The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

'I prefer to prevail': Lauren Bacall - actress, author, legend - had a remarkably unique life

  • Print

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Lauren Bacall had one of those incredible lives.

The wife and co-star of Humphrey Bogart. A Tony Award-winning actress. A National Book Award-winning author. A giant of fashion. A friend of the Kennedys. One of the last survivors of Hollywood's studio age.

A star almost from the moment she appeared on screen to the day she died, Tuesday, at age 89, at a New York City hospital.

"Stardom isn't a career," Bacall once observed, "it's an accident."

What a lucky accident it turned out to be.

Her career was one of great achievement and some frustration. The actress received a Golden Globe and an honorary Oscar and appeared in scores of film and TV productions. But not until 1996 did she receive an Academy Award nomination — as supporting actress for her role as Barbra Streisand's mother in "The Mirror Has Two Faces." Although a sentimental favourite, she was beaten by Juliette Binoche for her performance in "The English Patient."

Bacall would outlive her first husband by more than 50 years, but never outlived their legend, which began in their first movie together, "To Have or Have Not," when she uttered to Bogart among the sultriest lines in Hollywood history (in part because of that come-hither delivery): "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."

They were "Bogie and Bacall" — the hard-boiled couple who could fight and make up with the best of them. They were A-list glamour and B-movie danger. Unlike Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Bogart and Bacall were not a story of opposites attracting but of kindred, smouldering spirits. She was less than half Bogart's age, yet as wise, and as jaded, as he was. They threw all-night parties, laughed at the snobs, palled around with Frank Sinatra and others and formed a gang of California carousers known as the Holmby Hills Rat Pack.

After Bogart's death, she continued to forge her own distinct path. On television, in films, in her books, she was blunt, sardonic, demanding, loyal. Pity anyone who knocked Bogart, crossed one of her friends or voted Republican.

Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske in the Bronx, the daughter of Jewish immigrants. Her parents divorced when Betty was 8, and the mother took part of her family name, Bacal. (Betty added the extra L when she became an actress.)

At first she dreamed of becoming a dancer, but thought herself too "gawky" and acting became her ambition. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and played a few walk-on roles in Broadway plays. Diana Vreeland, the famed editor of Harper's Bazaar, recognized the slender, long-limbed actress as ideal for fashion modeling. The wife of film director Howard Hawks recommended her for movies, and Bacall went to Hollywood under a contract. "To Have and Have Not" came out in 1944.

In "By Myself," she wrote of meeting Bogart:

"There was no thunderbolt, no clap of thunder, just a simple how-do-you-do."

She was 19 and on her first day of shooting, her hands were shaking so much that she couldn't manage a simple scene of lighting a cigarette. Hawks helped by breaking the scene into short takes.

"I realized that one way to hold my trembling head still was to keep it down, chin almost to my chest and eyes up at Bogart. It worked, and turned out to be the beginning of 'The Look,'" she later wrote.

Work led to romance. The quarter century age difference (he called her "Baby") failed to deter them, but Bogart was still married to his third wife, the mercurial actress Mayo Methot. She was persuaded to divorce him in Reno, and the lovers were married on May 21, 1945.

Bogart and Bacall made three more movies together, and bantered best in the classic adaptation of Raymond Chandler's "The Big Sleep." She took time out to bear two children, and to accompany her husband as they roughed it in Africa for "The African Queen," co-starring Bogart and Hepburn. She also became active politically, joining Bogart in protesting the Hollywood blacklist of suspected Communists and campaigning for Democrats. Few could forget the picture of her slouched on top of a piano, legs bare and dangling, while Harry Truman (then vice-president) was seated in front of the keys.

But the party began to wind down in 1956, when Bogart was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. For the next 10 months, his wife rarely left home in the evening. She organized late-afternoon cocktail parties where such friends as Sinatra, David Niven, Hepburn and Tracy buoyed Bogart's spirits with jokes and gossip.

On the night of Jan. 14, 1957, Bogart grabbed his wife's arm and muttered, "Goodbye, kid." He died in the early morning at the age of 57.

"At the time of his death, all I wanted, I think, was to believe that my life would continue," she told The Guardian in 2005.

Bacall had a brief, disastrous engagement to Sinatra and a troubled, eight-year marriage to Jason Robards Jr., with whom she had a son. Professionally, she thrived on the stage and remained busy in films. She won Tonys for the Broadway musicals "Applause" and "Woman of the Year," the latter a 1981 production in which she revived the role immortalized by her friend Hepburn on screen. Meanwhile, she was memorably obstinate in an all-star film adaptation of Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express," co-starred with longtime friend Anjelica Huston in "Mr. North," and in recent years appeared as herself in a brief cameo for "The Sopranos," in which she curses out a robber and is rewarded with a punch in the face.

In the 1940s, Bacall became friends with William Faulkner when he was writing scripts for Hawks. One of her prized possessions was a copy of Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech on which he wrote that she was not one who was satisfied with being just a pretty face, "but rather who decided to prevail."

"Notice he didn't write 'survive,' " she told Parade magazine in 1997. "Everyone's a survivor. Everyone wants to stay alive. What's the alternative? See, I prefer to prevail."

___

AP film writer Jake Coyle contributed to this story. Biographical material in this story was written by The Associated Press' late Hollywood correspondent, Bob Thomas.

3728574075001
History

Updated on Wednesday, August 13, 2014 at 10:06 AM CDT: Adds photo gallery

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Sneak peek: MTS Centre’s renovations for 2014/15 season

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Goslings enjoy Fridays warm weather to soak up some sun and gobble some grass on Heckla Ave in Winnipeg Friday afternoon- See Bryksa’s 30 DAY goose challenge - May 18, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A Canada goose makes takes flight on Wilkes Ave Friday afternoon- See Bryksa’s 30 Day goose a day challenge- Day 09- May 11, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you support Canada's involvement in the fight against Islamic State?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google