It seems as though almost every Hollywood romance involved at least a 20-year age gap between lovers. Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart were 25 years apart in age, but it didn’t get in the way of their iconic, happy-yet-short-lived marriage. The age difference was actually the least of their worries.
Bogart had a laundry list of failed marriages, and Bacall put her career on hold in order to focus on their relationship. In the end, Bacall wrote in her memoir, “No one has written a romance better than we lived it.” So, what was so special about these two? And how did he win her over, considering she admitted to feeling “no lightning bolt” when she first met him.
When Lauren Bacall first came to Hollywood, the 19-year-old wasn’t a fan of big-shot movie star Humphrey Bogart. Director Howard Hawks told Bacall that he wanted to use her in his next film with either Bogart or Cary Grant. Bacall, as candid as she was, admitted what her initial reaction was: “I thought, Cary Grant — terrific! Humphrey Bogart — yucch.”
As fate would have it, Hawks cast teenaged Bacall and 43-year-old Bogart in the 1943 film Passage to Marseille. “There was no clap of thunder, no lightning bolt,” she wrote in her memoir. Okay, so that was a dud. But things changed once the same director cast the two of them in To Have and Have Not.
A few weeks before they began filming their second movie together, Bogart told Bacall not to worry – they’d “have a lot of fun together.” He must have gotten to her because on the first day of shooting, Bacall was full of fear and nerves. Still, Bogart helped calm her down. One thing she learned was to tuck her chin down to hide her shaking.
This meant that she had to look up at Bogart — something that became known as “The Look.” On set, the two costars developed a rapport, joking around and flirting with each other. Observers noticed how Bogart became “giggly” around his female costar.
What ended up happening was that Howard Hawks changed the original ending of To Have and Have Not in order to show off Bogart and Bacall’s undeniable chemistry. The movie was actually filmed chronologically, which was an uncommon move for a Hollywood director to make. What it did, though, was provide a showcase for the growing connection between Bogart and Bacall.
If there’s one scene in the movie that made it indisputable that something was happening between these two, it was the one where Bacall says the line, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.” Yup. Magic.
The original ending of the film was supposed to see Bogart’s character swoon over another woman. But Hawks couldn’t ignore the spark he saw between his main stars, and so he changed the screenplay to have Bogart’s character sticking with Bacall’s. Bacall stated in 2007, “Chemistry — you can’t beat chemistry.”
Three weeks into filming To Have and Have Not, at the end of a day of shooting, Bogart was in Bacall’s dressing room, and the pair were talking and laughing. He then leaned in to kiss her. When he asked for her phone number, she wrote it down on the back of a matchbook. So Old Hollywood, right?
Bacall told Parade magazine in 1997 that from that moment on, she would get phone calls, sometimes at 3 a.m. “My mother used to say, ‘Where do you think you’re going so early in the morning? That man, he’s a married man!’” Not only did every Hollywood romance seem to involve major age differences, but the men were also almost always involved themselves!
Despite his obvious feelings for Bacall, Bogart was – and remained – married to his third wife, actress Mayo Methot. The couple had been together since 1938, and their heavy drinking and fighting resulted in their being dubbed “the Battling Bogarts.”
Story has it that their fights would get so destructive that a handyman was on call to repair any damages. Methot had a knack for throwing phonograph records and once told a reporter that they made “such a satisfactory crash.” In 1942, the Battling Bogarts reached a boiling point, and Methot literally stabbed him.
Bogart and Bacall had to keep their budding romance hush-hush, and so their regular rendezvoustook place in cars parked on dimly lit streets, at golf clubs, and during breaks on set. They nicknamed each other “Slim” and “Steve,” which were their characters’ names in To Have and Have Not. Bogie also liked to call her “Baby.”
After the film wrapped up in the spring of 1944, Bogart sent Bacall a letter that read, “I know what was meant by ‘To say goodbye is to die a little’ because when I walked away from you that last time and saw you standing there so darling, I did die a little in my heart.”
The secret lovers continued to see each other throughout the summer, but Bogart felt a duty to stick with his violent wife and his miserable marriage. The light at the end of the tunnel was the next film he and Bacall would costar in.
Bacall and Bogart reunited for their third film in 1944 called The Big Sleep, and their connection was even stronger this time around. Their relationship was becoming undeniable, but they had major obstacles in the way, like his marriage and her mother’s disapproval.
Then, there was Hawks, the director, who seemed to be interested in romancing Bacall himself. It should be noted that he, too, was married (go figure). He insisted that Bogart didn’t have real feelings for the screen siren and went so far as to threaten to sell her contract to a lesser-known studio.
Bogart stood up to the director, battling him to the point that the head of the studio had to be called in. Bacall, watching it all go down, was worried about what would happen – with the film and with her and Bogart’s relationship.
