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Lauren Bacall - Actress

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Lauren Bacall.
She has cinema personality to burn, and she burns both ends against an unusually little middle. Her personality is compounded partly of percolated Davis, Garbo, West, Dietrich, Harlow and Glenda Farrell, but more than enough of it is completely new to the screen.
- James Agee - a film critic

Lauren Bacall will be remembered as an actress from the 'Golden Age of Hollywood'; where she became known for 'the Look'. Bacall recalls its creation: I remember trying to hold my head still because I was shaking. When the movie was released, it became 'The Look'. This famous look garnered her the nickname 'baby'.

A Legend Is Born

Born Betty Joan Perske on 16 September, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York, to Jewish immigrants, William Perske and Natalie Weinstein-Bacal, she was later to adopt the stage name Lauren Bacall. Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres is Bacall's cousin. When Bacall was six, her parents divorced, leaving her without a father. Consequently, she was left to form a strong bond with her mother, who accompanied Bacall to California where she would become a film star.

At the age of 15, she joined the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she met and dated Kirk Douglas. However, she was forced to drop out for financial reasons and became a model and theatre usher. In 1942, Howard Hawks's wife, Slim, saw a copy of Harper's Bazaar with a picture of Bacall adorning the front cover, and he decided to give her a screen test. She did so well that he decided to cast her in the film To Have And Have Not. Bacall's character was largely based on Hawks's wife - the film character is even named Slim.

Certainly Bogey was the most gigantic influence on me in the most positive way and I was very, very lucky to have been so moulded as a teenager by this older man who was younger than I was in many ways. He had incredible energy – he had more energy then I did at 19. He was physically able to do more.

The film also led to her fist meeting with Humphrey Bogart. Bacall told Times Online that she remembers thinking at first that he was uncivilised, but was pleasantly taken aback when she met him. 'People surprise you. Bogey was an avid reader. I thought he was one of those "deez, dem and doze" guys. I didn't know his father was a doctor and his mother was an artist. I thought, "Ugh, lordy!", but he spoke well and was well read'. Bogart was 25 years older than Bacall. Hawks is said to have told Bogart 'We are going to try an interesting thing. You are about the most insolent man on the screen and I'm going to make a little girl more insolent than you are'. The film was a success, its most famous line being Bacall's: 'You do know how to whistle don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow'.

During filming, Bacall and Bogart became close - so close that by the end of filming, Bogart had called off his marriage with Mayo Methot and had proposed to Bacall. She was only 20 and he 45 when they married on 21 May, 1945. The couple's wedding took place at Malabar Farm, Lucas, Ohio. Bacall and Bogart went on to appear in three films together: The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948).

It was a lovely marriage. They supported each other personally, professionally and politically. It was gemütlich living.
- Bacall's fellow actress and friend Gloria Stuart

In 1947, Bogart and Bacall helped create the Committee for the First Amendment, which acted against the anti-Communist witch-hunt. During the 1950s, Bacall took on fewer roles, because she disliked the parts offered to her and wanted to spend more time with her family. She did, however, make time to star alongside Kirk Douglas in Young Man with a Horn (1950s), Marilyn Monroe in How To Marry A Millionaire (1953) and Rock Hudson in Written On The Wind (1956). Bacall and Bogart were also getting set to star together in the film Melville Goodwin USA, but Bogart was struck by cancer of the oesophagus, from which he never recovered. Bogart died in January, 1957. Bacall placed a gold whistle in his coffin, reminiscent of a scene from the first film in which they appeared together.

Life After Bogart

After Bogart's death, Bacall was linked to singer and actor Frank Sinatra. The engagement of Bacall and Sinatra was short-lived, however, as he 'felt trapped' and accused her of telling the media about their relationship. During the 1960s, she took to the stage, appearing in Cactus Flower in 1960. She won Tony Awards for her performances in Applause and Woman of the Year.

At the same time, she struck up a relationship with an actor called Jason Robards. The couple married in 1961, and they had a child named Sam. However, the marriage came to an end eight years later, with Bacall stating that Robards's addiction to alcohol was to blame.

'Jason was a formidable man in his own right and certainly a great actor. But difficult, you know. He had these problems, especially with alcohol and I just couldn't take it any more'.

Career Woman Carries On

I am still working, I've never stopped and, while my health holds out, I won't stop.

In 1974, she marked a return to working on films by appearing in the film Murder On The Orient Express. She followed this performance with an appearance in the psychodrama The Fan and other films such as H.E.A.L.T.H., Appointment With Death, Misery and Ready To Wear (Prêt-à-Porter). She also starred alongside John Wayne in The Shootist (1976), which was his last film before he died of cancer in 1979. Her biggest success, however, came with the film The Mirror Has Two Faces in 1996, which saw her win a Golden Globe and be nominated for Best Supporting Actress Academy Award1.

More recently she has appeared alongside Nicole Kidman in Dogville and Birth. The actresses appear to have struck up a friendship since they first started working with one another, 'We were friends when we started [Birth]. That laid the groundwork for our fabulous relationship on screen and off'. However, Bacall feels that 'She's not a legend. She's a beginner...she can't be a legend at whatever age she is', as she told GMTV.

Independent Woman

Betty2 is one of the most courageous people I know. She has lived a long time on her own. I don't think she always likes it, but she never complains.
- friend Maggie Smith

Today, Bacall is intent on remaining a single woman. She has been tempted to date men, but most of them are married. Granted, this might not have been an issue for the younger Bacall, but she feels it is not for her these days. Instead, she fills her life watching sport, learning to use the computer, going to the theatre and spending time with friends. 'I can't imagine a life without friends. Now, of course, most of my friends are dead, because they were so much older. I've lost a lot in the past couple of years. Horrible. Really close friends who have gone.'

Further Reading

More information on Lauren Bacall can be found in her books.

  • Lauren Bacall By Myself
  • By Myself and Then Some
1Bacall lost out to Juliette Binoche, who appeared in The English Patient.2Close acquaintances of Bacall addressed her by her given name, Betty.

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