The audiences did and have continued to love Lauren Bacall. Nicknamed ”The Look” for her signature chin down, eyes up to the camera image, sultry screen legend and Tony Award-winning stage actress Lauren Bacall was one of the most venerable, beloved and enduring actresses that has graced both the silver screen and the stage.
Her startling cat-like, green eyes, tawny blonde hair, distinctively husky voice, sardonic wit, feline grace, earthy charm were a match made in heaven with the film noir genre in which she excelled opposite the greatest male lead in Hollywood's history, her real-life husband and her male equivalent, Humphrey Bogart. In addition to inspiring songs, Bacall and Bogart achieved on-screen excellence and made cinematic history starring in such classics as Howard Hawks' To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, Delmer Daves' Dark Passage and John Huston's Key Largo, their last film made together.
It had been written in the stars for Lauren Bacall to become one of the most distinguished leading ladies of Hollywood's Golden Age and she was privileged to have one of rarest career trajectories in cinema – Bacall's spellbinding performance in her debut film To Have and Have Not catapulted the leggy, sensual yet shy and insecure 19-year old model-turned-actress straight to stardom. With an utterly exceptional, almost surreal career spanning seven decades, Lauren Bacall epitomized independence, feminine power, witty charm and sophistication and shone bright in roles as the insolent, provocative yet refined and dignified femme fatale who hides a soft core underneath the tough appearance.
It had been written in the stars for Lauren Bacall to become one of the most distinguished leading ladies of Hollywood's Golden Age and she was privileged to have one of rarest career trajectories in cinema
Born Betty Joan Perske on September 16th, 1924 in the Bronx, New York City to parents of Jewish descent, Lauren Bacall had a happy yet poverty-stricken childhood. Her mother, Natalie Weinstein-Bacal was a Romanian-Jewish immigrant who worked as an executive secretary and her father, William Perske was a medical supplies salesman born in New Jersey to Polish-Jewish parents. Lauren was educated at the Highland Manor Boarding School for Girls, a private boarding school in Tarrytown, NY (her affluent uncles covered the tuition) and then at the public high school Julia Richman High School in Manhattan, NY.
”When you have nothing but dreams, that's all you think about, all that matters”, stated the husky-voiced screen siren in her National Book Award-winning memoir Lauren Bacall: By Myself, published in 1979 and then reissued with an updated, additional 80-page in 2006 as By Myself and Then Some.
From an early age, Lauren attended dance classes and contemplated becoming a professional dancer. As a teenager however, Lauren Bacall was fascinated with Leslie Howard (who portrayed ”Ashley Wilkes” in the epic film Gone With the Wind) and idolized Bette Davis, whom she considered ”all an actress should be”. She would cut school and sneak into the movie theater ( because she couldn’t afford a ticket), where she would sit all day sobbing through Jezebel, Dark Victory or other movies starring Bette Davis. Adamant on pursuing an acting career, she took her mother's maiden name, Bacal and enrolled at the young age of 16 at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts located in Manhattan, New York (the legendary Kirk Douglas was one of her classmates).
Raised by her mother ”with a work ethic” that would stay with her until her final days, Lauren took various jobs to support her studies and worked as a Broadway theater usherette, swim wear model and then Garment District model, hostess at the Stage Door Canteen and magazine seller, while attending the private conservatory. At the age of 17, she made her Broadway debut in Johnny 2x4 and the following year she landed a role in George Kaufman's Franklin Street, but the play closed before it even opened on Broadway. Disappointed, Miss Bacall turned to modeling but little did she know that her career would soon walk a thin line between reality and fairytale.