Bogart told Bacall that his wife promised him that she would stop drinking; he wanted to give her another chance. “I said I’d have to respect his decision, but I didn’t have to like it,” Bacall wrote in her memoir. Nonetheless, their chemistry was still there. Eventually, Bogart left his wife.
Bogart left his wife, only to return to her shortly thereafter. His back-and-forth left Bacall so fatigued from all the crying that she needed to ice her eyes before going in front of the cameras. During one of the “together” periods with his wife, Bogart called Bacall at 3 a.m.
Methot caught him in the act and jumped on the line to yell at Bacall: “Listen, you Jewish b***h, who’s going to wash his socks?” It didn’t take long after that incident for Bogart to finally call it quits with Methot. By the end of 1944, he had come to a final decision.
He wasn’t happy about ending his third failed marriage, but it came to the point that he was missing work and disrupting the filming schedule, which wasn’t like him. After Christmas that year, his marriage to Methot was kaput.
Their divorce was official as of May 10, 1945, and on May 21, 45-year-old Bogart and 20-year-old Bacall walked down the aisle at a friend’s farm in Ohio. At the ceremony, they were addressed as “Humphrey” and “Betty Joan” (her real name was Betty Joan Bacal). Bogart reportedly cried during their vows and greeted Bacall with a “Hello, Baby.” She said, “Oh, goody,” in response.
Their marriage was one of the greatest film star weddings of all time, and it took place on a farm, of all places. And it was something of a breath of fresh air during what was a tense yet hopeful moment in American history. The victory in Europe happened just two weeks prior.
A hungry and exhausted nation was dreading a final confrontation with Japan while also counting down the days until life would be normal again. The man who hosted the wedding was Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield.
In 1938, Bromfield turned 600 acres of eroded farm into a thriving cooperative and 19-room farmhouse called Malabar, and no movie star came to the place as regularly as Bogart. In 1942, a visiting reporter described the film star in his cardigan and fedora, “warily” feeding the cattle while trying to seriously listen to Bromfield.
Bogie, a New Yorker, was no farm boy, but he was amused by how much pleasure Bromfield got out of his fields. Once asked about his friends, Bogart said that he hated all the Hollywood “phonies” and preferred real “characters” — “wonderful guys like Louis Bromfield.”
During the first part of WWII, Bogart and his third wife Methot would visit Malabar often. Since the two would often fight, Methot had to find whatever happened to be lying around to throw at Bogie’s head. Bromfield’s daughter Ellen remembered one particular incident during one of the Battling Bogarts’ visits.
“One of my mother’s favorite Venetian lamps went whizzing past Bogie’s ear, and in an instant, the entire room exploded into a cyclone of books, ashtrays, and whiskey bottles,” Ellen recalled. Bogie once wrote a letter to Bromfield, confiding in him his angst over his marriage and affair with Bacall.
In his confessional letter to Bromfield, in which he jokingly addressed Bromfield as “Dear Father Bromberg,” Bogart wrote: “She’s too old for me, and I’m too young to be married.” In January 1945, after wrapping The Big Sleep, Bogart went on a two-week retreat at Malabar to decompress and plan his next steps.
Bacall then came to meet him on the farm later that month. Gossip columnists had already started reporting on the pair’s affair, and Bogart finally fessed up. When asked if he wanted to marry the young actress, he said, “You’re God damn right. But I’m not divorced yet, so we’ve got to put it off.”
The press was a bit confused. One newspaper report stated: “The mystery of the week in Hollywood was why Humphrey Bogart journeyed 2,000 miles to an Ohio farm to announce his romance.” After the lovers’ visit to the farmhouse, Bromfield “insisted” that, when the time came, the two should get married at Malabar.
Bacall thought it was a “lovely idea.” When the time did come, requests for invitations poured in “by the hundreds,” Bromfield’s secretary stated. People were asking if they could “help out” with the preparations, like a wedding singer who volunteered to come at his own expense and a group of sorority sisters who wanted to help Bacall with her makeup.
Newspapers from all over the country were following the event closely. “Today’s the Day!” read one headline. You would think the King and Queen were getting married with how much hype was surrounding the event.
Before the ceremony, the couple had to get blood tests and then headed to the courthouse for the marriage license. “Bogie and I were ridiculous, holding hands like teenagers (I almost was one),” Bacall later wrote. Bacall started to feel nervous, so she ran a bath. She then went old school and did what wedding tradition entailed…
She laid out something blue – a slip with her name embroidered on it; something old – a bracelet; something borrowed – a handkerchief from her mother; and finally, something new – everything else she put on. In her simple wedding dress, she looked even younger than she did on screen.
Right before she was about to walk down the aisle, she ran to the bathroom. “Where is she?” barked Bogart from downstairs, dressed in a plain gray flannel suit and tie. The secretary then barked back: “She’s in the can.” Finally, she emerged and walked down the stairs, almost falling from how shaky she was.
