EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally appeared in Heart of Ohio Magazine in 2012. It was republished through a cooperative agreement with Richland Source in 2016.
The morning of May 21, 1945 dawned bright and clear. It was a special day for the Mansfield area, although most of the residents didn’t know it yet. This was Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s wedding day at Malabar Farm.
By 6 a.m. the happy couple headed into Mansfield from the farm in Pleasant Valley to finish the legal paperwork required for their marriage. The ceremony would be performed by Judge Herb Schettler, a Municipal Court Judge and friend of author, Louis Bromfield.
Humphrey DeForest Bogart and Betty Joan Perske (Lauren “Betty” Bacall) had fallen in love the year before on the movie set of To Have and Have Not. Now, the freshly divorced Humphrey (45) had brought his soon-to-be bride, Lauren (20) to Malabar to be married in the hopes of avoiding a media storm.
One month earlier Bromfield’s secretary, George Hawkins, visited Judge Schettler in his chambers to ask if he would officiate at the wedding. The delighted judge was also a justice of the peace. He realized this would be the biggest wedding of his career and would undoubtedly put Mansfield on the map. The Judge was sworn to secrecy, and he kept his word, telling no one of the impending wedding.
Warner Brothers Studios had other ideas, and they alerted the press to take full advantage of the wedding of the superstar couple. The result was that on this lovely spring morning, the national press descended upon Malabar Farm.
On Sunday evening, the night before the wedding, 7-year-old Penny Schettler (Benzing) was supposed to be in bed at the Schettler home on Glenwood Boulevard. Before she fell asleep, voices coming from the living room downstairs drew her to the staircase to see what was happening.
“My mother and father sat talking with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in our modest living room. Dad was asking them questions about the kind of ceremony they would like; he was telling them what he thought would make it beautiful and memorable. He wrote it himself using their input,” Penny remembers.
With a clarity often confined to the very young, Penny recalls her impressions of the famous couple.
“I remember thinking that Bogart was awfully short to be a movie star and older than the pretty woman. He was the same age as my father. Betty Bacall appeared to be much taller than Humphrey Bogart, and, to the eyes of a young girl, she was much prettier.
“I knew these were very important people … Hollywood movie stars … and they were being married by my father the next day. I had a long, flowered nightgown, and as I sat on those steps I fantasized that I might be a flower girl at the wedding and wear my nightgown. In fact, I was in school when the wedding took place and I didn’t even go,” Penny chuckled. “My dad never knew I sat there on the stairs, watching and listening, until their grown-up talk began to bore me and I went to bed.”
Some details for the small reception after the service were handled by Mrs. Schettler. She asked Sophia Lattimore to make the wedding cake, having seen her catering talent displayed at various women’s clubs and parties around town. Sophia protested that the idea scared her to death, and the fact that she didn’t have a car made it even more impossible.
And so it was that Sophia, her young daughter Dorothy, and a three-layer wedding cake topped with boiled white icing and adorned with frosting wreaths found themselves in a taxi on their way to the wedding at Malabar.
After exclaiming over the lovely confection, Bogey and Bacall went out to pick some flowers to place around the base of the all-white cake. They also brought back some fresh watercress from the stream and Sophia made watercress sandwiches in the Farm kitchen to be served at the reception.
At noon everyone gathered in the foyer of the Big House. Betty Bacall was waiting on the staircase on the arm of George Hawkins. They descended to the strains of the “Bridal Chorus,” played on the piano by the Bromfield’s eldest daughter, Hope. Louis Bromfield stood as Bogart’s best man.
After the service was over, everyone enjoyed wedding cake served by Lauren Bacall herself. She carefully cut the pieces from the back of the cake so it would look as if the cake was untouched as she and Bogart posed for pictures a short while later.
“Over dinner Monday evening, my father told me all about the wedding, and many times over the years I was to hear that story retold. He took the ceremonies he performed very seriously, and one event during the wedding really annoyed him.
"It seems during the wedding, one of Louis Bromfield’s boxers wandered into the hallway where the ceremony was taking place. He sauntered over and lay down on my father’s shoes. My father was very irritated by it, but he managed to go on with the service as if the big dog were not there!
“Over the years people who were at the wedding have told me that the ceremony was lovely. Dad wrote the vows himself using the information he had gleaned from the couple while they chatted the night before in our living room. Always ahead of his time, he substituted the word ‘cherish’ for the word ‘obey’. Dad said Lauren Bacall was a gracious and lovely young woman.
"Later, when the newlyweds were preparing to leave Malabar, my father gave her his Phi Beta Kappa key which he always wore on his pocket watch chain. I’ve often wondered if she still has it and if she remembers the man who married them that day. I know my father never forgot them.
“Marrying Bogie and Bacall was a very meaningful thing in my father’s life. Afterward he was in every movie magazine and newsreel in the country. I know he received hundreds of cards and letters from old friends and even strangers from all over the world. It raised my father to celebrity status, and even through all of my school years it gave me a bit of a special standing.”
Judge Herb Schettler and Louis Bromfield were good friends, and Penny recalls spending a lot of time at Malabar Farm as a child.
“My parents called Mr. Bromfield ‘Lou.’ His daughters were older than I, but when we visited, my brother and I were sent off to entertain ourselves with the girls. We were invited to picnics, parties and cookouts, and I always remember being terrified of the dogs.
"Bromfield’s four or five boxers had the full run of the house and farm. I think they instinctively knew I was afraid of them because they always seemed to single me out to sit and drool on!”
On Nov. 6, 2001 Lauren Bacall was the key speaker at University of Kentucky’s Sanders Brown Center on Aging Foundation Dinner in Lexington, Kentucky. After dinner Penny presented a picture of Bacall, Bogart and Judge Schettler to the star. After an initial gruff response of “How did you get that?” Ms. Bacall was pleased to receive the picture.
Penny Schettler-Benzing went on to be a Professor Emeritus of Occupational Therapy at Eastern Kentucky University and live in Richmond, Kentucky.