A mini-industry among the producing elite in Hollywood's Golden age was the finding and grooming of new female stars. Perhaps the premier trendsetter in this area was David O. Selznick, who groomed and promoted Ingrid Bergman and Jennifer Jones, among many others. Often a producer could earn more in loaning out such a major star to other studios than in film production itself. By 1943 Howard Hawks entered this arena by signing 18-year-old New York model Betty Bacal to a seven year contract. Hawks' wife had actually made the suggestion after spotting her on the cover of Harper's Bazaar
. After a year of coaching and waiting for the right project, Hawks sold Warner Bros. on letting him cast her in the lead of the Hemingway picture.
(Warner Bros. insisted Hawks sell them half of Bacall's contract). Shooting began in March of 1944.
Lauren Bacall (the first name and 2nd "l" in the last name came from Hawks) was terrified on the set of her first film. Fortunately, her leading man was able to put her at ease with humor and acting tips. Bacall had nervous shakes in her first scenes and quickly learned that keeping her chin down and her eyes up kept her head from trembling. It developed into a trademark sultry look.
Unknown to Bacall, Hawks had the option to revert to a partial Furthman script which gave some of Bacall's dialogue to another actress should the aspiring actress not work out. It wasn't needed. In fact, shooting continued with Faulkner re-writing scenes to spotlight Bacall's character. Hawks shot at a leisurely pace. In the mornings the cast would run through the script (usually fresh pages from Faulkner) while sitting in
canvas chairs. Here Hawks and Bogart would often juggle or change lines to suit the personalities of the characters. After lunch, the scenes would be filmed.
Bacall writes in her autobiography that it was in the third week of shooting that friendly banter between her and Bogart turned to something more. At the end of shooting one day, "...he leaned over, put his hand under my chin, and kissed me. It was impulsive - he was a bit shy - no lunging wolf tactics. He took a worn package of matches out of his pocket and asked me to put my phone number on the back. I did." Bogart was 44 years old and in an unhappy third marriage. The relationship with Bacall was obvious on the set, and while it sparked the onscreen chemistry for his movie, Hawks was furious. He warned Bacall away and threatened that the relationship could damage her career - that she could end up at Monogram Pictures. (By some accounts, Hawks was jealous and had designs on Bacall himself). Hawks warned that Bogart would drop Betty after filming was completed, but nothing could be further from the truth. Bogart was divorced and married Bacall in 1945. They made three more films together and remained married until Bogart's death from cancer in January, 1957.
by John Miller