What would you give to be a fly on the wall of an Old Hollywood cocktail party? Imagine witnessing the heavy haze of cigarette smoke, the actors in their tailored suits, and the fast-talking leading ladies holding court. Intermingled amongst the well connected, two of the most famous lovebirds only had eyes for each other: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
Their son never gets tired of hearing the line “Here’s looking at you kid.” That’s because reminiscing about his famous parents is actually a large part of his career. He understands that his position is a unique one, so he’s finally opened up about what it was like under the roof of Bogie and Bacall.
When Stephen Bogart first opened his baby blues in 1949, the little tyke had no clue he was already kind of a big deal. His parents were two of the most revered stars of the iconic Golden Age of Hollywood: Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart.
Previous to becoming a dad, Humphrey cemented his spot as acting royalty. His star took time to rise, but he quietly impressed in his initial acting roles. Evolving from Broadway to Hollywood films, Humphrey found the big break that defined him as a gangster extraordinaire in The Petrified Forest.
Audiences grew used to Bogie in tough-guy gangster roles, so it came as a pleasant surprise when Casablanca unveiled the romantic hidden beneath those heavy-lidded eyes. This tender side was all too familiar to his future wife — Lauren Bacall.
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Bacall herself won the hearts of audiences, critics, and Humphrey right from her silver screen debut. The first film she appeared in was their romance-adventure To Have and Have Not. From then on the pair were inseparable.
Early in their love story scandal reigned supreme: Humphrey was already married and Bacall was just 19 to his 44-years-old. Scheduling fueled their electric chemistry, as they continued right into subsequent production for their next film, The Big Sleep.
Three months after the ink dried on Bogie’s divorce papers, he and Bacall, whom he fondly called Baby, swapped vows in a quaint countryside ceremony on May 21st, 1945. But that didn’t slow down their careers.
During their honeymoon period, the actors made two more films together, Dark Passage and Key Largo. As their relationship grew stronger, they set their sights on a new milestone.
After sewing up their latest film romances, Bogart and Bacall decided it was time to start a family. Welcoming their son, Stephen Humphrey Bogart, named for a character in the movie they met making.
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Soon, the power couple welcomed a second child, daughter Leslie Howard, in 1952. Of course, they continued their tradition of using their films as name inspirations, taking hers from Bogart’s costar in The Petrified Forest.
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Leslie grew up and pursued totally not entertainment-related endeavors, becoming a nurse and passionate yogi. She shares her passions with husband, prominent yoga guru and author Erich Schiffmann.
The usually private, Leslie gave a rare interview to Harper’s Bazaar about her parents in 2015. She remembered, “My mother always described my father…as very sentimental and romantic. He often gave her beautiful jewelry — and almost every piece was engraved with a sweet sentence or thought and his initials or name.”
With three failed marriages in the books, it took Humphrey a while to find his truest love. Both of them publicly and privately adored each other. So, it was tragic and unfair that their marriage and family life came to an abrupt, and rather grim, end.
The film Goliath is remembered for his toughness and a particular brand of masculinity. But sadly, Bogie wasn’t invincible. When the doctor delivered the news his terminal diagnosis he felt destroyed: esophageal cancer.
Only a few final months together followed. Bacall later recalled in her memoir the torturous decline. She wrote: “He looked so unlike Bogie — still mercifully unconscious…enclosed in another world, protected not by me, but by those raised bedsides, with those bottles and tubes sustaining life.” He died at 57 years old in 1957.
After his father’s death, Stephen recalled what life was like being raised by his single mother. “I think she eventually started to do things she wanted to do for herself,” he said. “She always wanted to move back to New York because her mother lived there. And I think that was important for her. And she also got into theater.”
Bacall remarried in 1961 to actor Jason Robards, and eventually gave her son and daughter a half brother named Sam. Ultimately the marriage didn’t last; alcohol addiction led to their divorce in 1969.
Sam was the only one of Bacall’s children to inherit the acting gene. His most notable role was as Henry Swinton in Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Plus he nabbed a Tony Award for Best Actor in the 2002 play The Man Who Had All The Luck.
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Talk about pressure to succeed. Sam commented on his unique position, “They made me realize what the dedication of a professional was. I’ve often found myself doing a scene and then realizing, ‘Gee, I’m playing my father in this scene.’ My mother is probably a little discouraged with me because I’m not quite as intense about standards as she is.”
