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Lauren Bacall was one of those movie stars who were so original and iconic that the molecular structure of the audience seemed to shift when she was on screen. Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo - they too possessed an ineffable power to dominate the screen by their physical presence alone. But what made Bacall unique was that she demonstrated this authority at such a young age. She was only 19 years old when she stood toe-to-toe with the formidable Humphrey Bogart in "To Have and Have Not" (1944), director Howard Hawks' film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's novel. Her husky voice and sultry eyes were more than a match for Bogie, both on screen and off. He would go on to marry his much younger co-star and together they began one of Hollywood's most famed personal and professional partnerships. But Bacall was not dependent upon Bogart for her later success. She continued to be a movie star and Broadway diva long after Bogart died in 1957, establishing herself as one of the greatest female entertainers of her generation - not to mention, one tough broad.Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on Sept. 16, 1924, in New York City, NY. Unlike Bogart, who came from a wealthy...
Lauren Bacall was one of those movie stars who were so original and iconic that the molecular structure of the audience seemed to shift when she was on screen. Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Greta Garbo - they too possessed an ineffable power to dominate the screen by their physical presence alone. But what made Bacall unique was that she demonstrated this authority at such a young age. She was only 19 years old when she stood toe-to-toe with the formidable Humphrey Bogart in "To Have and Have Not" (1944), director Howard Hawks' film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's novel. Her husky voice and sultry eyes were more than a match for Bogie, both on screen and off. He would go on to marry his much younger co-star and together they began one of Hollywood's most famed personal and professional partnerships. But Bacall was not dependent upon Bogart for her later success. She continued to be a movie star and Broadway diva long after Bogart died in 1957, establishing herself as one of the greatest female entertainers of her generation - not to mention, one tough broad.
Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on Sept. 16, 1924, in New York City, NY. Unlike Bogart, who came from a wealthy Manhattan family, Bacall's upbringing was strictly middle-class; her father was a salesman and her mother was a secretary. Her parents divorced when she was five, leaving Bacall to live with her mother, to whom she was extremely close. She had no contact with her father after her parents split, but strong father figures like Hawks and Bogart would play key roles in her early success. After studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and working as a model to pay the bills, Bacall appeared on the cover of Harper's Bazaar magazine. Slim Keith, Hawks' socialite wife, saw the cover and was so taken with Bacall's beauty that she convinced her husband to give the young model a screen test for his next film, "To Have and Have Not" - the film which would make Bacall an overnight sensation and spawn one of the most famous lines in film history, voiced by the husky-voiced actress to her future husband: "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow." One look at the Bazaar cover, and Hawk's acquiesced to auditioning the unknown.It was a test in more ways than one. Bacall, who was Jewish, had heard that Hawks was anti-Semitic. Intimidated and inexperienced, she allowed her agent to conceal her religious background from Hawks and offered no resistance when Hawks suggested she change her name from "Betty" to "Lauren." Additionally, what became known as Bacall's alluring "look" -chin down; smoldering eyes looking up - was created by the actress out of necessity. She literally was so nervous that keeping her chin closer to her chest was the only way to prevent her head from shaking once the camera started rolling.
Things did not get easier for Bacall when the actual "To Have and Have Not" production began, as apart from being totally green, she began to fall in love with her seasoned, gruff leading man. Bogart's third and often violent marriage to actress Mayo Methot was breaking up and he was miserable. An admirable man not prone to cheating on wives, he nonetheless grew more smitten each day with his young co-star, setting his sights on her despite their 25-year age difference. They started a clandestine affair after several weeks of shooting - mainly to prevent the unhinged Methot from wreaking havoc on either one of them. However, soon after the film was released, not only did Bacall become an overnight movie star with her first film role, she became - more importantly to her - Mrs. Humphrey Bogart. On May 21, 1945, the couple tied the knot during a modest Connecticut ceremony, with the supposed tough guy crying unashamedly at the sight of his "Baby" (as he called her) walking up the aisle.
Coming off such heady stuff, Warner Bros. was anxious to showcase their new vixen quickly, unfortunately choosing the spy drama "Confidential Agent" (1945) and miscasting her opposite refined French actor, Charles Boyer. The film garnered her the worst reviews of her career. She wisely decided to recreate the magic of her debut by appearing in three movies with Bogart back-to-back-to-back. "The Big Sleep" (1946), based on the Raymond Chandler novel with a screenplay by the legendary writer William Faulkner, earned critical raves and box office success, despite everyone involved professing that they did not understand the convoluted plot. Directed by Hawks, the film showcased Bacall's smoldering sexuality and Bogart's genuine infatuation with his wife and co-star. Despite the incomprehensible storyline, Bacall's and Bogart's chemistry was electric and the film was a smash for post-war audiences looking for grit and reality.