As it turned out, the now-iconic March 1943 cover of the ”Harper's Bazaar” proved to be her ticket to the film career she had always dreamed of. Film director Howard Hawks' then-wife Nancy ”Slim” Hawks, a New York socialite spotted Miss Bacall on the cover of the magazine and completely mesmerized by Bacall's refined elegance and reserved allure, she convinced her husband to have the model take a screen test for his next film, the Hemingway adaptation To Have and Have Not. After passing the screen test successfully, Hawks changed her first name to ”Lauren”, added a second ”l” to her mother's maiden name Bacal and cast her in the role of the seductive lounge singer and French Resistance sympathizer Marie ”Slim” Browning, a character which was in fact modeled on the director's real-life wife – the rest is history.
Whistling Her Way Straight To Stardom
The screen test for Lauren Bacall's film debut consisted in the now-classic scene incorporating the famous ”you know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve?” dialog sequence, which was written by Hawks himself. Howard Hawks signed the aspiring film actress to a seven-year contract and brought both Lauren and her mother out to Hollywood. Lauren Bacall had innately a nasal, high-pitched voice and when Howard Hawks offered her the role that made the ingénue a household name in Hollywood, she was urged to lower her vocal register. Hawks hired for her a voice coach and after two weeks of intense vocal training, Miss Bacall achieved that come-hither, deep and husky voice and smoky tone that Hawks was looking for in his future leading lady.
The 1944 film To Have and Have Not that marks the first on-screen appearance of the legendary Bogart-Bacall pairing. Lauren Bacall's hypnotic performance opposite her soon-to-be-husband encompasses one of the most iconic movie lines in the history of cinema, a line that all classic movie aficionados know by heart. As she is leaving the room of Humphrey Bogart's character, the cynical fishing boat captain Harry Morgan, nicknamed Steve, she delivers nonchalantly, in her signature smoky, seductive voice an indelible speech that eventually blossomed into the real-life romance between Bogart and Bacall - “You know, you don’t have to act with me, Steve. You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and… blow.” Since this was her first on-screen appearance and her co-star was one of the greatest male leads in Hollywood, Lauren Bacall had all the reasons to be nervous on the set of the movie. In a CBS interview, she recalled that ”my head would shake” and the ”only way I could keep it still would be to hold my head down and then look up”. As it turned out, this seemingly cool, defiant and over-confident pose that came about by accident became her trademark look.
The most fascinating aspect of this movie is the fact that it transcends the celluloid magic into real life magic – audiences are given the rare privilege to witness the two screen legends live in the moment and fall in love before their eyes. Three weeks into filming, Miss Bacall and Bogart, who was 25 years her senior and miserably married to his third wife, actress Mayo Methot began a torrid affair that did not sit well with her mentor, Hawks. On May 21st, 1945, three months after their second film The Big Sleep was completed Bogie and Bacall tied the knot. Their wedding as well as their honeymoon took place at Malabar Farm (now a State Park in Ohio), the residence of Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield, one of Bogie's closest friends.
Bacall's Second Great Movie
The following year, in an attempt to repeat the colossal success of their first film together, Jack L. Warner had Bogart and Bacall reunite on-screen in Howard Hawks' film noir masterpiece The Big Sleep, based on Raymond Chandler's 1939 hardboiled crime novel that featured for the first time private detective Philip Marlowe. The snappy screenplay of this 1946 classic film, ”one of the most quotable of screenplays” according to film critic Roger Ebert is co-written by William Faulkner, together with Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman.
Despite the convoluted, somewhat confusing plot (not even the author himself, R. Chandler knew whether the character of Owen Taylor, the Sternwood family's chauffeur had been murdered or he had committed suicide), the movie has enjoyed an enduring popularity over the years, thanks to the powerfully evocative interplay and sparkling chemistry between Bogart and Bacall. The film was shot during wartime and completed in January 1945, but Warner Bros. postponed its release until the studio had played off its backlog of war movies. In 1997, the director's original cut (the 1945 version) was restored by UCLA archivists and played in art-house cinemas together with a detailed documentary showcasing the differences between the two versions.
