Bogart Returns

Museum Without Walls
Humphrey Bogart with wives number two through four
Humphrey Bogart with wives number two through four: Mary Philips, Mayo Methot and Lauren Bacall

Battling Bogarts

In the spring of 1945, after months of drama, Mayo Methot relented to Humphrey Bogart’s demands and went to Reno. With wife number three on the way out and number four, Lauren Bacall, on the way in, Humphrey Bogart moved out of Sluggy Hollow, his home with Mayo on Shoreham Drive above the Strip, and moved back to the Garden of Allah.

It had been a decade, ten eventful years, since he left. Then, he was starting out after years of middling success on Broadway. Now Humphrey Bogart was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and a big moneymaker for Warner Brothers. He’d been divorced and remarried and was currently happily separated again. At age 44, he was in love with Lauren Bacall, 20, his co-star in “To Have and To Have Not.”

Five years earlier, and two years into his marriage to Mayo, Bogart was back to his old tricks — if they’d ever stopped — staying out all hours or not coming home at all. Mayo’s drinking took a serious turn downward. She was an angry and combative drunk. He responded by needling her. He called her “Sluggy.” The nickname stuck and became an inside joke. The house on the hill was known as “Sluggy Hollow.” Their dog was named Sluggy, and Bogie even christened his boat, Sluggy.

“Their neighbors were lulled to sleep by the sounds of breaking china and crashing glass,” Dorothy Parker, a frequent guest at Sluggy Hollow, once remarked. And gunfire. At cocktails one night, Bogart and his guests heard gunshots coming from upstairs. “Forget it,” Bogie deadpanned. “It’s just Mayo playing with her gun.”

Mayo once confronted Bogie with her .45 while he was packing for a trip. He escaped into the bathroom, locked the door and listened as she fired the gun several times. When the coast was clear, he found his suitcase riddled with bullet holes. At a party one night, she hurled a tumbler full of booze at him. When it barely grazed his head, he quipped, “It’s a good thing she’s a lousy shot.”

The gossip columns called them the “Battling Bogarts” because of the brawling in public. Out with friends one night, Bogie and Mayo left the club ahead of their party. When their friends came outside, they found Bogart pinned on the sidewalk under Mayo, who was banging his head against the concrete.

At dinner with David Niven and his wife at Cafe La Maze on the Strip, a drunken fan approached the table. Mayo, who’d also been drinking, fended him off with her shoe. Another night they dove under the table after Mayo instigated a melee. “Don’t worry,” Bogey told them, “Mayo’s handling it.”

Warners was keeping Bogart busy, but he sensed that his career had begun to stall. From 1938 to 1940 he appeared in over two dozen movies at Warner Bros. He played a lot of gangster roles in B pictures, a few of which have become classics — “Kid Galahad,” “Dead End” (the movie that introduced the Bowery Boys), “Angels with Dirty Faces” and a supporting role in the Bette Davis film, “Dark Victory.” But despite all the exposure, he had yet to break through.

Things began to turn around in 1940, when he and George Raft were cast as truck-driving brothers in “They Drive by Night,” with Ann Sheridan and Ida Lupino. This was followed by an even bigger hit. Teamed again with Ida Lupino, in “High Sierra” Bogart returned to familiar ground playing “Mad Dog” Roy Earle, a convicted murderer and bank robber out on parole. Like his career-changing performance as Duke Mantee in “The Petrified Forest,” Bogart added dimension to his portrayal, in this case by showing Mad Dog’s sensitive side.

Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in 'Casablanca,' 1943
Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in ‘Casablanca,’ 1943

The Big Time

Bogart followed up “High Sierra” with “The Maltese Falcon,” a classic Hollywood detective movie. The real breakthrough came in “Casablanca,” in 1942. It was his first romantic lead, playing opposite an especially luminous Ingrid Bergman.

But not everyone approved of the casting. Mayo Methot became convinced that Bogie and Ingrid were having an affair. In A drunken brawl at Sluggy Hollow, she stabbed him in the back with a kitchen knife. The studio sent a doctor over right away. As the doctor stitched him up, Bogart said, “Ain’t she a pistol?”

In the early years Bogart treated Mayo’s abuse lightly, even making jokes about it. And he dished it out too from time to time. But in the wake of the stabbing incident, they retreated from public. On his agent’s advice, Bogart took out a $100,000 life insurance policy but did not name Mayo as the beneficiary.

