Born on September 16, 1924 in New York City, Lauren Bacall was a fashion mag cover model before landing her debut film role in To Have and Have Not, co-starring with Humphrey Bogart, whom she would marry. A decades-long career ensued with movies that included Key Largo, A Woman's World, Murder on the Orient Express, The Fan, The Portrait and The Mirror Has Two Faces. Bacall died on August 12, 2014 at the age of 89.
Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on September 16, 1924 to a working-class family in New York City. Her father, William, was an alcoholic who left the family when Bacall was six; Bacall and her mother later changed their last name to her grandmother's maiden name, Bacal, and added the second "l."
Enthralled by the theater from an early age, Bacall started working in high school as an usher, and then performed in plays both on and off Broadway. However, it was her work as a model, and in particular her appearance on a Harper's Bazaar cover in 1943, that caught the eye of Nancy Hawks, wife of Howard Hawks, a powerful Hollywood director. At Nancy's encouragement, Hawks gave Bacall a screen test. Hawks then brought her to Hollywood, taught her to speak in a lower register and convinced her to take the first name Lauren to deemphasize her Jewish heritage. For that reason, Bacall had never been entirely comfortable with the name the world knows her by.
Career and Marriages
Lauren Bacall first appeared on the silver screen when she was only 19, in 1944's To Have and Have Not, which starred Humphrey Bogart. On set for that film, Bacall developed her trademark gesture, "The Look." Oddly enough, it began as a defense against nerves: Bacall had to keep her chin pressed against her chest to keep from shaking until just before the cameras rolled, causing her to begin every shot bringing her gaze upward. The project launched Bacall toward her reputation as a leading lady in the film noir genre. Her poorly reviewed performance in the 1945 film Confidential Agent set her back slightly, but more success was to come.
Bacall and Bogart, who was 25 years her senior, soon fell in love. Bogart was married at the time, and, within months, after some back and forth, divorced his wife. Bacall and Bogart married on May 21, 1945 in Ohio. The marriage was generally a happy one, though it did put a hold on Bacall's career. "I think many directors never thought of me except as Bogie's wife," she explained. "That doesn't lead to a great career, and I certainly did not fight for a career. So I guess you win some and you lose some. It was by choice."
During her marriage to Bogart, Lauren Bacall starred in only a few films. The pair co-starred in three more movies—The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948)—and had two children together, Stephen and Leslie. She also found success with the 1953 comedic outing How to Marry a Millionaire, co-starring Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe, with Bacall playing a suave mastermind.
In 1957, Bogart died of lung cancer. Bacall was devastated. After a short and disastrous fling with Frank Sinatra, including a very brief engagement, Bacall went east to return to her very first love, the theater. "I finally felt that I came into my own when I went on the stage," she says. Her Broadway work over the coming years consisted of two comedies, Goodbye, Charlie (1959) and Cactus Flower (1965).
Before long, Bacall again placed her focus on her personal life. She married again in 1961, this time to Jason Robards Jr. The couple soon had a son, Sam. During her second marriage, Bacall starred in relatively few films as well. She and Robards were divorced in 1969, and, shortly after, Bacall was approached to play the lead role in a new Broadway musical, Applause, which was based on the 1950 film All About Eve.
Despite not being a singer, Bacall accepted the role and debuted in the spring of 1970 playing fictitious famed thespian Margo Channing. Bacall was a great success, and earned a Tony for Best Actress. She won her second Tony in 1981 for a semi-autobiographical role in the play Woman of the Year, the same year she was seen portraying a Broadway star in the big-screen thriller The Fan.
By this time, Bacall had lived a full life, having been an insider to the world of Hollywood and earned considerable respect as an actress, both onscreen and onstage. Bacall wrote her first memoir, By Myself, in 1978, which won a National Book Award, and published a second part, Now, in 1994. Both volumes openly discussed difficult parts of her life, including the alcoholism of both of her husbands, despite the fact that some of the topics were relatively controversial for the time.
Around this time, Bacall earned her first Oscar nomination for supporting actress in the 1996 film The Mirror Has Two Faces, starring and directed by Barbra Streisand.
In her later years, Bacall curtailed her film appearances. She was publicly disdainful of modern Hollywood, though she appeared with Nicole Kidman in two films, Dogville (2003) and Birth (2004). Bacall also had a starring role in the 2007 film The Walker with Woody Harrelson and Kristin Scott Thomas and accepted an honorary Oscar in 2009. And in 2014, she lent her voice to the animated series Family Guy in an episode entitled "Mom's the Word."
Still active and in relatively good health well into her 80s, Bacall was one of the last links left to the Golden Age of Hollywood, and time never dulled either her tongue or her wits. She told Vanity Fair, "I don't think anybody that has a brain can really be happy. What is there really to be happy about? I had a good growing-up life, I would say, but I wasn't really happy, because I was an only child, and I wasn't part of a whole family—what we in America consider the proper family, a father and a mother and child, which, of course, is a big crock, we know—and yet I had the greatest family anyone could wish for in everyone on my mother's side. So what you think is happy? Happy shmappy."
Despite her down-to-earth view of her own life and fame, she will not be forgotten anytime soon. Bacall will most likely remain associated with her glamorous Hollywood roles and renowned theater work long into the future.
On August 12, 2014, the Humphrey Bogart Estate posted this message on their Facebook page: “With deep sorrow for the magnitude of our loss, yet with great gratitude for her amazing life, we confirm the passing of Lauren Bacall.” The actress was 89. She is survived by her three children, son Stephen Humphrey Bogart, daughter Leslie Bogart and son Sam Robards.
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