Famous Veteran: Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart headshot.
Navy veteran Humphrey Bogart's only Academy Award for Best Actor was for his role in 'The African Queen.' This photo is from his role in 'Casablanca.'

"The trouble with the world is that it's always one drink behind."

Humphrey Bogart was born on Dec. 25, 1899, right before the turn of a new century. His father was a cardiopulmonary surgeon, and his mother a very successful illustrator.

His parents' income provided them an apartment building in New York and a small cottage near Canandaigua Lake, where Bogart and his friends put on plays. He attended only private schools but showed little interest in academics.

Bogart was on track to attend Yale, but he was expelled from Phillips Academy before he could transfer. Although there are a few different explanations as to why he left, Bogart was ultimately left with an incomplete education and few job prospects.

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Instead of attending a different school or looking for a civilian job, Bogart enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1918. It has been recorded that Bogart was a model sailor and spent most of his career ferrying troops between the U.S. and Europe.

Popular theory speculates that it was during his time in the Navy that Bogart received a scar to his lip and a resulting lisp. One account claims that his ship, the USS Leviathan, was shelled by the Germans, and a piece of shrapnel cut his lip.

Another account says Bogart was transporting a prisoner when the man smashed him in the face with his cuffs. A third explanation says that the prisoner swung at Bogart when one of his hands was freed.

Whatever happened, when Bogart saw a doctor about the injury, it had already formed a scar. He subsequently claimed that it was part of a childhood accident and that Hollywood studios played up the wartime tale in order to make Bogart seem tough.

In 1919, Bogart transferred from the Leviathan to the USS Santa Olivia. He missed the ship when it sailed for Europe, and he turned himself in to the Navy port authority.

Due to his prompt action, Bogart was not listed as a deserter and was recorded as being AWOL, for which he was punished with three days of solitary confinement and allowed nothing but bread and water to eat. Despite the infraction, he was honorably discharged on June 18, 1919, with the rank of seaman second class with a 3.0 performance rating in proficiency and 4.0 in sobriety and obedience.

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When Bogart returned home, he found that his values had grown independently of his family. Although he was still articulate, polite and hard-working, he detested pretension and snobbery. He rebelled and worked as a shipper, then bond salesman and eventually joined the Naval Reserve.

Through a childhood friend, he worked his way into show business. He tried screenwriting, directing and production, but wasn't successful in any of those fields.

Eventually, Bogart tried his hand at acting and discovered he had natural talent and enjoyed the work. He appeared on Broadway 17 times between 1922 and 1935.

He eventually worked his way into Hollywood; his breakout role came in the film “The Petrified Forest” in 1936. His roles veered toward tough-guy heroes and gangsters, which became a guidepost for the rest of his career.

During his career in show business, Bogart won an Academy Award for Best Actor in “The African Queen”  and drew upon his naval experience in one of his final films, “The Caine Mutiny.” which depicted a mutiny and subsequent trial aboard the USS Caine.

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Bogart suffered from esophageal cancer in the mid-1950s. By the time doctors examined him, the disease had spread too far for him to make a recovery. Bogart lapsed into a coma on Jan. 14, 1957, and died that night. He was 57.

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