of Allah in 1945, again after his marriage to Mayo fell apart