Of Bacall’s children, Stephen has definitely been the most forthcoming about growing up a Bogart. He published a memoir in 1995 called In Search of My Father, which largely unraveled the thought process of losing his famous father at just 8 years old, and slowly coming to realize his mammoth legacy.
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“When my father died there were 3,000 people I didn’t know at the funeral,” he said. “I figured there was something different. And there certainly was.” For Stephen, it’s difficult to untangle the unfairness of Humphrey Bogart existing forevermore on the silver screen when his children got so little time to get to know the off-camera version of their father.
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No matter what Stephen accomplishes, he wears, honorably, a “big red-lettered label that hangs from me. It doesn’t say ‘Steve.’ It says, HUMPHREY BOGART’S SON.” It’s a daunting task to walk in the wake of Bogie’s legacy, but Lauren Bacall taught her children to wear their last name with pride.
In his book, Stephen described the lessons Bacall ingrained in them that their father never could, “She wanted me to remember that he didn’t like to lie,” he said. “He wasn’t a liar. She always used to pound that into me. Don’t lie. Tell the truth. That was a big deal.”
Stephen explained that even though his mother moved on, her heart always belonged to the late Humphrey Bogart, “She would talk about him all the time. It was almost like, ‘What would your father think?’ or ‘Your father believed in treating people correctly.'”
Bogie notoriously loved sailing, and Stephen recalled a cherished memory on the family yacht Santana. “Eventually, finally, when I learned how to swim, we would go out on the boat,” he said. “I remember going to Catalina Island and swimming back to the Santana. I made it and he was very proud of me at that time…That kind of pride sticks with you.”
Stephen was struck by the example of true love he recognized in his parents despite his young age. After long days on set, the lovebirds would share an intimate dinner, without their children, as a special reprieve just for the two of them.
Call it what you will, but the Bogart Bacall household prioritized date nights. “It was the age in the ’50s when kids were seen, not heard. Parents had dinners — at least my mother and father did — with the adults. But they were in love. And they were good together. They were man and wife.”
Speaking about what drew his parents together, Stephen acknowledged the obvious, “She was pretty good looking. She was 19, and he was 44. But I think it was her strength. She was a strong woman. She didn’t take crap from anybody. He thought she was very talented as well, but she could also keep up with him.”
Stephen and his siblings laid their mother to rest in 2014. Bacall died at age 89, after a long, beautiful life. She was buried in the same final resting place as her late husband, and other notable forces of Hollywood, in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in California.
In the wake of his mother’s passing, Stephen was asked by Fox News about what he missed most about his mother. Growing up with one parent, the loss affected him deeply, “Just the fact that she’s not here anymore,” he said. “Being able to talk to her.”
He revealed that the end of Lauren Bacall’s life was a challenge. Her outgoing, vibrant personality was restricted to mostly staying in bed. “She was used to getting up and doing things, going out. She had assistants there for her all the time if she needed them. But I think it was a very tough time for her, those last few years.”
Stephen, now in his seventies, lives in Florida with his wife. They share 3 children and dote on their 1 grandchild. A documentarian, author, and news producer, he never bothered with the family trade. “How do you compete with that?” he mused. “The comparisons would have been obvious. No, never.”
Sheepishly he added, “Plus, I was lousy at it. I was in a couple of plays in high school. I wasn’t very good. I couldn’t do it…It’s not an easy thing to do, to be someone else.” Instead, he honors the family by serving as the co-managing partner of the Humphrey Bogart Estate, he’s vowed to uphold and preserve his father’s legacy.
In 2018, they lent Bogie’s name to a brand of spirits; Humphrey himself loved a well-made drink. “He preferred gin and whiskey,” Stephen said. “Some of his favorite cocktails were martinis — which were made with gin in those days — gin and tonics, Manhattans and Old Fashioneds.”
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Each year, Bogart Film Festival pays tribute to Stephen’s famous father, “We’re trying to do stuff that will reach a lot of people. We try and do things that not only keeps him alive but [also] classic Hollywood alive. There’s a lot of great movies now…but I think there’s still room for classic Hollywood.”
It’s guaranteed that generations ahead will still fondly celebrate the cigarette-in-hand, smooth-talking Humphery Bogart. Not just for his iconic filmography, but for his once-in-a-lifetime romance with his most beautiful leading lady, Lauren Bacall.