Thee couple followed it up with the thriller "Dark Passage" - the least memorable of their four flicks - with Bogart playing a man who escapes from prison to prove his innocence and Bacall essaying the beautiful, young artist sympathetic to his cause. A complex film noir like "The Big Sleep," the sizzling heat generated between its two stars more than compensated for the movie's shortcomings. "Key Largo" (1948), their fourth and final film, again featured the familiar formula of Bogart as the vulnerable anti-hero and Bacall as the tough but tender woman who helps him uncover the courage beneath his hard shell - all set against the backdrop of a Florida hotel under siege by both a hurricane and the notorious gangster, Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson). Directed by John Huston, "Key Largo" was a worldwide success and cemented Bacall and Bogart as one of the greatest film partnerships ever.
At the peak of her popularity, Bacall turned her attention beyond movies to more personal interests. She and Bogart started a family - which could include son Stephen and daughter Leslie - and with her husband's influence, she became an outspoken proponent of progressive politics, with the couple criticizing the anti-Communist attacks of the House Un-American Activities Committee and befriending President Harry Truman. The Life magazine image of Bacall draped seductively on top of Truman's piano while he played became an instant sensation and one of the most indelible photo-ops of the post-war era. Despite being a full-time mother and passionate politico, she continued to work, but very selectively. She was superb as a femme fatale in "Young Man with a Horn" (1950) opposite Kirk Douglas, proving that she did not need her husband's star power to ignite sparks on screen. The romantic romp "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953) showcased Bacall's comedic talents and contrasted her sharp-witted sultriness against the baby-doll sexuality of Marilyn Monroe. She provided a shot of vinegar to the sugary Douglas Sirk melodrama "Written on the Wind" (1956), proving more than a match for her co-stars Rock Hudson and Robert Stack. She also showed her mettle by taking on some of Hollywood's biggest power players, engaging in a long-running feud with Jack Warner, the head of Warner Brothers, over the quality of scripts sent to her. Since Bogart was Warner's biggest star and, even then, an American institution, Warner backed down before the increasingly ballsy Bacall did.
But the actress could not win every battle. After little over a decade of married bliss, the epic love story took a decidingly tragic turn. During the 1950s, Bogart's health started a long, slow decline - due, it turned out, to his massive cigarette habit. Diagnosed with throat cancer, he became increasingly weak and unable to work. To make matters worse, his cancer was not discussed in polite company - as was the etiquette of the time. Bacall - only 30 odd years old - made the decision to put career aside so she could nurse her ailing husband and spend time with their children. This gave her an unfair reputation for being difficult, but Bacall could have cared less when it came to her beloved Bogie - the one man who had shaped her entire life up until that point. It was a tribute to her professionalism that she shot one of her best comedies, "Designing Women" (1957), during Bogart's last, sad days.
When Bogart died on Jan. 14, 1957, Bacall was on her own for the first time in her adult life. She had more than a few personal and professional missteps in the wake of her loss. An affair with Frank Sinatra, Bogart's good friend and a member of the Bogie-founded Holmby Hills Rat Pack, ended badly, as it was more a fling of two people united in grief. However, Bacall was ill- prepared to deal with womanizing men like Sinatra, so was traumatized when Sinatra coldly dumped her. Without her husband's clout in her corner, she struggled to find good roles, as well. The tepid drama "The Gift of Love" (1958) was beneath her and the British War film "North West Frontier" (1959) was better, but did nothing to erase the power of her early work.
Approaching age 40, Bacall married again; this time to the distinguished actor Jason Robards, whom many thought resembled Bogie in both looks and temperament. In 1961, Bacall had a child with Robards, Sam, and once again seemed more focused on family than films. She worked sparingly throughout the 1960s, dabbling in TV and appearing in just three films: "Shock Treatment" (1964); "Sex and the Single Girl" (1964); and "Harper" (1966). By 1969, her marriage to Robards was over, done in by his alcoholism. Bacall was now middle-aged and on her own again. Amazingly, it marked the beginning of one of the most triumphant periods of her career.
Bacall shifted focus, training to be a stage actress and had found success in the play "Cactus Flower" during the mid-60s. But in 1970, she threw caution to the wind and took on the role of aging stage diva, Margo Channing, in the Broadway musical, "Applause" (1970). The play was a musical version of the classic film "All About Eve" (1950), in which Bette Davis - Bacall's idol - had created the Channing role. Although she was not much of a singer, Bacall threw herself into the play and it became a fantastic success. Bacall won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical and powered the play through a national tour and a London staging. Adapted for TV, "Applause" (CBS, 1973) earned Bacall more rave reviews and an Emmy nomination.