The couple had two children together, the first was Stephen in 1949, who was named after Bogart’s character in the first film they made together. Their next child was daughter Leslie born in 1952. Parents Bogart and Bacall clashed over some things, of course, like how much time Bogart spent on his boat.
In general, however, they were happy together. Bacall later wrote that when she was married to Bogie – as she called him – Hollywood shook its head and moaned, “It won’t last.” Sure, it was a recipe for disaster with their ages and his history, but the two were legitimately in love.
Bogart and Bacall made two more films together: 1947’s Dark Passage and 1948’s Key Largo. Bacall was no longer focused on acting, though. “Bogie was an old-fashioned man,” she said in 1979. “He kidded that a woman’s place was in the home, but he was only half kidding.”
Bogart had married and divorced three actresses before Bacall, convinced that “a career and marriage don’t mix.” Bogart proudly stated in an interview at the time that Bacall was his wife, “so she stays home and takes care of me.” Whether she truly wanted to or not, Bacall sacrificed her career to be Mrs. Humphrey Bogart.
She made sacrifices like accompanying him on location so he could shoot The African Queen in 1951 with Katharine Hepburn. Bogart earned his only Academy Award for Best Actor, so it was worth it for him. But it meant that Bacall had to leave their young son behind.
Still, Bacall had no regrets about her decision – or so she said. She told The Guardian that if she only had her career, she “would have missed out on Bogie, on children, on the very substance of life.” In another interview, she stated that she’s glad she put their marriage first “because it didn’t last too long.”
Bogart was the Rat Pack’s founding member and original leader. In 1955, after a long Las Vegas party with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Michael Romanoff, David Niven, Angie Dickinson, and others, it was Bacall who looked around and said: “You look like a goddamn rat pack.”
The name clearly stuck and was made official when the pack was at Romanoff’s in Beverly Hills. Sinatra was made the pack leader; Bacall was the den mother; Bogart the director of public relations, and Sid Luft was the “acting cage manager.” When asked what the group’s purpose was, Bacall said: “To drink a lot of bourbon and stay up late.”
11 seems to be an interesting number in this couple’s lives, as Bogart died 11 years into their marriage. He was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in 1956, and while he went through surgery, he remained very ill.
Naturally, Bacall took care of him. On January 14, 1957, he passed away, making her a widow at age 32. “Bogie’s death was devastating, but I had to focus on my two young children,” she declared in 1981. For her, it was “kind of constructive” to have something to work on. She also worked on her romantic life. She was only 32, after all.
After Bogie’s death, Bacall was briefly engaged to Frank Sinatra. It’s debatable, but an unauthorized biography of Sinatra noted that their affair started while Bogart was ill. According to Bacall, she and Ol’ Blue Eyes were just friends at the time.
In an interview with Turner Classic Movies, Bacall asserted that she ended things with Sinatra, but in her memoir, she wrote that Sinatra was the one who suddenly ended the relationship. It happened after hearing that his marriage proposal was leaked to the press, and he believed it was Bacall who spilled the beans.
Bacall wrote two memoirs, Lauren Bacall by Myself in 1978 and Now in 1994. In her first book, she recalled the moment when she was with her friend Irving “Swifty” Lazar, and they bumped into gossip columnist Louella Parsons to whom Lazar revealed the news of the engagement.
Bacall wrote that Sinatra only learned the truth years later when it was already too late. She married her second husband, Jason Robards, in 1961. Their wedding was supposed to take place in Vienna, Austria, but they were met with a delay when Austrian authorities refused to grant them a marriage license.
They weren’t allowed to marry in Austria because Robards failed to produce divorce documents from his previous marriage, and Bacall failed to produce Bogart’s death certificate. The couple was also refused a wedding in Las Vegas, Nevada, believe it or not, because of documentation issues similar to those in Austria.
And so, they drove to Ensenada, Mexico, in July 1961, where they were officially wed. Bacall and Robards were married for eight years, until their divorce in 1969. According to Bacall’s memoir, she divorced him because of his alcoholism.
Bacall had one child with Robards, Sam Robards, in 1961 – the year they married (which only means it was a “shotgun” wedding). While Bacall fell in love with other men in her life, it was Bogie who really stole her heart and remained there forever.
She was always aware of how much she stayed tied to Bogart, telling Vanity Fair in 2011 – three years before her death – that her obituary is “going to be full of Bogart, I’m sure.” She once said, “I was so lucky when I was young. What happened to me then sometimes happens to people when they’re older, and sometimes never happens. So, I feel lucky that I had it at all.”
