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10 Things You Might Not Know About Bogie & Bacall’s Romance

A new book explores Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and their legendary Hollywood love story


spinner image left the book cover for bogie and bacall by william j mann right actor humphrey bogart and his wife actress lauren bacall on board their yacht in nineteen forty six
Harper / Photo via John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

When Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall met on the set of the 1944 film To Have and Have Not, an improbable love affair began between the actor, then 45 and in his contentious third marriage, and his sultry costar, who was only 19 and appearing in her first picture. 

They quickly became Old Hollywood’s most celebrated couple, headlining film noir classics such as The Big Sleep, and remaining married until Bogart’s death in 1957 of esophageal cancer (Bacall died in 2014 at 89) — despite the famous rockiness of their relationship. 

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Author William J. Mann explores the lives of these two unforgettable stars from film’s Golden Age in his new book, Bogie & Bacall: The Surprising True Story of Hollywood's Greatest Love Affair. Mann drew on the couple’s newly opened personal and business files, consulted the papers of their pals Katharine Hepburn and John Huston, and interviewed the couple’s friends, many of whom wouldn’t talk while Bacall was still alive.

The result is a frank portrait, including descriptions of Bogart’s alcoholism and an insecurity that the star masked with his tough-guy persona, according to Mann. “The Humphrey Bogart the world remembers — the hard-boiled antihero of The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and The African Queen — made it all look so easy, but in fact he had spent a long time mastering his craft, first on the stage and then adapting those skills for the movie camera,” he writes. 

The author says he’s not aiming to “tear their legend down” but to understand the couple’s story. To that end, he tries to sort out the truth from myth — some of which appears to have been concocted by the principals themselves (particularly Bacall) and Hollywood moneymakers. 

Here are 10 things you might not know about the film legends, as depicted in the book.

1. Bacall, who was Jewish, faced antisemitism in Hollywood.

She was born Betty Joan Perske, the much-loved daughter of Natalie Weinstein Bacal, a Romanian immigrant, and William Perske, both of whom were Jewish. After her father left the family when Betty was a small child, she was raised in Brooklyn by her mother and her solicitous extended family. “Being Jewish had always just been a given for her, like being right-handed,” Mann writes. But Bacall lost an early modeling job due to casual antisemitism. Even in the entertainment industry, few actors at the time were openly Jewish. But Mann writes that before they married Bacall asked Bogart if it mattered to him that she was Jewish, and Bogie was stunned that she even felt the need to raise the issue.  

2. Lauren was always Betty at heart.

When Bacall got to Hollywood (on the strength of a stunning photo spread in Diana Vreeland’s Harper’s Bazaar), To Have and Have Not director Howard Hawks told her to change her first name to Lauren to fit with the “little minx type” the studio was promoting for her. “He wanted me to tell everyone when the interviews began that it was an old family name, had been my great-grandmother’s,” Betty recalled later, scoffing at the invention. She didn’t like the name and didn’t use it herself; nor did her friends and family or even reporters. She was always “Betty,” except when she signed her 8-by-10 glossies, Mann writes.

(She added an extra l to Bacal to make it easier to pronounce correctly; people kept rhyming her name with “cackle.”)  

3. Bogart had a chilly childhood.  

Born in 1899, he grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, son of an upper-middle-class family with prized social connections. His father was a doctor to the toffs, his mother a successful commercial artist, but Mann documents how they were cold and disapproving parents who withheld affection, not picking their son up to comfort him when he cried as an infant, for example. It affected his relationships with his own children and contributed to his lifelong problems with insecurity and self-doubt, Mann argues. After flunking out of two posh schools, Bogart stumbled into theater acting as a youth and took to it, having decided it was the only thing he was good at besides sailing and drinking.   

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4. He drank – a lot.

One of his friendly biographers described Bogart’s life as “an extended hangover.” He began drinking and smoking as a youth and didn’t stop until he died, long before the health dangers were fully known. But the effects on Bogart’s body and face were obvious, to say nothing of his relationships with his wives, children, friends and colleagues. He looked older than he was, lost his hair early and had to wear wigs, and suffered from what would later be called erectile dysfunction. “At one point, his alcoholism threatened everything he was on the verge of achieving” in terms of megastardom, Mann writes.  

5. But Bogart wasn’t always the “cynical tough guy” he often portrayed. 

The “real Bogart was gentler, more romantic, more yearning than the legend admits,” Mann writes. In fact, he was kind of a softy. As an example, Mann cites how Bogart’s “gentle side” came out the day he and Bacall got married, in May 1945. “Bogie shed tears all through the ceremony,” Bacall once told an interviewer, according to the author. “He cries at weddings. He’s very cute about it.”  

6. The couple was among the first celebrities to become political activists. 

They stood up for democracy under threat in the late 1940s when the House Committee on Un-American Activities imagined Reds under every Hollywood bed. They went to Washington to publicly protest and to support their friends in the Hollywood Ten who had been targeted in this surge of anti-Communist paranoia. Their authentic outrage at the committee’s mischief bonded Bogart and Bacall early in their marriage with a shared view about the First Amendment and freedom of expression. “They had revealed themselves as persons of conscience. That, too, has served their legend,” Mann argues.   

But they eventually backed down in the face of public criticism, studio fears and threats. They called a press conference to say they despised Communists “just as any other decent American does.”    

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7. Bogie had a love affair with his wigmaker.  

Bogart was mostly faithful to his wives, but before his third divorce and his marriage to Bacall he was in a three-year secret affair with Arizona-born Verita “Pete” Peterson. Bogie later got the studio to hire her as a wigmaker, assigned to make and fit his increasingly necessary toupees on his movie sets. Smart and independent, she could match him drink for drink, but she never saw his marriage to Bacall coming — and he never said goodbye. She read about it in the newspaper.   

8. Bacall fell for Frank Sinatra.  

The Bogarts were close friends with Sinatra, and Bacall leaned on the younger star during her husband’s illness. After Bogart's death, they began a volatile relationship, but it was never clear that Sinatra returned her feelings. At some point, they became engaged, but when the news leaked to gossip columnist Louella Parsons, Sinatra was furious, blamed Bacall and dropped her, Mann reports. Sinatra’s handlers whispered that Bacall was a schemer trying to trap Sinatra, reflecting the misogyny of the era (and of Sinatra himself). Still grieving Bogie, she had left Hollywood by the end of 1958, moving to Europe and then back to New York, heartbroken and traumatized.  

9. She spent decades crafting the legend of their love story.  

Bacall lived for nearly 60 years after Bogart died, so she had plenty of time to shape their story as she liked. She did so more through omission — she didn’t focus on her father’s absence from her life or Bogart’s alcoholism, for instance — than invention, Mann writes. Her memoirs (she updated her first book, which was a National Book Award winner, twice) failed to deal fully with the Sinatra and Peterson episodes, for instance. By the time she died, she had ensured that her more romantic version of Bogie and his Baby was enshrined in public memory.  

10. She was tough — a “survivor.” 

When Bogie died, Bacall was just 32. In 1961 she married actor Jason Robards — another heavy drinker, whom she divorced in 1969 — and had a third child, Sam Robards (Stephen and Leslie Bogart were her first two). 

Her subsequent long career was packed with dozens of film and theater roles, winning her Tonys for her star turns in the musicals Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year (1981). She worked into her 80s, including in 2010’s All at Sea with Brian Cox, spending her last 10 years living in her apartment in the Dakota in Manhattan with her dog. “For all her mythologizing, Bacall truly did smash through barriers to become one of the great Hollywood survivors,” Mann writes. 

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