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Helen Menken’s Struggle With Sexuality Cost Her Career & Her Husband

Around a century ago, Helen Menken was one of the biggest names in Broadway. The actress broke out onto the Broadway scene during her later teenage years, and found immense success in the industry before her career came crashing down as a result of a controversial play that she starred in. That play was called The Captive, and it revolved around a lesbian relationship. At the time she was performing in the play, Helen was married to a young Humphrey Bogart, who had yet to become a Hollywood star. Though she was married to four men over the course of her life, it seems that Helen’s sexuality went both ways. This is what led to her taking on her role in The Captive, even though most of her peers deemed it a bad move for her career. Unsurprisingly, the controversial play put a halt to the actress’s period of Broadway fame. Join Facts Verse as we explore how Helen Menken’s struggle with sexuality cost her both her career and her husband, Humphrey Bogart.

Helen Menken Was Humphrey Bogart’s First Wife

Humphrey Bogart was married to four women during his lifetime, and the first name that pops up in most peoples’ minds when they’re forced to think of the star with a spouse is likely Lauren Bacall. Lauren was Humphrey’s fourth and final wife, though he had been married to three other women previously. One of those women was a Broadway legend by the name of Helen Menken, who was actually the much bigger star between the two when she courted Humphrey.

Helen Menken was born on December 12, 1901, in New York City. Both of Helen’s parents were deaf, which gave the young girl some disadvantages, as well as some advantages. Of course, her parents being deaf made it rather hard for them to teach their daughter how to talk. However, Helen was able to learn how to talk just fine by studying the speech of the many other talkative denizens of New York City. The advantages that her parent’s deafness lent to Helen as she was growing up included the fact that she was always allowed to make however much noise she wanted. Another advantage came from the fact that her experience with her deaf parents made her an expert at non-verbal communication from a very early age.

Growing up in New York City, young Helen set her sights on the stage pretty early on. At the age of five, young Helen could be found eagerly tracking down auditions for various plays. This led to Helen being cast as a fairy in a touring production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This escapade saw the young girl being forced to travel around the country, and she grew up pretty fast.

Helen Became a Lead Lady on Broadway at Age 18

After starting out as a fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Helen Menken’s theater roles only became more and more prominent until she was eventually one of the biggest stars on Broadway. However, Helen wouldn’t find this level of success until after her coming of age. Through her teen years, she continued performing in touring Shakespeare productions, and it wasn’t until the age of 18 that the actress was finally given her first lead role on Broadway.

Helen Menken’s first lead role on Broadway came via the 1919 play Three Wise Fools. Helen’s role in the play brought her more acclaim than ever, and she became an instant Broadway sensation. At the time, Helen was dating a young man from New York City that had no show-business aspirations. The actress ended up breaking things off with this man, as they didn’t have much in common. Helen needed someone that was more her style, and she would meet the perfect match for her shortly afterwards.

After Three Wise Fools came to an end, Helen Menken was given another starring role in a Broadway play. This time, the play was called Drifting. Humphrey Bogart was cast in the play in a minor role, and he was also utilized as a stagehand. At the time, Humphrey was only 21 years old, and he was a ways off from becoming the big Hollywood star that most people think of him as today. During Helen’s first night performing her lead role in Drifting, a piece of the set fell onto her and caused a small kerfuffle that ended up embarrassing the actress quite a bit. Understandably, as soon as the curtains were drawn, Helen went to go track down whoever was responsible and tell them what was what. Little did she know that the person responsible was going to become the new love of her life! However, it wasn’t love at first sight… If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! Also, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!

Helen Fell in Love with Humphrey Bogart After an Altercation

During her early days as a lead lady on Broadway, Helen Menken developed a reputation for being exceedingly aggressive with her coworkers. If you did something that Helen didn’t like, chances are you were going to get smacked! Given that Helen was just a little woman, most people that she deigned to hit didn’t hit her back. However, there was one man who had the gumption to meet Helen tit-for-tat, and that man was a young Humphrey Bogart.

