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Verita Thompson: Humphrey Bogart's secret mistress

Saturday 12 April 2008 00:00 BST

In 1982, when the starlet turned wig-maker Verita Thompson revealed that for 13 years she was Humphrey Bogart's lover, it surprised many in the film industry as well as admirers of the actor, one of the most iconic in cinema history. Along with his reputation as a hard-drinking, no-nonsense personality who gave indelible performances in such films as The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and The African Queen, Bogart was also famous for his outwardly ideal marriage to sultry Lauren Bacall, his fourth wife, who gave him two children and remained with him from their marriage in 1945 until his death in 1957.

According to Thompson, her association with Bogart had started in 1942, when he was still married to his third wife, Mayo Methot, in a union noted for its stormy, sometimes physically violent arguments that had gained them the title "the battling Bogarts". It was an era when general knowledge of infidelity could ruin a career, and both stars and studios worked hard to keep such stories away from press or public scrutiny. Thompson had a valid reason to be around Bogart – he wore a toupee and she was a wig-maker – and he eventually put her on his permanent staff so that her continued presence could be accounted for.

Thompson had originally arrived in Hollywood as an actress after winning a beauty contest, though as she put it, "I didn't know a damn thing about acting and still don't." She was born Verita Bouvaire in Arizona to an Irish father and Mexican mother; both her parents died when she was a child and she was raised by paternal grandparents. After graduation, she entered the Miss Arizona contest and came second.

A talent scout for Republic Studios gave her a contract, but her career was short-lived – on the first day of acting in a Western, she fell off her horse and broke an arm. Recuperating in Mexico City, she met an expatriate Frenchman, a former wig-maker who had fled Europe with large quantities of French lace and hair, but could not gain an entry visa into the United States. Bouvaire formed a partnership with him, went to beauty school in Hollywood and became a licensed hairdresser. "The quality of our product opened doors in Hollywood that would otherwise have been closed to me, and so I began working with many female stars and such leading men as Charles Boyer, Ray Milland and Gary Cooper long before I came to Bogart's attention."

One of her closest friends was the actress Ann Sheridan, also a good friend of Bogart. When Bouvaire was visiting her at the Warner studio one day, Sheridan asked her to the "wrap" party for Casablanca. According to Bouvaire, Bogart could not take his eyes off her from the moment they met, and after an evening of drinking and dancing they made a date, though both were married – Bogart to Methot, Bouvaire to a film technician, Robert Peterson.

When Verita Peterson's husband was away on war service, her house in Burbank became the prime location for liaisons between the lovers, who would drink "loudmouth", Bogart's term for Scotch and soda (since it loosened the tongue) through most of the night. Peterson was later described as someone who could match Bogart drink for drink and cuss for cuss. "He always said we'd make a perfect couple because we were so much alike, and I naturally agreed with him, but later I began having misgivings."

Bogart's three wives had all been actresses, and Peterson concluded, "Bogey loved characters. The woman he first saw in Mayo Methot was exactly what he was looking for. She was a two-fisted drinker who could hold her liquor; a gregarious party-goer; a fun-loving, sharp-tongued wit who liked nothing better than stimulating conversation; and, like Bogie, she hated pretentiousness and phonies." Though Peterson refused to have contact with Bogart while their respective divorces were going through, she was shocked when she read that, 12 days after his divorce from Methot became final, Bogart had married Lauren Bacall.

When Peterson and Bogart resumed their relationship, much of their time was spent on Bogart's beloved boat, the Santana. She wrote, "It's just my opinion, but Betty [Bacall] always struck me as being too chameleon-like; it seems to me that before marriage she flashed all the colours that Bogart found attractive . . . For example, her interest in the Santana and sailing delighted Bogie, for he spent – and wanted to spend – every spare moment sailing. But Betty's interest in going to sea with Bogie declined after he slipped a ring on the third finger of her left hand. Her dwindling interest in the Santana left clear sailing for me . . ."

In 1949, when Bogart left Warners to form his own production company, he had Verita Peterson written into his personal agency contract: "From that time on, I worked on all but four of Bogie's last 18 pictures." While making movies, she revealed, he would call Bacall every day during lunch break to tell her of the day's events and to ask her about the children.

Peterson also found herself invited regularly to dine at the Bogart home:

"It seemed hypocritical as hell for me to have anything to do with Bogie's home life, and while Bogie agreed with me in principle, he pointed out that it would raise suspicions if I didn't act as an employee of Humphrey Bogart normally would. And so I became more familiar with Betty and the two children than I wanted to under the circumstances."

The affair finally ended when Peterson (with Bogart's full approval) married the producer Walter Thompson in 1955, but she remained a friend of both Bogart and Bacall until Bogart's death. Thompson's husband died in 1975, after which she opened a restaurant, Verita's La Cantina, on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

In 1982 she wrote her memoir, Bogie and Me, and in the 1990s she opened a piano bar of the same name in New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina was about to hit the city, she is alleged to have refused the offer of a private jet, stating, "Lauren Bacall failed to chase me out of Hollywood. Katrina won't force me out of New Orleans."

Tom Vallance

Verita Bouvaire, actress and hairdresser: born Nogales, Arizona 1918; married first Robert Peterson (marriage dissolved), secondly Walter Thompson (died 1975); died New Orleans 1 February 2008.

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