Feb 9, 2014

Humphrey Bogart Comes Out of the Closet

I just watched Casablanca (1942) again, about a suave American exile in World War II Morocco who helps his ex-girlfriend and her husband escape the Nazis, and was impressed by:
1. The war intrigue.  It's as important as the hetero-romance.
2. The gay subtexts.  Every man in Casablanca is in love with Rick, and the fade-out scene shows Captain Renault offering to go away with him, as he quips "This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
3. The humor.  Humphrey Bogart tosses out sardonic one-liners with the ease of a Woody Allen.  He could easily have been a comedian.

Bogie was the most famous actor of his generation, winning five Oscars for 86 film roles, mostly as suave, sophisticated guys with troubled pasts and passionate hetero-romances.  Also strong gay subtexts, at least in the movies I've seen:


Dead End (1937): Baby-faced gangster (Bogie) and architect (Joel McCrea) compete for the body and soul of a teenage hood.

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938): Same plot, only baby-faced gangster (James Cagney) and priest (Pat O'Brien).

The Maltese Falcon (1941): Detective Sam Spade (Bogie) wrests the mysterious statue from the hands of a gay criminal.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948):  Gold prospectors (Bogie, Tim Holt) get more than they bargained for.

Knock on Any Door (1949): Attorney Bogie is in love with his hunky young protege (John Derek, below).

I really should see Key Largo, The African Queen, The Caine Mutiny, Sabrina, The Barefoot Contessa, and We're No Angels.


There is also, apparently, a gay connection in real life.  Due to his lisp, sophistication, and feminine mannerisms, Bogie was often assumed gay.  Even if he wasn't, any male Hollywood star was bound to get lots of offers.  He rejected them with good-natured aplomb -- or, according to rumor, sometimes not.  After all, he had a prodigious sexual appetite, and even the most wealthy, talented, and attractive of heterosexual men sometimes has trouble finding enough women.  

The occasional guy amid his thousand or so women made Bogie wonder about his sexual identity, especially when he found himself impotent with second wife Mary Philips (1928-37).  Was he gay?  The thought filled him with self-loathing; he considered suicide.



Wait -- he had no problem with gay people, yet grew suicidal over the thought that he might personally be gay.  Something doesn't add up here.

This all comes from Darwin Porter's obviously fictionalized biography.  One doesn't find any references to Bogie being bisexual in earlier accounts of Hollywood "scandals."

But it's undeniable that Bogie was a gay ally -- or as allied as you could get in that era.  He frequented gay bars and had close friendships with gay men throughout his life, including Charles Farrell, Spencer Tracey, William Haines, Noel Coward, and even a young Truman Capote (who beat him at arm wrestling).

A life full of beautiful friendships.