She was only 19 when she turned what could have been a rather mediocre film into one of Hollywood’s greatest romantic classics. The film was also the starting point for one of Hollywood’s greatest romances. It also launched the career of a young woman who would become one of the biggest stars of all time.
When Lauren Bacall asked Humphrey Bogart “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow” audiences fell in love. Of course, so did Bogie. Bogart was trapped in an unhappy marriage to Mayo Methot. Methot and Bogie enabled one another’s alcoholism, but Mayo was a mean and violent drunk. The couple were nicknamed the Battling Bogarts. By the time Bacall came along, Bogart had enough, and divorcing Methot and starting a relationship with a girl 26 years his junior was the most natural thing in the world.
Born Betty Joan Perske in the Bronx, Bacall became very close to her mother after her parents divorced. Her mother began using her maiden name and put her daughter through private school while working as a secretary. Betty often played hookie to to watch her idol, Bette Davis, at the movies. She took acting lessons and worked as a theater usher, but had better luck as a fashion model.
Howard Hawks’ wife saw a small picture of Betty in a magazine, and insisted that the director give her a screen test. Hawks’ secretary sent her a ticket to Hollywood by accident (her instructions were to find out more about the model), and Hawks put her in To Have and To Have Not (1944).
During the screen test, Betty was so nervous that the only way she could keep from trembling was to tuck her chin to her chest and tilt her eyes up toward the camera. This became “the Look”, Lauren Bacall’s trademark. Hawks changed her name to Lauren, and the nicknames “Steve” and “Slim”, those of Hawks and his wife, were used by the characters in the film.
Married to Bogie, Lauren Bacall became “den mother” to the Holmby Hills Rat Pack. Bogie was smitten with his glamorous young wife, who inspired him during one of the richest periods of his career. The couple starred in a number of classic films together. Betty joined Bogie in Africa while he was filming The African Queen (1951), where they became good friends with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.
Upon their return from Africa, the Bogarts went to work taping the syndicated radio program Bold Venture. A recording studio was set up in their home, and profits from the project were earmarked for their son’s trust fund. The characters and situations of Bold Venture were loosely based on some of their most popular movie roles, especially To Have and Have Not and Casablanca where Bogie played a fiercely independent American hotel owner.
After Bogie passed away, Bacall was briefly engaged to Rat Pack leader Frank Sinatra. She was married to Jason Robards (Lauren Bacall is the only Oscar winner to have been married to two other Oscar Winners). She also starred in several pictures, including The Shootist (1976), John Wayne‘s last picture (Wayne and Bacall became great friend despite their “significant political differences”). In 1999, the American Film Institute selected Lauren Bacall as one of the 25 most significant female movie stars in history.
Ms. Bacall kept a residence at the Dakota on Manhattan’s Upper West Side since the early Sixties. Her passing on August 12, 2014, was announced on a Twitter message from the Bogart Estate. She was 89.
Good Night Lauren Bacall, say Hi to Bogie for us.
Enjoy this 1952 broadcast of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall appearing on Bing Crosby’s variety show: