Bacall in the 1940s
|Born||Betty Joan Perske
September 16, 1924
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
|Died||August 12, 2014 (aged 89)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death
|Height||5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)|
|Children||3 including Sam Robards|
|AFI’s 100 Years…100 Stars, 1999|
She first emerged as a leading lady in the Humphrey Bogart film To Have and Have Not (1944) and continued on in the film noir genre, with appearances in Bogart movies The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), and Key Largo (1948), as well as comedic roles in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) with Marilyn Monroe and Designing Woman (1957) with Gregory Peck. Bacall worked on Broadway in musicals, earning Tony Awards for Applause in 1970 and Woman of the Year in 1981. Her performance in the movie The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996) earned her a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination.
In 1999, Bacall was ranked #20 of the 25 actresses on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Stars list by the American Film Institute. In 2009, she was selected by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive an Academy Honorary Award “in recognition of her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures.”
Bacall died on August 12, 2014, at the age of 89 after suffering a stroke.
Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on September 16, 1924, in the Bronx, New York, the only child of Natalie (née Weinstein-Bacal), a secretary who later legally changed her surname to Bacall, and William Perske, who worked in sales. Both her parents were Jewish. Her mother emigrated from Romania through Ellis Island and her father was born in New Jersey to Polish-born parents.
Through her father, she was a relative of Shimon Peres, the ninth President of Israel (though not a first cousin, as has sometimes been reported). Her parents divorced when she was five, and she took the Romanian form of her mother’s last name, Bacall. She no longer saw her father and formed a very close bond with her mother, who came to live in California after Bacall became a movie star.
As a teenage fashion model, she appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar (the cover has since been described as ‘iconic’), as well as in magazines such as Vogue. She was noted for her “cat-like grace, tawny blonde hair and blue-green eyes”.
She made her acting debut on Broadway in 1942, at age 17, as a walk-on in Johnny 2 X 4. According to Bacall’s autobiography, she and a girlfriend won an opportunity in 1940 to meet her idol Bette Davis at Davis’s hotel. Years later, Davis visited Bacall backstage to congratulate her on her performance in Applause, a musical based on the film All About Eve in which Davis had starred. Davis reportedly told Bacall “You’re the only one who could have played the part.”
While she was working as a fashion model, Howard Hawks‘ wife Nancy spotted her on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar magazine. and urged Hawks to have her take a screen test for To Have and Have Not. Hawks had asked his secretary to find out more about her, but the secretary misunderstood and sent her a ticket to Hollywood for the audition.
Hawks signed her to a seven-year personal contract, brought her to Hollywood, gave her $100 salary a week, and began to manage her career. Hawks changed her first name to Lauren, and Perske adopted “Bacall”, a variant of her mother’s maiden name, as her new surname. Nancy Hawks took Bacall under her wing. Nancy dressed Bacall stylishly and guided her in matters of elegance, manners and taste. Bacall was trained to make her voice lower, deeper, and sexier. In To Have and Have Not, Bacall’s character used Nancy Hawks’ nickname “Slim” and Bogart used Howard Hawks’ nickname “Steve”.
During screen tests for To Have and Have Not (1944), Bacall was nervous. To minimize her quivering, she pressed her chin against her chest and to face the camera, tilted her eyes upward. This effect became known as “The Look”, Bacall’s trademark.
On the set, Humphrey Bogart, who was married to Mayo Methot, initiated a relationship with Bacall several weeks into shooting and they began seeing each other. On a visit to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on February 10, 1945, Bacall’s press agent, chief of publicity at Warner Bros. Charlie Enfield, asked the 20-year-old Bacall to sit on the piano which was being played by Vice-President of the United States Harry S. Truman.
After To Have and Have Not, Bacall was seen opposite Charles Boyer in Confidential Agent (1945), which was poorly received by the critics. She appeared with Bogart in the films noir The Big Sleep (1946) and Dark Passage (1947) and John Huston‘s melodramatic suspense film Key Largo (1948) with Bogart and Edward G. Robinson. She was cast opposite Gary Cooper in Bright Leaf (1950).
Bacall turned down scripts she did not find interesting and thereby earned a reputation for being difficult. For her leads in a string of films, she received favorable reviews. In Young Man with a Horn (1950), co-starring Kirk Douglas, Doris Day, and Hoagy Carmichael, Bacall played a two-faced femme fatale. This movie is often considered the first big-budget jazz film.
During 1951–1952, Bacall co-starred with Bogart in the syndicated action-adventure radio series Bold Venture. In 1953, Bacall starred in the CinemaScope comedy How to Marry a Millionaire, a runaway hit. Billed third under Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable, Bacall got positive notices for her turn as the witty gold-digger, Schatze Page. According to her autobiography, Bacall declined[why?] the coveted invitation from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to press her hand- and footprints in the theatre’s cemented forecourt at the Los Angeles premiere of the film.
