Roger Lewis

Complicated and slightly creepy: the Bogart-Bacall romance

Bogart appears as a belligerent alcoholic and the much younger Bacall an arrogant manipulator in William J. Mann’s account of their ‘passionate’ love story

Bogart and Bacall met while making To Have and Have Not, the 1944 film directed by Howard Hawks, based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway. [Getty Images]

Whenever an actor and an actress begin an affair on the soundstage they like to believe they are the new Burton and Taylor. Actually they’ll be lucky to resemble Christopher Timothy and Carol Drinkwater, who had a fling on that vet programme – and now here are Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall to live up to as well. Of their love story, William J. Mann avers: ‘It was wonderful; it was passionate; it was complicated.’

Also, it was creepy. Bacall was 19, Bogart 45. There was a ‘significant power differential between them’ when they met in 1944 during the filming of To Have and Have Not. Mann is probably pointing the finger at Bogart, the established Hollywood star. Yet it is surely Bacall, the ingénue, who had potency and was the one in control, telling Bogart, with maximum suggestiveness, how to whistle: ‘You just put your lips together – and blow.’

Bogart would drink until he collapsed, and enjoyed ‘provoking fights just for the fun of it’

Bogart, we are told (several times) was always ‘wounded, vulnerable and filled with self-doubt’; he was ‘wounded and guarded’; he was ‘belligerent, wounded, lonely’. Why might this be? Because, born in 1899 of Dutch ancestry, though he had a pampered upbringing, his parents, New York blue bloods, spared him hugs. There was no parental affection from his father, a wealthy doctor addicted to morphine, or his mother, an illustrator of children’s books – hence Bogart’s ‘sadness, rage and an abiding sense of inferiority’. So there we are.

How pitiful having to be raised instead by servants, nannies and cooks. A weakling beaten by school bullies, Bogart was remembered as ‘sullen’ and ‘spoiled’. He was to be seen on a horse, trotting through Central Park attired in bespoke jodhpurs. In later life he’d be wary of anybody effeminate, telling reporters: ‘I never played theatre as a kid, and I didn’t like boys who did.

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