The 1946 version (that audiences are familiar with) contains multiple scenes which were first of all removed, then added and reshot at the request of Charles Feldman, Bacall's agent and one of the most powerful talent agents in the classical Hollywood era. Feldman was totally displeased with Bacall's part, especially after Chandler had stated that Martha Vickers, who played Carmen, the nymphomaniac younger sister of Bacall's character overshadowed his client's performance. He considered the original role merely ”a bit part” which obviously lacked the effrontery that made her famous in the first place and feared that Lauren Bacall would receive more withering reviews (as she did for her performance in Confidential Agent). Feldman warned head of studio Jack Warner that Hawks' original version would have a negative impact on the film career of a promising movie star who was married to the studio's most bankable leading men. Warner agreed to recut Hawks's initial version and add new scenes that would not only enhance his client's performance, but that would capitalize on the real-life couple's sizzling on-screen chemistry.
As opposed to modern, action-loaded crime films which are heavy with action, the 1946 version of The Big Sleep is packed with engaging yet subtle dialog and innuendo-laden scenes especially the one in the nightclub where the two protagonists discuss horse racing - ”speaking of horses, I like to play them myself. But I like to see them work out a little first. See if they're front-runners or come from behind”. The 1946 version offers audiences an abundance of such racy examples of double entendre that, beyond showcasing the remarkable acting skills of the real-life couple, they testify to the fact that the seasoned, tough guy from the movies had finally found his match in the much younger and come-hither Bacall. Bacall earned glowing reviews for her inspired portrayal of Vivian Rutledge, the sultry daughter of General Sternwood and Marlowe's love interest.
Although the storyline was somewhat puzzling, the intrepid outlook of society's moral ambiguity, the brisk cinematography and the couple's electric on-screen interplay turned The Big Sleep into a smash hit at the box-office.
The Third Bogart-Bacall Vehicle
In 1947, Bacall, now Mrs. Bogart starred opposite her husband in the film adaptation of David Goodis' 1946 novel Dark Passage. Set in the scenic San Francisco, the film, brimming with POV shots was directed by Delmer Daves, who also wrote the script. Although Bogart and Bacall's third movie was not as popular as their previous two films made together and it received mixed reviews from film critics, Bacall was praised for her brilliant portrayal of the attractive, sympathetic and ”sharp-eyed” young painter Irene Jensen who shelters Vincent Parry, Bogart's character at her bohemian chic apartment in Malloch Building (today this imposing building located on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco is a tourist attraction for film noir aficionados). Parry had escaped the San Quentin prison after being wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and then underwent plastic surgery to change completely his appearance.
Reportedly Jack Warner was displeased with Daves' extensive use of the subjective viewpoint applied to Bogart's character, especially since the face of the studio's biggest money-maker was not shown for the first 62 minutes of the movie. It is only when Bogie's bandages are removed that audiences get to see his face. Primarily because Bogie and Bacall's sparkling chemistry was not fully explored by the director, film critics consider Dark Passage the least spectacular of the four films Bogie and Bacall made together.
Bogart-Bacall Last Film
The fourth and final Bacall/Bogart vehicle is the 1948 screen adaptation of Maxwell Anderson's s mega-successful 1939 play Key Largo. Directed by John Huston and co-starring Edward G. Robinson, who portrays the ruthless gangster ”Johnny Rocco”, modeled on the infamous gangsters Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, the suspense film Key Largo proved to be the married couple's most successful film at the box-office.
The script of the movie, co-written by Richard Brooks and John Houston is not a faithful adaptation of Anderson's play as it had been expected. Ex-Major Frank McCloud, Bogart's character was rewritten, making him an ex-idealist, world-weary WWII veteran that had served in the San Pietro, Italy military campaign. The film is set against the backdrop of the Largo Hotel on the island of Key Largo, Florida, where McCloud arrives to pay his respects to the family of sergeant George Temple who lost his life in the San Pietro battle under his command, only to find out that the hotel had been taken over by Rocco's gang in an attempt to hide out from the authorities until a major hurricane had passed and they could escape to Cuba. The rundown hotel is managed by James Temple, George's wheelchair-bound father (played by Lionel Barrymore) and Nora Temple, his unassuming, dutiful yet spunky widow (portrayed by Lauren Bacall).