In 1955, a television version of Bogart’s own breakthrough film, The Petrified Forest, was performed as a live installment of Producers’ Showcase, a weekly dramatic anthology, featuring Bogart as Duke Mantee, Henry Fonda as Alan, and Bacall as Gabrielle, the part originally played in the 1936 movie by Bette Davis. Bogart had no problem performing his role live since he had originally played the part on Broadway with the subsequent movie’s star Leslie Howard, who had secured a film career for Bogart by insisting that Warner Bros. cast him in the movie instead of Edward G. Robinson; Bogart and Bacall named their daughter “Leslie Howard Bogart” in gratitude.
In the late 1990s, Bacall donated the only known kinescope of the 1955 performance to The Museum Of Television & Radio (now the Paley Center for Media), where it remains archived for viewing in New York City and Los Angeles.
Written on the Wind, directed by Douglas Sirk in 1956, is now considered a classic tear-jerker. Appearing with Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone and Robert Stack, Bacall played a career woman whose life is unexpectedly turned around by a family of oil magnates. Bacall states in her autobiography that she did not think much of the role. While struggling at home with Bogart’s battle with esophageal cancer, Bacall starred with Gregory Peck in Designing Woman. It was directed by Vincente Minnelli and released in New York on May 16, 1957, four months after Bogart succumbed to cancer on January 14.
Bacall was seen in two more films in the 1950s; the Jean Negulesco-directed melodrama The Gift of Love (1958), in which her co star was Robert Stack, and the adventure film North West Frontier (1959), which was a box office hit.
1960s and 1970s
Bacall’s movie career waned in the 1960s, and she was seen in only a handful of films. On Broadway she starred in Goodbye, Charlie (1959), Cactus Flower (1965), Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year (1981). She won Tony Awards for her performances in the latter two.
The few movies Bacall shot during this period were all-star vehicles such as Sex and the Single Girl (1964) with Henry Fonda, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood, Harper (1966) with Paul Newman, Shelley Winters, Julie Harris, Robert Wagner and Janet Leigh, and Murder on the Orient Express (1974), with an all-star cast, including Ingrid Bergman, Albert Finney, Vanessa Redgrave, Martin Balsam, and Sean Connery. In 1964, she appeared in two episodes of Craig Stevens‘s Mr. Broadway: first in “Take a Walk Through a Cemetery”, with then husband, Jason Robards, Jr., and later as Barbara Lake in the episode “Something to Sing About”, co-starring future co-star Balsam.
For her work in the Chicago theatre, Bacall won the Sarah Siddons Award in 1972 and again in 1984. In 1976, she co-starred with John Wayne in his last picture, The Shootist. The two became friends, despite significant political differences between them. They had previously worked together in Blood Alley (1955).
During the 1980s, Bacall appeared in the poorly received star vehicle The Fan (1981), as well as some star-studded features such as Robert Altman‘s Health (1980) and Michael Winner‘s Appointment with Death (1988). In 1990, she had a small role in Misery, which starred Kathy Bates and James Caan. In 1997, Bacall was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role in The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996), her first nomination after a career span of more than fifty years.
Bacall received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1997. In 1999, she was voted one of the 25 most significant female movie stars in history by the American Film Institute. Her movie career saw something of a renaissance and she attracted respectful notices for her performances in high-profile projects such as Dogville (2003) and Birth (2004), both with Nicole Kidman. She was a leading actor in Paul Schrader’s The Walker.
Her commercial ventures in the 2000s included being a spokesperson for the Tuesday Morning discount chain (commercials showed her in a limousine waiting for the store to open at the beginning of one of their sales events) and producing a jewelry line with the Weinman Brothers company. She previously was a celebrity spokesperson for High Point (coffee) and Fancy Feast cat food. In March 2006, Bacall was seen at the 78th Annual Academy Awards introducing a film montage dedicated to film noir. She made a cameo appearance as herself on The Sopranos, in the April 2006 episode, “Luxury Lounge“, during which she was mugged by a masked hoodlum (played by Michael Imperioli).
In September 2006, Bacall was awarded the first Katharine Hepburn Medal, which recognizes “women whose lives, work and contributions embody the intelligence, drive and independence of the four-time-Oscar-winning actress”, by Bryn Mawr College‘s Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center. She gave an address at the memorial service of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. at the Reform Club in London in June 2007. She finished her role in The Forger in 2009.
In July 2013, Bacall expressed interest in taking the starring role in the film Trouble Is My Business. In November, she joined the English dub voice cast for StudioCanal‘s animated film Ernest & Celestine. Her final role was in 2014: a guest vocal appearance in the twelfth season Family Guy episode “Mom’s the Word“.
Relationships and family
On May 21, 1945, Bacall married actor Humphrey Bogart. Their wedding and honeymoon took place at Malabar Farm, Lucas, Ohio. It was the country home of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield, a close friend of Bogart. The wedding was held in the Big House. Bacall was 20 and Bogart was 45; thus, she was nicknamed “Baby”. They remained married until Bogart’s death from esophageal cancer in 1957. During the filming of The African Queen (1951), Bacall and Bogart became friends of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. She began to mix in non-acting circles, becoming friends with the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and the journalist Alistair Cooke. In 1952, she gave campaign speeches for Democratic Presidential contender Adlai Stevenson. Along with other Hollywood figures, Bacall was a staunch opponent of McCarthyism.
