Strength in Weakness: The Trials of Humphrey Bogart

Ever hear a story about someone famous that talks about their limitations or past failures and makes you feel better about being you? I remember hearing that Albert Einstein had failed math in school as a kid. That encouraged me to work hard academically and stop worrying about not making it. Too bad the story ended up being a hoax, but at least I graduated high school.

But there are many stories of greats who had to overcome in order to succeed. One of my favorites is Humphrey Bogart. The man is a legend with an impressive collection of outstanding and memorable performances, but it was an uphill climb for him. Consider the following four details from his life (to the best of my understanding and research, each one is true) about the great king of cinema, and hopefully they’ll encourage you like they do me:

1. Bogart had a lisp. Not a hard fact to substantiate — all you have to do is watch one of his movies. Though it’s subtle, it’s still there. A lisp is often referred to as an “impediment,” though it’s often easy to overlook in Bogie’s case: his voice is easy to listen to and you often forget about the lisp. Still, it amazes me that one of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen had a speech challenge. But it’s just a challenge. He overcame it, and we’d be foolish to assume it was easy for him. Whatever you have that’s keeping you from doing what you want to do probably isn’t much different.

2. Bogart was in a car accident in 1953. No one ever plans for those. He was almost done with his acting role in a movie called Beat the Devil, so just as accidents always do, it came at a horrible time. His front teeth were knocked out hindering his speech more than his lisp ever could have. They had to find a professional impersonator who could copy Bogart’s voice and dub the recording over some of his last speaking scenes. That young actor was a then-unknown Peter Sellers. I’m hoping the next time I run into a surprise hurdle like that in my own life that I will look for some creative thinkers to help me through it like the producer of that movie.

3. For half of his career Humphrey Bogart lived in the shadow of another actor. In fact, many of the roles that made Bogart famous were ones that this actor rejected and he was just picking up his leftovers (including Casablanca). The act of “overshadowing” involves an invisible shadow that is invented and assumed by people, most notably ourselves. I hate feeling that way. But no worries here — that shadow isn’t tangible and therefore not real. Simply work hard at doing what you love and live your life to the fullest. Besides, guess who the actor was who overshadowed our king of the golden age? George Raft. Ever hear of him? Yeah, me neither.

4. Bogart could really be down on himself. Being a lover of film he would screen the movie A Star is Born (1937) at his home each and every Christmas Day. And every time he would end up crying as he watched. One year a director friend of his asked him why this was. He answered that it was because he expected a lot of himself and added, “I’m never going to get it.” Here is one of the greatest actors in modern history and he cries every year over not being good enough. I sure hope someone in his life was there to tell him this wasn’t true, as the rest of us know. Perhaps Lauren Bacall? Either way, tears shed over not being good enough are wasted tears. We all are good enough. The sooner we realize this the better.

For those of us who have a hard time believing in ourselves, we’re not alone: Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Peter, Timothy. The Bible is full of heroes who needed help and encouragement to move forward. And in their stories we see how much confidence God had in them, despite their low self-confidence and unassuming nature. Even Bogie himself never felt “good enough” despite his success.

And who knows… When we are doing our best in life and struggling along the way, maybe — just maybe — God looks our way, winks and says, “Here’s lookin’ at you kid.”