Oscar Speeches: Bogart, Humphrey

Humphrey Bogart

His long-held cynicism toward the Oscar mellowed the very moment that he himself won the coveted award.

Bogart was the kind of actor who detested Hollywood’s phoniness, but was extremely conscientious about his work and one of the few men to be really proud of his profession. However, the idea of awards was diametrically opposed to his concept of noncompetitive acting. Bogart held that “awards are meaningless for actors, unless they all play the same part.” For him, the only true test of ability would be to have all the actors don black tights and recite Hamlet.

Bogart was first nominated for “Casablanca,” then for a second time for “The African Queen” in 1951. He lost the first time to Paul Lukas, and the 1951 pre-Oscar polls predicted that all four actors of Kazan’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” would win.

Bogart’s friends were certain that he would beat Brando, and he was just as certain he would lose. When Bogart’s friends asked him what he would say in his speech, if he won, he replied, I’m not going to thank anyone; I’m just going to say I damn well deserve it. Bogart believed that he “owed nobody nothing,” that his achievement was due to his own hard work.

This attitude, as one critic suggested in the New York Times, was “in part making a shrewd bid for publicity, and in part he was giving irascible voice to his honest hatred of the crass and phony side of motion pictures.” Before winning, Bogart described the Oscar as “silly and all bunk,” and once he even called it “a fake.”

However, when Greer Garson announced his name as Best Actor at the Oscar show, Bogart, stunned, rushed onto the stage, took the Oscar gently, as though it were a newborn baby, and said, “It’s a long way from the Belgian Congo to the stage of the Pantages, but it’s a lot nicer here.” Bogart then proceeded to thank his colleagues: “No one does it alone. As in tennis, you need a good opponent or partner to bring out the best in you. John (Huston) and Katie (Hepburn) helped me to be where I am now.”

Bogart’s wife-actress Lauren Bacall claims that in spite of Bogart’s seeming cynicism, he was very emotional and very humble. Bogart had really wanted to win–for all his bravado, when push came to shove, he did care and was stunned that it was such a popular victory. He had never felt people in town liked him much and hadn’t expected such universal joy when his name was called.

Like other actors, Bogart, too, used the Oscar as a metaphor of achievement. Perennial Oscar nominee Richard Burton recalls that once, when he “dared to challenge Bogart over an issue of acting, Bogart stormed out of the room and came back with his Oscar, which he thumped down on the table. “You were saying,” he growled.