28 April 2015

Sell Bogart romantically

During the first part of his career, Humphrey Bogart played mainly one-dimensional gangsters in supporting roles. The best roles all went to Warner Brothers' other contract players such as James Cagney, Paul Muni and George Raft. Even after the immense success of "Petrified Forest" (1936) --in which Bogie played an escaped killer, a performance which earned him much praise-- Warners had no intention of turning Bogie into a star. But this all changed in July 1940. Bogie was getting good reviews for his role in "They Drive by Night" and had also landed his first leading role with "High Sierra" (after Raft declined). Meanwhile, Paul Muni, one of Warners' greatest stars, left the studio after a contract dispute. Thus, with Muni gone and Bogie's star on the rise, Warners saw in Bogie its new leading man.

On 17 July 1940, S. Charles Einfeld, director of advertising and publicity for Warner Bros., sent a fascinating letter to publicist Martin Weiser, telling him to undo Bogie's gangster image and turn him into a romantic lead. Einfeld told Weiser to give the matter priority, calling Bogie "one of the greatest actors on the screen today". Although Bogie would still play a gangster (with a soft heart) in his next film "High Sierra" (1941), the film set in motion the undoing of his gangster screen persona. A year and several films later, Bogie would play his first real romantic (and arguably most romantic) role as nightclub owner Rick Blaine. The film, of course, was "Casablanca".


Transcript:

July 17 1940

Marty Weiser
Mr. Martin Weiser
Warner Bros. Pictures
1701 Wyandotte Street
Kansas City, Mo.

Dear Marty:

I want you to give the utmost concentration to the building of Humphrey Bogart to stardom in as quick a time as possible.

Bogart has been typed through publicity as a gangster character. We want to undo this. For Bogart is one of the greatest actors on the screen today and has demonstrated this with his parts in "Petrified Forest," "Dark Victory," "It All Came True," and "They Drive By Night." The fellow is a master of technique and can do anything. In "Dark Victory" he showed a type of sex appeal that was unusual and different from that of any other actor on the screen today.

Sell Bogart romantically. Sell him as a great actor. Let us see if within the next two or three months we cannot have the country flooded with Bogart art, --and column breaks lauding Warner Bros. for their recognition of Bogart's talent, and predicting great success for him as a star.

This is one of the most important jobs you have before you in the next few months. I know I can count on you and please let me know how you fare.

Sincerely yours,

S. Charles Einfeld

Director of Advertising and Publicity

Humphrey Bogart in the films mentioned in Einfeld's letter --clockwise from top left: "The Petrified Forest" (1936) with Leslie Howard and Bette Davis; "Dark Victory" (1939) with Bette Davis; "They Drive by Night" (1940) with Ann Sheridan and George Raft and "It All Came True" (1940) with Ann Sheridan.

2 comments:

  1. Now, this is interesting. What a great find. I'll have to delve into the library at the University of Delaware. Thanks again.

    -- Java

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a fascinating letter. Wish they had copied it to George Raft!

    ReplyDelete