Bacall and Bogart’s firstborn (in 1949) went into a career in insurance at first. He studied mass communications and eventually pursued a career in TV news. At 39, he became a producer for NBC’s Sunday Today. He’s the one who oversees the management of the estate of his late father.
Stephen (named after Bogart’s character in To Have and Have Not) once wrote that his mother “was a lapsed Jew” and his father “a lapsed Episcopalian.” He said he and his sister were raised Episcopalian because his mother “felt that would make life easier for Leslie and me during those post-World War II years.”
Leslie Bogart (named after actor Leslie Howard) was born in 1952. The actor was a close friend of Humphrey Bogart’s. Apparently, he chose the name for his newborn daughter after Howard refused to appear in the 1936 film The Petrified Forest unless the studio signed Bogart to play Duke Mantee.
When Leslie was born, Bogart’s way of showing his friendship and gratitude was by naming his daughter after him. Talk about a grand gesture! Leslie is married to author and yoga master Erich Schiffmann.
And now for an early look at Bacall and Bogart…
She was born Betty Joan Perske in 1924 in the Bronx, New York City, as an only child. Her parents were Jewish; her Romanian mother was a secretary who legally changed her last name to Bacal, and her Belarussian father worked in sales.
Bacall’s parents separated when she was five, and she never saw her father after that. The actress later added an “l” to her last name. Raised to be a “good Jewish girl” by her family of lawyers, Bacall was a go-getter and a dreamer just who knew the stage was where she was meant to be.
Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born on Christmas Day in 1899 (but his birth date has been disputed) in New York City as the eldest child of wealthy parents. The name “Bogart” is from the Dutch name “Bogaert” as he came from Dutch descent.
It’s been reported that the Warner Bros. publicity department changed Bogart’s birth date to January 23, 1900. Why? Apparently it was “to foster the view that a man born on Christmas Day couldn’t really be as villainous as he appeared to be on screen.” Oh, the powers of Hollywood.
Bacall was busy taking acting lessons and even dated a young Kirk Douglas. But when she wasn’t working on her craft, the teenager could be found hanging around legendary Broadway hangouts like Sardi’s, trying to meet producers.
“There I’d stand outside, stopping all and sundry to buy my products,” she wrote. She would wait for the chance to meet a producer, actor, “anyone who might help me get a job.” By 1941, the awkward young girl turned into an exotic beauty who caught the eye of Harper’s Bazaar editor Diana Vreeland.
Bacall went on a trip to St. Augustine for a photo shoot, and then she and Vreeland squeezed onto a packed train headed back to New York. Bacall recalled just how hilarious the trip was, having to crowd the whole group onto the train, leaning on Vreeland to make space.
Bacall’s photos wound up in a spread in Harper’s and luckily, it drew Hollywood’s interest. Soon enough, she was heading to California to meet director Howard Hawks. Her whole family conjured before she left to start her new life. “They all had faith in me. They all loved me,’’ she wrote.
Bogart was obviously born long before Bacall, and his upbringing was quite different than hers. His father was a cardiopulmonary surgeon, and his mother was a commercial illustrator and later art director of The Delineator fashion magazine.
She once used a drawing of baby Humphrey in a commercial for Mellins Baby Food. They lived in an Upper West Side apartment. Their cottage was a 55-acre estate in upstate New York, and little Humphrey and his friends would put on plays in front of the lake. Bogie’s upbringing wasn’t the warmest of childhoods…
Bogie had two younger sisters, Frances and Catherine Elizabeth, and their parents fought constantly. Their mother, Maud, showed little emotion towards her children. She would tell them to call her “Maud” instead of “Mother,” for instance.
When she was pleased with something Bogart did, she would clap him on the shoulder and say, “almost the way a man does.” He recalled once: “I was brought up very unsentimentally, but very straightforwardly. A kiss, in our family, was an event. Our mother and father didn’t glug over my two sisters and me.”
Bogart said he was teased as a boy for his curly hair, his tidiness, and the “cute” pictures his mother made him pose for. Then there were all the Little Lord Fauntleroy clothes she dressed him in, not to mention his first name – something quite uncommon for boys, even in those days.
Of all the things he inherited (including a knack for fighting in relationships), he had tendency to needle, developed a fondness for fishing, and a love of boating. If her inherited anything from his father, it was definitely his attraction to strong-willed women.
Bogart attended a private school (Delancey) until the fifth grade, and then went to Trinity. He became an indifferent, gloomy type of student who had no interest in after-school activities. He later attended a boarding school (Phillips Academy), and although his parents wanted him to go on to Yale University, Bogart dropped out after one semester, in 1918.
As it turns out, studies weren’t his forte; he failed four out of his six classes. Legend has it Bogie was expelled for throwing the groundskeeper into Rabbit Pond on campus. Another story cites his smoking, drinking, poor academic performance, and inappropriate comments made to the staff as the reason.