Bogle grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia and graduated from Lincoln University in 1966. As a child, he spent a lot of time watching television and going to the movies. He wondered why there were very few African-American characters. He also wondered what happened to the Black characters when they went off-screen. In a 2005 interview, Bogle recalled:
In the movie Gone with the Wind, how did Hattie McDaniel live—in the big house or the slaves' quarters? What did she think about the civil war? These were all questions I wanted answers to.
Bogle's first book, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretative History of Blacks in Films, was published in 1973. In it, he identified five basic stereotypical film roles available to African-American actors and actresses: the servile, avuncular "tom"; the simple-minded and cowardly "coon"; the tragic, and usually female, mulatto; the fat, dark-skinned "mammy"; and the irrational, hypersexual male "buck". In the second edition of the book, Bogle identified a sixth stereotype: the sidekick, who is usually asexual.Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks was awarded the 1973 Theatre Library Association Award.
Brown Sugar: Eighty Years of America's Black Female Superstars was published in 1980. It was the basis of a four-hour PBSdocumentary that aired in 1986. Bogle published his third book, Blacks in American Film and Television: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, in 1988.
Bogle published Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television in 2001. In it, he argued that television lags behind film in reflecting the social realities of African Americans. Bogle's next book, Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood, was published in 2005. It tells the story of African-American actors and actresses in the film industry during the first half of the 20th century. In 2011, Bogle published Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters, which examines the personal and professional life of singer and stage performer, Ethel Waters.
Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretative History of Blacks in Films, Viking Press, 1973. OCLC245700105.
Brown Sugar: Eighty Years of America's Black Female Superstars, Harmony Books, 1980. ISBN 0-517-53637-4.
Blacks in American Film and Television: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Garland, 1988. ISBN 0-8240-8715-1.