The role of Nora Temple was a departure from Bacall's earlier roles opposite Bogart, requiring to tone down her provocative on-screen persona and unleash her dramatic skills while showcasing a demure, solemnly upright demeanor. This now-classic crime thriller is pervaded by melodramatic effects commanded by the devastating hurricane that battered the island and a tense atmosphere that reaches its climax during one of its final scenes, the shootout on the Santana boat.
In 1949, Lauren Bacall gave birth to Bogart's first child, son Stevie and over the following decade, she chose to focus more on her family than her career, appearing only in a handful of films. The following year, she starred in two movies directed by Michael Curtiz. In the musical film Young Man with a Horn, based on the life of the famous jazz cornetist and pianist Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931), Bacall portrayed the complicated and emotionally disturbed Amy North, opposite her former classmate and ex-boyfriend Kirk Douglas as Rick Martin. Bacall plays a character that lacks the warmness and loyalty we been used to and instead showing an intellectual and rather cold personality. This big-budget jazz film co-starring Dorris Day features memorable jazz music performed by the reputable trumpeter Harry James. In the epic melodrama Bright Leaf, co-starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal and adapted from Foster Fitzsimmons' 1949 novel, Bacall portrayed the bordello owner Madam Sonia who was in love with Brant Royle (Cooper's character) and eventually became his business partner in the tobacco industry. In Bright Leaf, Bacall's last film under her seven-year contract with Warner Bros, she once again portrays a woman with great loyalty to a man, but her love is this time unanswered.
In 1952, Lauren Bacall gave birth to the couple's second child, daughter Leslie Howard Bogart and the following year starred in her first romantic comedy, Jean Negulesco's How To Marry A Millionaire for 20th Century Fox. Written and produced by Nunnally Johnson and co-starring Marilyn Monroe as the near-sighted Pola and Betty Grable as the spirited Loco, the movie filmed in Technicolor was the studio's first CinemaScope feature and one of the first movies with its score recorded in the new stereophonic sound system. Miss Bacall's memorable interpretation of the sharp-witted, sardonic yet sultry Schatze Paige who ”was crazy about that old fellow what's-his-name in The African Queen showcased her comedic skills and earned her rave reviews from critics. The hilarious trio of opportunistic models who plan to get their hands on wealthy husbands but find love instead offered audiences a truly delectable slice of ”glamorous entertainment” extravaganza, becoming a colossal box-office hit and the studio's highest grossing film of the year.
In 1954, Miss Bacall portrayed Elizabeth Burns, the estranged wife of Sid, Fred MacMurray's character in another film directed by Romanian-born and American-naturalized director Jean Negulesco (with whom she remained friends until his death in 1993), the star-studded drama Woman's World, centered on three married professionals who compete for the position of executive manager of an automotive company.
The following year, Lauren Bacall teamed up for the first time with director Vincente Minnelli in the MGM melodrama The Cobweb, set in a psychiatric facility, but despite an all-star cast, the film proved unpopular among audiences. In 1956, Lauren Bacall gave an impeccable performance in the melodramatic role of the intelligent and sophisticated yet miserably married executive secretary Lucy Moore who finds her salvation in the Texas oil company's geologist Mitch Wayne, Rock Hudson's character in Douglas Sirk's subversive and twisted melodrama ”Written on the Wind”. Brimming with contrived and artificial effects strategically and subtly employed to downplay the American lifestyle that Sirk celebrated in the film, Written on the Wind was a loose screen adaptation of Robert Wilder's 1945 novel, a veiled account of the short yet overly publicized marriage of bisexual singer Libby Holman and 20-year old tobacco heir Smith Reynolds, who was reportedly murdered by Holman and Smith's personal assistant. Although Bogie personally disliked it, the film (one of Pedro Almodovar's favorites) is regarded as a classic tearjerker movie and it is credited with setting the tone for world-renowned prime-time soap operas such as Dallas and Dynasty.