When Helen Menken tracked down the man she felt was responsible for the set falling on her during her first performance of Drifting, she let him have it! When she was all done, she turned her back on the man and started to walk off before receiving a big surprise in the form of a kick to the back. 21-year-old Humphrey Bogart seems to have had no problem with kicking a woman from behind, and this impressed Helen Menken a good deal. Helen had finally found someone that could meet her at her level, and romance quickly grew from the incident. The pair began dating, and their engagement was announced to the public only a mere three months following the episode.

At the time that Helen and Humphrey’s engagement was announced, Helen was the only one of the two that was a notable star. As a result, the engagement announcement focused much more on Helen than Humphrey. Although their engagement was announced a mere three months after the two first meeting, it wouldn’t be until several years later that the two would finally tie the knot. Following the announcement of the engagement, Helen became a bigger star than ever thanks to her turn in the play Seventh Heaven.

Helen and Humphrey Had a Short-Lived Marriage

It was on May 20, 1926, that Helen Menken and Humphrey Bogart finally tied the knot. However, their marriage would end up lasting for a shorter period of time than their engagement did. Not long after the ceremony, Helen decided to take a role in a play by the name of The Captive. The Captive was a French play, and Helen was offered to perform in it’s first English-language production. However, it seems that America wasn’t ready for the play’s content.

The Captive was a lesbian romance, and Helen Menken may have had some decidedly personal reasons for becoming involved in the play despite the fact that most of her peers advised her against it. Rumor has it that Helen was bisexual, which is something that Humphrey Bogart knew about the actress early on. Humphrey was one of the many parties who advised Helen against taking her role in The Captive, and he may have had a few different reasons for doing so. For one thing, Humphrey was arguably concerned about the future of his wife’s career. For another thing, Humphrey was likely insecure about his wife’s closeted bisexuality.

For a few months, The Captive played with little backlash. However, four months after it’s premiere, the police came knocking on the theater door. The policemen came to raid the theater just before a performance of the play was set to go down. The cast and crew ended up convincing the authorities to let the show go on, and the policemen ended up doing so. However, they ended up storming the stage during the play’s second act when things started to get a little bit too steamy. Helen and her coworkers on the play were arrested, and forced to appear before the courts. At the time, homosexuality was a crime, and the whole episode caused a great deal of damage to Helen Menken’s popularity.

The Captive Ended Up Destroying Helen’s Career

Though Helen Menken continued to keep the true nature of her sexuality under wraps throughout the ordeal, the incident involving The Captive still caused much of the public to associate the actress with deviant homosexuality. Helen was well aware of the fact that appearing in the play was likely going to cause some significant backlash, but it’s doubtful that she knew just how much her career was going to suffer. Still, it’s arguable that Helen would’ve stuck by her guns whether she knew it was going to completely destroy her career or not. In addition to putting an end to Helen’s Broadway career, some also say that this incident put the nail in the coffin on her and Humphrey Bogart’s marriage.

Humphrey was upset about Helen taking her part in The Captive from the very beginning, and it has been said that he spent the majority of the play’s lifespan in a drunken stupor. Helen would later claim that every time she returned home to her husband from a performance of The Captive, he would drunkenly beat her. Though Humphrey’s penchant for beating women is apparently what attracted Helen to him in the first place, she grew to like it less and less over the year of their marriage. The couple divorced in 1927.

Both Helen and Humphrey remarried three times before their respective deaths. Humphrey went on to become one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, while Helen went on to lead a much quieter life. Despite the drama revolving around The Captive and Helen’s supposed bisexuality, she ended up being welcomed back to Broadway by the end of her life. In fact, Helen went on to become the president of the American Theater Wing, which puts on the Tony Awards.

Despite the fact that many correctly predicted the play was going to ruin her career, Helen Menken was adamant about performing in the lesbian-themed romantic tragedy The Captive for personal reasons. Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that Helen Menken apparently fell in love with first husband Humphrey Bogart after he kicked her in the back following an argument, and that the esteemed Broadway actress was a closeted bisexual? As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!

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