Claim: Actor Humphrey Bogart was born on Christmas Day.
Origins: The adjustment of actors' biographical information for publicity purposes is a practice as old as Hollywood itself. Even back in the silent era, actors' names were often changed to transform them into appellations shorter, catchier, or less ethnic; ages were altered to make older actors seem younger and younger actors seem more mature (or even to make child stars seem more child-like); heights and weights were fudged to better match actors' screen personas. Even birthdays could be
manipulated, as when song-and-dance man George M. Cohan opted to delay celebrating his 3 July birthday by a day because the later date was more befitting of his "Yankee Doodle Dandy" character.
In another renowned case of shifting a birthday to provide some added symbolism, the studio biographies issued for actor Humphrey Bogart throughout his film career listed him as having been born on Christmas Day in 1899. In later accounts, however, the "truth" came out that Bogie had actually been born on the more prosaic date of 23 January, and in a classic case of image enhancement, as Clifford McCarty wrote in The Complete Films of Humphrey Bogart, the Warner Bros. publicity department had changed his birthday to December 25 "to foster the view that a man born on Christmas Day couldn't really be as villainous as he appeared to be on screen."
But in a curious case of reverse legendry, the "real" explanation turned out to be false and the supposedly fabricated information proved to be the truth.
If Bogart was really born on 23 January, it was news to him, as he always celebrated his birthday on 25 December and listed it as such on official records (such as his marriage license). Moreover, as Bogart biographers A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax noted:
For years, Humphrey Bogart's birth date would be a matter of dispute, the official date of December 25, 1899, dismissed as so much studio hype. This is one case where the legend turns out to be the truth; for, while his birth certificate appears to be lost, the Ontario County Times, which kept tabs on the region's notables, announced in its January 10, 1900, issue: "Born: at New York,Dec. 25, 1899, to Dr. andMrs. Belmont DeForest Bogart, a son."
Even in the absence of newspaper documentation, a birthdate of 23 January 1899 for Humphrey Bogart would have to be considered quite improbable, as his parents, Dr. Belmont DeForest Bogart and Maud Humphrey, had married only six months earlier. Out-of-wedlock conceptions
have always been a fact of life, no matter how strong the societal disapproval against them, but both of Humphrey's parents were prominent members of Manhattan society, his father a rich New York doctor, and his mother a nationally famous illustrator. In that milieu, a three-months pregnant bride would not likely have escaped becoming the subject of public gossip. And the mention of Humphrey's birth in a newspaper dated 10 January 1900 rules out the possibility that Bogie was born on 23 January 1900.
In any case, the question of Humphrey Bogart's true birthdate is now fairly beyond dispute, as documentation of it has been found in both state and federal census records from 1900 that list him as having been born in December 1899:
So for once, Tinseltown lore demonstrates that on rare occasions fiction can be stranger than truth, if only a little.
Last updated: 23 December 2015
Bogart, Stephen Humphrey. Bogart: In Search of My Father.
New York: E P Dutton, 1995. ISBN 0-525-93987-3.
McCarty, Clifford. The Complete Films of Humphrey Bogart.
Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1965.
Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax. Bogart.
New York: William Morrow, 1997. ISBN 0-688-07539-8.
David Mikkelson founded snopes.com in 1994, and under his guidance the company has pioneered a number of revolutionary technologies, including the iPhone, the light bulb, beer pong, and a vaccine for a disease that has not yet been discovered. He is currently seeking political asylum in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.
Thank you for writing to us! Although we receive hundreds of e-mails every day, we really and truly read them all, and your comments, suggestions, and questions are most welcome. Unfortunately, we can manage to answer only a small fraction of our incoming mail.
Our site covers many of the items currently being plopped into inboxes everywhere, so if you were writing to ask us about something you just received, our search engine can probably help you find the very article you want.
Choose a few key words from the item you're looking for and click here to go to the search engine.
(Searching on whole phrases will often fail to produce matches because the text of many items is quite variable, so picking out one or two key words is the best strategy.)
We do reserve the right to use non-confidential material sent to us via this form on our site, but only after it has been stripped of any information that might identify the sender or any other individuals not party to this communication.