Less than twelve years of marital bliss ended tragically in January 1957, when Humphrey Bogart died of esophageal cancer. Four months after the passing of Bogie, the ”love of her life”, one of her best movies was released, Vincente Minnelli's 1957 romantic comedy Designing Woman, opposite her good friend Gregory Peck. She had reluctantly accepted to star in this film while Bogie was dying, but, according to Bacall, it actually proved to be ”a good therapy” for her. Bacall's savory portrayal of the classy, chic fashion designer Marilla Brown ( a role originally intended for Grace Kelly, who was to play opposite Jimmy Stewart ) who marries sportswriter Mike Hagen only to find out they have no shared interests earned her glowing reviews. Film critics have compared the inspired Bacall-Peck pairing with the ever-popular Tracy-Hepburn, who in real life were Bacall and Bogie's closest friends and members of the original Rat Pack, an eclectic group of friends who regularly met in Bogie and Bacall's home in Holmby Hills, LA. This critically acclaimed MGM comedy also became very popular with the audiences, becoming a huge box-office success. Two moderately successful films followed, Jean Negulesco's 1958 heartbreaking drama ”The Gift of Love”, in which she portrayed a kindhearted young wife who dies prematurely of heart disease and J. Lee Thomson's 1959 British adventure film ”North West Frontier”, ”a good little film ” which proved a smash hit in the UK.
The 1960s and 1970s
In her autobiography, Lauren Bacall stated that Frank Sinatra, another member of the original Rat Pack who had wooed her briefly after Bogie's death actually did her ”a favor” when he broke their relationship off and ”saved her from a potentially disastrous marriage”. Miss Bacall nevertheless married again, to actor Jason Robards and that same year, she gave birth to the couple's only child, actor Sam Robards. With a new family, she put again her career on hold, appearing in only three films throughout the 1960s – the 1964 film Shock Treatment and Sex and the Single Girl, co-starring Henry Fonda as the husband of Sylvia (Bacall's character), Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis and Jack Smight's smash hit Harper, opposite Paul Newman and in which she played a role similar to her previous part in The Big Sleep. Lauren Bacall divorced Robards in 1969 and never remarried.
In the 1970s, Lauren Bacall reinvented herself as an actress, shifting mediums and becoming a highly-respected stage actress on Broadway. She went on to receive her first Tony Award for her exceptional performance in the 1970 Broadway musical Applause, in which she portrayed Margo Channing. After an 8-year hiatus she returned to the big screen to join the all-star cast (including Albert Finney and Sean Connery) of Sidney Lumet's 1974 screen adaptation of Agatha Christie's crime novel Murder on the Orient Express, a colossal box-office success in the UK and to star opposite John Wayne, at his request, in his final film, Don Siegal's 1976 western The Shootist, for which she received a BAFTA nomination.
Her late films include two stylized avant-garde films directed by the famous Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, part of his ”US Trilogy” - the 2003 drama Dogville starring Nicole Kidman and its sequel, the 2005 drama Manderlay, starring Bryce Dallas Howard.
Lauren Bacall is last credited with voicing the character of Evelyn in the ”Mom's The Word” episode of Seth MacFarlane's hit animated comedy series Family Guy, originally aired in March 2014. Lauren Bacall passed away on August 12th, 2014 after suffering a stroke in her apartment in the Dakota building (outside of which John Lennon was shot dead in 1980). She lived alone, only with her fur baby Sophie, a smart female Papillion. She is survived by her three children, Stephen Bogart, Leslie Bogart and Sam Robards as well as grandchildren.