Lauren Bacall (1924-2014): Tough, sexy, talented, smart – she defined the best in women in life and movies

Lauren Bacall 1940s
Lauren Bacall 1940s

WASHINGTON, August 12, 2014 – Lauren Bacall. With a voice that stopped men dead in their track, Lauren Bacall was the stuff of real women. Tough. Sultry. Sexy. Funny. Talented. Smart.

Lauren Bacall has died in her home at The Dakota, in New York at the age of 89.

The name, and voice, of Lauren Bacall conjures images of femininity wrapped in an exterior that could take on any man – Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Gary Cooper.  At the end of her life the image of her indelibly etched in our mind is from To Have Or Have Not (1944) with Humphrey Bogart, truly one of the greatest films ever made, and the frame for one of the most memorable scenes in Hollywood film history.

“You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve,” her character says to Bogart’s. “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.”

To Have or Have Not, adapted from an Ernest Heminway novel, shot Ms. Bacall to fame and it is on that set she met Humphrey Bogart, who became her lover, then her husband until his death in 1957. Theirs is one of Hollywood’s greatest love stories. Bogart was twenty-five years her senior and married at the time when stopped to say good night to his young co-star, impulsively tilting her head up and kissing her.

From there, though he tried to salvage his marriage to Mayo Method, they never really looked back and they were married on May 21, 1945.  She claimed her years with Bogart where her happiest, however she also said she would have had a fuller career had she never married him.

“I would not have had a better life, but a better career,” she said. “Howard Hawks (who brought her to Hollywood) was like a Svengali; he was molding me the way he wanted. I was his creation, and I would have had a great career had he been in control of it. But the minute Bogie was around, Hawks knew he couldn’t control me, so he sold my contract to Warner Bros. And that was the end.”

Other films with “Bogie” included the 1940s classics as The Big Sleep, Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948).

Ms. Bacall often expressed frustration over the public fascination with her love affair, and marriage, with Humphrey Bogart, a time in her life she often said was the happiest in her life.

In a 2011 interview with Vanity Fair, she said “My obit is going to be full of Bogart, I’m sure. I’ll never know if that’s true. If that’s the way, that’s the way it is.”

Her son Stephen Bogart confirmed her passing saying:

“Her life speaks for itself. She lived a wonderful life, a magical life.”

Ms. Bacall also leaves a daughter from that marriage, Leslie Bogart. Following Bogart’s death she had a brief affair with Frank Sinatra, part of the infamous Rat Pack that included, before his death, Bogart, Sinatra, David Niven, Judy Garland and other glitteratia.

The Las Vegas Rat Pack that followed included Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.

Four years following Mr. Bogart’s death, she married Jason Robards Jr. with whom she had a son, the actor Sam Robards. The Robards were divorced in 1969. Jason Robards died in 2000.

Today he is survived by her sons, Stephen Bogart and Sam Robards; her daughter, Leslie Bogart, and six grandchildren.

Ms. Bacall was famous for her face, her figure, her voice and charisma.  She was, in an era of starlets, a woman with infinite charisma, and a slightly dangerous aura of sexuality and charisma.

She had a skill and presence that let her stand toe to toe with the top leading men, her husband, Humphrey Bogart and with Kirk Douglas in Young Man With A Horn (1950); Gary Cooper in Bright Leaf (1950); with Clifton Webb, June Allyson and Van Heflin in Woman’s World (1954); with the Duke in Blood Alley (1955); Rock Hudson in Written On The Wind (1956); and alongside Gregory Peck in Designing Woman (1957).

During the next decade, she starred with Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood and Henry Fonda in Sex And The Single Girl (1964) and opposite Paul Newman in Harper (1996).

She also graced the screen with Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe in her first comedy, How To Marry A Millionaire (1953);

Ms. Bacall made her Broadway debut in 1942 as Betty Bacal in Johnny 2×4, then again in 1965 she went back to the Great White Way in Cactus Flower, starring with Barry Nelson (1965). In 1970 she was on stage in Applause, for which she won a Tony Award.

Her last role on Broadway as in the Jeremy Sam’s revision of Noel Cowards Waiting In The Wings (1999).

Ms. Bacall worked throughout her life, winning three Emmys including for a role in The Rockford Files, opposite James Garner, who died last month. Bacall received many awards as a result of a truly remarkable career including France’s Cesar Awards, the Berlin International Film Festival, the Golden Globes and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. She received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in 1960.

Some Facts from Ms. Bacall’s life (courtesy;
Birth date: September 16, 1924

Birth place: New York, New York

Birth name: Betty Joan Perske

Father: William Perske, a salesman

Mother: Natalie (Weinstein-Bacal) Perske

Marriages: Jason Robards (July 4, 1961-September 11, 1969, divorce); Humphrey Bogart (May 21, 1945-January 14, 1957, his death)

Children: with Jason Robards: Sam, 1961; with Humphrey Bogart: Stephen, 1949; Leslie, 1952

Education: American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York, 1941

Other Facts:
Winner of two Tony Awards. Winner of an honorary Oscar and nominated for one Academy Award. Nominated for three Emmy Awards.

Her last name, Bacall, comes from her mother’s maiden name, Weinstein-Bacal (with one “L”).

Lauren Bacall was discovered by Howard Hawks’ wife Slim on the March 1943 cover of Harper’s Bazaar.

Howard Hawks encouraged her to speak in a low voice for her screen test, and later gave her the name Lauren.

Her trademark since her film debut in 1944 has been her distinctive, husky voice.

Made five films with husband Humphrey Bogart: “To Have and Have Not” (1944), “The Big Sleep” (1946), “Dark Passage” (1947), “Key Largo” (1948), and both had uncredited roles in “Two Guys From Milwaukee” (1946).

Son Stephen is named after the character Bogart played in their first film together. And daughter Leslie is named after the actor Leslie Howard.

A famous photo features Bacall draped over a piano with then Vice-President Harry S. Truman at the keyboard.

She was engaged briefly to Frank Sinatra between marriages.

Early 1940s – Supports herself by modeling and working as an usher on Broadway after leaving the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

March 16, 1942 – Broadway debut as Betty Bacall, in “Johnny 2X4,” a walk-on part in a play with 66 actors.

October 1944 – Her first film, “To Have and Have Not,” is released.

1970 – Winner, Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for “Applause.”

1980 – Her first autobiography, “Lauren Bacall: By Myself” wins the National Book Award.

1981 – Winner, Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for “Woman of the Year.”

1997 – Receives the Kennedy Center Honors.

March 2005 – Her updated autobiography, “By Myself and Then Some” is published.

November 14, 2009 – Receives an honorary Oscar in recognition of her place in the golden age of motion pictures at the inaugural Governors Awards gala.

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