Rejuvenated by her Broadway success, the comeback kid returned to movies after an eight-year hiatus, lending class and elegance to the all-star ensemble cast in "Murder on the Orient Express" (1974). She backed up John Wayne in his last movie, the western "The Shootist" (1976). She and Wayne lived on opposite sides of the political spectrum but they were good friends; both exemplifying tough-talking but fair-minded individualism. Those traits certainly enlivened any film she appeared in, whether it was Robert Altman's sickly comedy "H.E.A.L.T.H." (1980) or the psychodrama misfire "The Fan" (1981). Bacall had more success and better material to work with when she returned to the stage. In 1981, she re-invented the role made famous by old pal Katherine Hepburn in the stage version of the movie "Woman of the Year" (1942). As with "Applause," the play was a smash and garnered Bacall more lavish reviews.
The actress took most of the 1980s off, but picked up again at the end of the decade. Now in her sixties, she found good parts as hard to come by as ever, but she soldiered on in roles that seemed interesting to her. She appeared in "Mr. North" (1988), a comedy notable primarily because it was directed by Danny Huston, the son of her late friend and director John Huston. She did a nice, quick turn in the horror thriller "Misery" (1990) and re-teamed with director Robert Altman for "Ready to Wear" (1994). Barbra Streisand - another smart, tough and talented Jewish girl from New York - directed Bacall in "The Mirror Has Two Faces" (1996), guiding her to her only Oscar nomination and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role.
As Bacall entered her eighties, her appetite for the avant-garde seemed to increase. She made two unusual movies in supporting roles to Nicole Kidman. The experimental drama "Dogville" (2003) and the intriguing but unsatisfying thriller "Birth" (2004) were not box office hits, but were at least ambitious. Lars Van Trier, the Danish director of "Dogville," then cast her in his next film "Manderlay" (2005). An unconventional story of racism in the American South, "Manderlay" also failed to reach a wide audience, but allowed Bacall to work with some top-notch actors like Danny Glover and Willem Dafoe. She lent her acerbically witty charm to Paul Schrader's "The Walker" (2007), another fascinating failure featuring Lily Tomlin, Ned Beatty and Kristin Scott Thomas. Unconcerned about box office projections or production budgets - including her own salary - Bacall embraced the experience of working with interesting actors and directors.
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Inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1998
After seeing her in "To Have and Have Not," Billy Wilder referred to Bacall as "The girl with 'the look,'" and the phrase stuck. Bacall herself would later claim that one of the trademark features of "The Look," the chin held very low, practically against her chest so that her eyes would have to look up sharply, and seductively, was a way to keep her head from shaking from sheer nervousness during her earliest days of filming "To Have and Have Not" (1944).
Probably the most famous words ever written about Bacall are those of novelist, essayist and film critic James Agee, remarking on her debut in "To Have and Have Not" (1944)
"Lauren Bacall has cinema personality to burn and she burns both ends against an unusually little middle...She has a javelin-like vitality, a born dancer's eloquence of movement, a fierce female shrewdness, and a special sweet-sourness. With these faculties, plus a stone-crushing confidence and a trombone voice, she manages to get across the toughest girl a piously regenerate Hollywood has dreamed of in a long, long while."---film critic James Agee
Received an honorary degree from Columbia University in 1998.
"Yeah, once you pass the age of 25, you're in trouble. The preoccupation with youth and with endless trips to the plastic surgeon begining at age 18 is just horrific. But I'm very lucky. Believe me, I'm grateful every day for that fact that I'm still working, and I intend to keep working until I drop, Which I hope will not be today or tomorrow. [laughs] But I think the reason I've continued to work is that I've never stopped, and also that I've spent 20 years starring in plays and musicals and being in the public eye."---Bacall talks about aging in Hollywood to Interview Magazine April 2004
She acknowledges that updating her life sometimes proved to be painful, especially recalling the loss in a year's span of many close friends, "... each of them very important to me; it was like an epidemic." Among them: Roddy McDowall, songwriter Adolph Green, playwright Peter Stone, actors Alec Guinness, John Gielgud, Gregory Peck and Katharine Hepburn, and writer-director George Axelrod.
"The (losses) chip away at your own life, and the world gets smaller," Bacall on writing "By Myself and Then Some," a follow-up to her 1978 memoir, "By Myself" Cnn.com, April 4, 2005.
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