History - The Petrified Forest
The Petrified Forest was a 1935 Broadway stage success that starred Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart. It was written by Robert E. Sherwood, recipient of four Pulitzer Prizes and an Academy Award for The Best Years of Our Lives. The following year Warner Brothers turned the successful play into a major motion picture, also starring Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart, with the exciting addition of Bette Davis.
Leslie Howard played Alan Squier, a disillusioned Englishman who has left his rich way of life in Europe to hitch-hike across America in search of meaning and purpose. After wandering into a diner/gas station in Arizona's "Petrified Forest," he meets a waitress, Gabrielle, a dreamer, painter, and would-be poet who longs to see what life is like in France where her mother lives. At that point Duke Mantee, a notorious gangster fleeing a massive police pursuit, arrives with his gang.
Humphrey Bogart's first major screen role as gangster Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest (1936) brought him to prominence both in the movie industry and in the public eye. He had had the opportunity to hone the role over many months on the stage, and that made his character unforgettable when it hit the screen.
Sherwood based the character Duke Mantee on John Dillinger, who was then public enemy #1. Bogart happened to closely resemble the gangster, and he studied film footage of Dillinger to perfect his mannerisms. Fascinated audiences flocked to both the play and the movie to see this version of the infamous gangster.
Leslie Howard believed that no one else could play the role of Mantee to such chilling effect as Bogart. He was so impressed with Bogart's stage performance, in fact, that he promised him he would use his influence to help him win the movie role. Howard kept his word, threatening to drop out of the picture unless the studio signed Bogart. Jack Warner caved and the rest is history.
The Petrified Forest was performed in a one-hour radio adaptation on CBS’s Lux Radio Theatre on November 22, 1937 with Herbert Marshall, Margaret Sullavan, and Donald Meek in the principal roles; and again on Lux Radio Theatre on April 23, 1945, with Ronald Colman, Susan Hayward, and Lawrence Tierney. Finally, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, and Henry Fonda were in a 1955 live TV version.
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