Shortly after Bogart’s death in 1957, Bacall had a relationship with singer and actor Frank Sinatra. She told Robert Osborne, of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), in an interview, that she had ended the romance. However, in her autobiography, she wrote that Sinatra abruptly ended the relationship, having become angry that the story of his proposal to Bacall had reached the press. Bacall and her friend Swifty Lazar had run into the gossip columnist Louella Parsons, to whom Lazar had spilled the beans. Sinatra then cut Bacall off and went to Las Vegas. Pressed by interviewer Michael Parkinson to talk about her marriage to Bogart, and asked about her notable reluctance to do so, she replied that “being a widow is not a profession”.
Bacall had a son and daughter with Bogart and a son with Robards. Her children with Bogart are her son Stephen Humphrey Bogart (born January 6, 1949), a news producer, documentary film maker and author; and her daughter Leslie Bogart (born August 23, 1952), a yoga instructor. Sam Robards (born December 16, 1961), her son with Robards, is an actor.
She wrote two autobiographies, Lauren Bacall By Myself (1978) and Now (1994). In 2006, the first volume of Lauren Bacall By Myself was reprinted as By Myself and Then Some with an extra chapter.
Bacall was a staunch liberal Democrat. She proclaimed her political views on numerous occasions. In October 1947, Bacall and Bogart traveled to Washington, D.C., along with other Hollywood stars, in a group that called itself the Committee for the First Amendment (CFA). She appeared alongside Humphrey Bogart in a photograph printed at the end of an article he wrote, titled “I’m No Communist”, in the May 1948 edition of Photoplay magazine, written to counteract negative publicity resulting from his appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Bogart and Bacall distanced themselves from the Hollywood Ten and said: “We’re about as much in favor of Communism as J. Edgar Hoover.”
She campaigned for Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson in the 1952 Presidential election and for Robert Kennedy in his 1964 run for the U.S. Senate. In a 2005 interview with Larry King, Bacall described herself as “anti-Republican… A liberal. The L-word.” She added that “being a liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you’re a liberal. You do not have a small mind.”
In 1980, Kathryn Harrold played Bacall in the TV movie Bogie, which was directed by Vincent Sherman and based on the novel by Joe Hyams. Kevin O’Connor played Bogart. The movie focused primarily upon the disintegration of Bogart’s third marriage to Mayo Methot, played by Ann Wedgeworth, when Bogart met Bacall and began an affair with her.
Awards and nominations
- 1970 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, Applause
- 1972 Sarah Siddons Award Actress of the Year
- 1980 National Book Award in the one-year category: Autobiography[a]
- 1981 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, Woman of the Year
- 1984 Sarah Siddons Award Actress of the Year
- 1990 George Eastman Award
- 1992 Donostia Award (Honorary)
- 1993 Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award
- 1994 National Board of Review Award for Best Cast, Prêt-à-Porter: Ready to Wear
- 1997 Berlin International Film Festival, Berlinale Camera
- 1997 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role, The Mirror Has Two Faces
- 1997 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture, The Mirror Has Two Faces
- 1997 San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actress, The Mirror Has Two Faces
- 1997 Kennedy Center Honors
- 2000 Stockholm International Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2007 Norwegian International Film Festival Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2009 Academy Honorary Award in recognition of her central place in the golden age of motion pictures.
- 1977 BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, The Shootist
- 1997 BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, The Mirror Has Two Faces
- 1997 Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, The Mirror Has Two Faces
In 1991, Bacall was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1724 Vine Street. In 1997, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to her. In 1998, Bacall was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
In popular culture
- Bacall is featured in The Dakota Scrapbook, a book about the history of the building and residents of the Dakota apartment building in New York City.
- Bacall and Bogart are parodied in the Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies short Bacall To Arms (1946).
- In the last scene of the Warner Bros. cartoon Slick Hare (1947), a caricature of Bacall is shown sitting at a dinner table as Bugs Bunny wolf whistles at her.
- Bacall is referenced in the song “Rainbow High”, from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice‘s musical Evita (1978).
- Bacall and Bogart are referenced in Bertie Higgins‘ song “Key Largo” (1981).
- Bacall is referenced in The Clash‘s song “Car Jamming” (1982).
- Bacall and Bogart are referenced in Suzanne Vega‘s song “Freeze Tag” (1985).
- She is referenced in “Vogue” the 1990 Madonna song. As all other celebrities mentioned in the song had died, she was the only one still alive from 2009 to August, 2014.
- She is referenced in Bon Jovi‘s song “Captain Crash & The Beauty Queen From Mars” (2000).
- She is the subject of the song, “Just Like Lauren Bacall” (2008), written by Kevin Roth.
- Bacall and Bogart are referenced in Anna Nalick‘s B-side song “Words” (2010).
Marshall Islands namesake
- The town of Laura on the island of Majuro in the Marshall Islands was named by WWII U.S. forces in reference to Bacall.
…and I am Sid Harth