Movie Stars: Bogart, Humphrey–Politics Offscreen

Humphrey Bogart was a nonconformist actor, utterly devoted to his profession and determined not to play it the mainstream way, “not to go Hollywood.”

Unlike John Wayne, Clark Gable, and Gary Cooper, to name a few staunch Republicans, Bogart was famous for his decidedly liberal and democratic values.

He was known for his allegiance to the Loyalist in the Spanish Civil War, and for his abhorrence to the Hitler regime.

Bogart and his third wife, the volatile and outspoken Mayo Methot, went 0n tour to North Africa in December 1943 to begin a three-month tour of entertaining American troops. They visited camps, bases, hospitals, and field units in Africa and Italy, presenting a short variety show.

A Report from the Front, based on this tour, was prepared for the Motion Pictures Red Cross Week (March 23-29, 1944). The Special trailer was distributed without charge to all interested movie theaters signing pledges of participation.

The reel, running only three minutes, was distributed through National Screen Service exchanges. It included film clips from his trip to North Africa and Italy, and scenes of combat, accompanied by Bogart solemn voice-over narration. They were put together into a short for the Red Cross simply entitled, “Report from the Front.”

It was distributed free to participant theaters during the Motion Picture Theatres Red Cross Week.

Another war film, “Thank You Lucky Stars,” with cameo performances by Bogart, Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, Erroll Flynn and John Garfield.

Boggart got involved in politics in November 1944, when he made a radio speech endorsing President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his reelection campaign.

As a result, he reportedly received many hate letters–denunciatory mail–from viewers claiming that actors should steer clear from politics, and that they are not to have opinions “like other n0rmal people.”

In reply, Bogart wrote an article called, “I Stuck My Neck Out,” which his former brother-in-law Stuart Rose, then editor of the Saturday Evening Post, published.  In this article he wrote that he would continue to speak out whenever he felt like it

The U.S. House of Representative had authorized a Committee on Un-American Activities in 1938, with Congressman Martin Dies of Texas serving as the Committee’s first chair.

But it was not until 1947, that the committee began to investigate in earnest the movie industry.

Jack Warner, in his friendly 1947 testimony, identified writers who had attempted to include ideas that were un-American into the scripts of Warners films, such as noted scribes Albert Metz, Robert Rossen, Irwin Shaw.

The committee then declared a list of the “Unfriendly Ten,” a group of Hollywood writers, who were subpoenaed witnesses, but refused to cooperate with the Committee, causing their being held in contempt. They were the first victims of the Hollywood Blacklist (some actually spent time in prison).

The Blacklist included Maltz, Dalton Trumbo, John Howard Lawson, Ring Lardner Jr., Herbert Bibermann. Though most of the attention was given to writers, the list also included several actors, though not big names, such as Joe Bromberg and Abe Polonsky.

Afterwards, Bogart was not involved overtly in politics until 1952, when his fourth wife, actress Lauren Bacall, got him involved in the Adlai Stevenson Presidential campaign; Stevenson failed and instead Republican Eisenhower was elected.

Liberal director John Huston gathered some actors and directors to go to Washington DC in support of the Unfriendly Ten.  Among those who traveled, Bogart and Bacall were prominent members.

However, gradually it began to appear that the Communist Party was purposely making martyrs of the Ten, trying to profit from their status. Bogart felt that he was being improperly used and subsequently backed away from the whole thing.

Some in Huston’s loyal group member felt that Bogart had ducked the issue.  But the fact is that Bogart, true to his on screen and offscreen persona, pulled out because he wanted no part of “something that involved him in matters beyond his control.