“I love a good fight,” he said, at the time. ”So does Mayo. We have some first-rate battles.” Maybe the make-up sex made it all worthwhile. Howard Hawks, Bogart’s director and friend, once asked him if he could get an erection without first fighting with Mayo.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, 'To Have or To Have Not,' 1944
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, ‘To Have or To Have Not,’ 1944

Lauren Bacall

Mayo Methot’s paranoia about Bogie’s on-set romances proved to be prescient. Bogart’s next picture was “To Have and To Have Not,” based on an Ernest Hemmingway novel. In April 1944, before filming began, the director, his friend Howard Hawks, introduced Bogart to his co-star, Hawks’ young protégée, 19-year-old co-star Lauren Bacall. As production commenced, an off-camera romance developed so quickly it caught them both by surprise. The chemistry between Bogart and Bacall on the screen would become the stuff of legend. It would soon come to light that – despite their 26-year age difference – the sparks that flickered on celluloid were real.

On-set romances rarely go unnoticed for long. Bogie often took Lauren to lunch at the Lakeside Golf Club near the studio in Toluca Lake. The Hollywood Reporter got wind of it and reported in a blind item, “You can have your B&B at lunch any day at Lakeside.” Columnist Hedda Hopper took Bacall aside and warned the young actress to be wary of Bogart’s wife. “Better be careful,” she said, “You might have a lamp dropped on you one day.” When Howard Hawks found out, he threatened to sell Lauren’s contract to Monogram Studios on Poverty Row.

They each went their own way after the movie wrapped. But when Warner Brothers executives saw their on-screen chemistry, they immediately wanted more. Bogart and Bacall were called in for their second film together, “The Big Sleep.”

Mayo took their reunion as an omen. Her drinking accelerated. She grew increasingly unstable. Bogart moved out and spent all his free time with Lauren, but after a while he returned home. This cycle repeated a few times.

One night, at three in the morning, Lauren’s phone rang. At first, Bogie was on the line, sounding a bit drunk. But then Mayo interrupted. “Listen, you Jewish bitch,” she snarled, “who’s going to wash his socks? Are you? Are you going to take care of him?” She unleashed a torrent of invective before Lauren recovered from the shock and hung up on her. They separated again. This time Mayo hired Jerry Geisler, the famous Hollywood “fix-it” lawyer.

On Christmas Day 1944, Bogie’s 45th birthday, he took Bacall up to the spacious Hollywood Hills home of his old friend, the New York columnist turned producer, Mark Hellinger, and his Mark’s wife, Gladys Glad, a former Ziegfeld showgirl. Also on hand were Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, a former top guy in Murder Inc., and his wingman, Allen Smiley. Bacall recalled that they were both “soft-spoken, polite. When Bogie told me Bugsy was underground-connected, I couldn’t believe it.”

Bogie made one more run at saving his marriage, but after the holidays, he left Sluggy Hollow forever. It was then, in March 1945, that he moved back to the Garden of Allah. He and Lauren made plans to get married.

In her memoir, By Myself and Then Some, Bacall recalled meeting Bogie’s friends at the Garden. Dorothy Parker disarmed her by “speaking softly and sweetly,” and Robert Benchley, whom she recalled as being “funny, kind, and vulnerable.” She often saw him in the morning “heading for the studio in his derby and black overcoat, briefcase under his arm, clearly trying very hard to walk in a straight line and not fall in the pool, thereby revealing the terrible hangover which everyone knew he had anyway.”

The Algonquins at the Garden “had wit, drank, were all lonely, all a little sad,” Bacall wrote. “I remember what struck me was their mutual enjoyment, their camaraderie. They laughed a lot, and their hands never held an empty glass … It did cross my mind that the reason they laughed so much was that they drank. Not falling-down drunk — they just drank steadily. How on earth was I going to cope? For all my flaming youth, the simple fact was I couldn’t keep up with them.”

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Bogart and Bacall were married on May 21 in Ohio at a farm owned by Louis Bromfeld, an early Garden resident. When they returned to the Garden, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley threw a party for them with wedding cake and champagne.

The next month, they moved into what Bacall called their “honeymoon house” on North Kings Road above the Strip. In the spring of 1946, they moved to a house in Benedict Canyon, a remote and rustic section of Los Angeles west of Beverly Hills.

“The Big Sleep” was released that same year. It was another hit and remains a classic of the detective genre. They made two more movies together, “Dark Passage” (1947) and “Key Largo” (1948) — and they had two children, Stephen and Leslie, their daughter, who was named after Bogart’s late friend, Leslie Howard.

They made a final move together to a house on Mapleton Drive in the exclusive Holmby Hills section of the Westside. In 1956, Bogie was diagnosed with cancer. He died on January 17, 1957. He had just turned 57 years old.

Mayo Methot succumbed to her alcoholism in 1951, dying alone in a motel room near Multnomah. She reportedly still had $50,000 (about half a million dollars in today’s money) in the bank.

Lauren Bacall continued working in film into her seventies. She also appeared on Broadway and wrote two memoirs. She died in New York in 2014.

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