SeacoastNH Home

Seacoast New Hampshire
& South Coast Maine

facebook logo

facebook logo

SEE ALL SIGNED BOOKS by J. Dennis Robinson click here
Humphrey Bogart and Portsmouth Prison

Shipyard Stories


Yes, Humprhey Bogart was involved in a serious incident while on his way to Portsmouth Prison following World War I. And yes, Bogie did serve a little time in jail. But you won’t know what really happened unless you click and read the facts. Truth is stranger than fiction.





Caine Mutiny with Humprhey BogartWalt Disney, local legends says, got his idea for the magic castle at Disneyland while serving in the "Castle" military prison in Portsmouth Harbor. Truth is, it never happened. Film star Humphrey Bogart too reportedly served at the dreaded Portsmouth Naval Prison too. Again, facts say otherwise. But a trip to Portsmouth may have changed Bogart’s life and, ironically, enhanced his film career.

Far from his tough screen image, Humphrey DeForest Bogart was born into an upper West Side family in New York City and attended classy Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. But by continutally acting out a teenaged Bogie managed to make the worst of a good situation. Bounced from prep school during World War I, he signed on with the Navy, but arived on the troopship USS Leviathan (SP-1326) just as the war was ending.

While serving in the Navy, an incident occurred that may have given Bogart his distinctive frozen-lip sneer and distinctive lisp. The story, not officially confirmed, is recounted here from the book Stars in Blue:

"Bogart was ordered to take a U.S. Navy prisoner to Portsmouth Naval Prison, New Hampshire. The two traveled side by side, with the prisoner handcuffed. As they changed trains in Boston, the con asked Bogart for a Lucky Strike, a supply of which Bogie always had and was happy to share. As he dug for matches, suddenly his ungrateful companion smashed him in the mouth with his manacles and jumped up to escape. Bogart, his upper lip badly torn and bleeding, reacted quickly, drawing out his .45 automatic and dropping the prisoner. Initial Navy surgery on the lip was badly botched, and subsequent plastic surgery did not help."

That same year Bogart himself was jailed for failing to show for duty. For reasons unknown he missed his connection on the USS Santa Olivia (SP-3125) that was sailing for Europe. The AWOL sailor turned himself in and served a three-day prison sentence on a ration of bread and water. He was honararably discharged in 1919.

Portsmouth Naval Prison postcard /

It is easy to see how the two stories combined into the local myth that Bogart spent time in the tank at the imposing prison at Portsmouth. The story is curiously reminiscent of the plot in another Hollywood film, The Last Detail. In that movie, Jack Nicholson plays Billy "Bad Ass" Buddusky, a military officer who is more troublesome than the docile prison he is transporting to Portsmouth Naval Prison. Randy Quaid plays the prison and Otis Young plays a second MP. The movie was not filmed here.

The massive concrete "castle" on Seavey Island in Kittery operated for 66 years and contained about 86,000 military inmates. It is located on the site of the original Fort Sullivan built during the American Revolution in 1775. It was then rebuild during the Civil War. In 1898 the island housed 1,612 Spanish prisoners of war from the Spanish American War in an open area called Camp Long.

The current structure was built between 1905 and 1908 and housed as many as 3,000 prisoners at once during its peak use in World War II. It has been vacant for decades. In 1999 a local developer and federal officials agreed on a plan to restore the building and lease space to private companies, but the project fell apart after the death of the developer and the attacks of 9/11 that forced tighter military security onto the nuclear submarine repair base there. So despite its stellar reputation in the rumor mill, "The Caste" has yet to make it big in Hollywood.

Copyright © 2006 J. Dennis Robinson and All rights reserved.

Source: Wise, James E., Jr., and Anne Collier Rehill, Stars in Blue: Movie Actors in America's Sea Services (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1997): 93-98.

OUTISDE LINK: See more about Bogart on Naval History web site

Please visit these ad partners.

News about Portsmouth from

Thursday, January 18, 2018 
Please update your Flash Player to view content.
Please update your Flash Player to view content.
Please update your Flash Player to view content.

Copyright ® 1996-2016 All rights reserved. Privacy Statement
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Site maintained by ad-cetera graphics