Bogart and Chess
by Bill Wall
Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born on January 23, 1899 (Warner Brothers publicity changed it to December 25, 1899) in New York City. He was the son of a noted Manhattan surgeon. His mother was a popular illustrator.
Humphrey probably learned chess in 1912. His father taught him chess during their stay at their summer home in Canandaigua Lake, near Rochester, New York.
He played chess with other chess players in 1913 when he visited the chess clubs in New York City. Humphrey Bogart attended Phillips Academy in preparation for medical school. He was later expelled from school (perhaps spending too much time playing chess instead of studying).
In 1918 he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He is called to active service, but World War I is nearly over.
After his discharge from the Navy in 1919 he returned to New York City and continued to play chess. He was expert strength. He finally approached a friend of the family for employment and got a job as an office boy at a theater.
In 1920 he switched to acting and appeared in a play called Swiftly in 1922. He had minor roles on Broadway during this time.
He married his first wife, Helen Menken, in 1926, but divorced her after less than a year.
In 1928 Bogart married his second wife, Mary Philips. They were divorced in 1937.
In 1929, after the stock market crashed, Bogart hustled chess players for quarters in New York City parks and for dimes against all comers at Coney Island.
In 1930 Bogart traveled to Hollywood, but only had minor parts. He played chess and got involved in California chess organization during that time.
He returned to New York in 1931 and couldn't find a job. He earned money by hustling chess in an arcade windows, taking on all challengers.
He was known to have played chess in Times Square in 1933.
In 1935 Bogart was cast as a gangster in The Petrified Forest and it became a big hit in 1936. This role lifted him out of poverty and he no longer had to hustle at playing chess.
In 1938 he married his 3rd wife, Mayo Methot.
In 1942 he was the star (Rick Blaine) of CASABLANCA. It had several chess playing scenes. CASABLANCA was rated as the second best movie ever made by the American Film Institute. Casablanca won the Best Picture of 1943. It became one of the biggest money-maker movies ever. All the chess playing scenes in CASABLANCA was Bogart's idea. He wanted a character that was a chess player that drank too much. There were some chess scenes of Bogart studying a chess game while Peter Lorre looked on that did not make the film. The character Rick Blaine always beat police officer Captain Louis Renault (Claude Reins) at chess.
A blooper in the movie is that a knight disappears in the opening chess game.
After CASABLANCA Bogart was playing a lot of correspondence chess with GIs overseas or in veterans hospitals in 1942. In 1943 he was visited by the FBI who prevented him from playing any more correspondence chess. The FBI was reading his mail and thought that the chess notation he was sending to Europe were secret codes.
In May, 1945 Bogart divorced Mayo Methot and married 20 year old Lauren Bacall 11 days later (he was 45). She was also a chess player.
In 1945 Bogart and his new wife, Lauren Bacall, appeared on the cover of the June-July, 1945 issue of Chess Review magazine. He was playing Charles Boyer as Lauren Bacall looked on. Another picture of Bogart, Boyer, and Herman Steiner appeared in the magazine. Bogart was a tournament director for the United States Chess Federation and the California State Chess Association. He helped sponsor the August 1945 Pan American Chess Congress in Los Angeles and was selected as the Master of Ceremonies.
In June 1945, Bogart was interviewed by Silver Screen magazine. When asked what things mattered most to him, he replied that chess was one of those things that mattered most to him. He said he played chess every day between takes when he made movies.
In 1946 Bogart lost a match and $100 to the restaurateur, Mike Romanoff (1890-1972). That evening Bogart went home, then phoned Romanoff to play one more game ove the phone for another $100. Romanoff agreed, then lost in 20 moves. Bogart just happened to have former US chess champion Herman Steiner over his house, and Bogart's moves were really Steiner's moves.
The Romanoff's restaurant on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills was Bogart's main hangout. Bogart owned the second booth from the left corner as you entered the restaurant. No one else could sit there. If Mike Romanoff was there, he and Bogart would always play chess at that table. Romanoff liked to call himself "Prince Michael Alexandrovitch Dmitri Romanoff."
In 1947 Bogart was the highest paid actor in the world (making $500,000 a year). He started his own production company, Santana Pictures. One of Bogart's biographers said that Bogart rated his friends on their ability to play chess.
In 1949 Humphrey Bogart and Laurne Bacall had a son, Stephen. In 1952 they had a daughter, Leslie Howard.
In March, 1952 Bogart was in San Francisco and played a game with George Koltanowski. Koltanowski played blindfolded and defeated Bogart in 41 moves. Bogart had earlier played Sammy Reshevsky when Reshevsky was giving a simulteneous exhibition, and drew him at Romanoff's Restaurant in Hollywood.
In 1952 Bogart won the Best Actor Oscar for his character in The African Queen. He and Katherine Hepburn played chess while making The African Queen in Stanleyville. Bogart claimed to be the strongest chess player among the Hollywood stars. He did lose to Art Buchwald, columnist for the New York Herald, when they played.
Bogart died in his sleep on January 14, 1957. He had cancer of the esophagus. He appeared in over 75 films in 26 years. His chess playing buddy, Mike Romanoff, was his pallbearer.
Bogart - NN, Hollywood 1933
Bogart - Sydney Greenstreet, Hollywood 1942 result: 1-0 in favor of Bogart during the filming of "Casablanca."
Bogart - Charles Boyer, Hollywood 1945 result: 1-0 in favor of Bogart during the filming of "The Confidential Agent."
Bogart - Bacall, Hollywood 1951
Limbos - Bogart, Stanleyville, Congo
Koltanowski - Bogart, San Francisco 1952
Sammy Reshevsky - Bogart, Hollywood 1955 A drawn game in a simultaneous exhibition
It is not true that after this game, Bogart said, "Play it again, Sam."
Posted with permission of Bill Wall.
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