Beautiful and distinctive, Lauren Bacall was a talented film and stage actress and a dame in her own right. In her later years she portrayed proud, intelligent and elegant women… like herself. She was a lady with a history.
Lauren Bacall started as a model. Her stunning looks landed her on the cover of the Harper’s Bazaar. It was how she became noticed by Hollywood. She took Hollywood by storm. Her first role in 1944 To Have and Have Not (opposite Humphrey Bogart) established her as an actress. It introduced her also to the love of her life. In 1944, Lauren was 19. Humphrey Bogart was 44. They were married within one year. (The couple had two children and remained together until Bogart’s death.)
She co-starred with Bogie in The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948). In 1950 Lauren co-starred with Gary Cooper in Bright Leaf. How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) was Bacall’s introduction to comedy. (Her co-stars were Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable.)
After she completed filming Designing Woman (co-starring Gregory Peck) in 1957, she lost her husband to throat cancer. Lauren turned to work for solace. After The Gift Of Love with Robert Stack failed, she left Hollywood for New York City and launched a career as a stage actress on Broadway to a critical acclaim. (Few film actresses have managed this transition successfully!)
From then on Lauren Bacall divided her time between the stage, film and – on occasion – television.
She starred and appeared in many movies from 1964 to 2004. Some of them were:
- Shock Treatment (1964)
- Sex and the Single Girl (1964) starring Henry Fonda and Tony Curtis.
- In Harper (1966) Lauren starred in with Paul Newman and Julie Harris.
- Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
- In The Shootist (1976) Lauren Bacall co-starred with John Wayne. (It was John Wayne’s last film. Wayne succumbed to cancer in 1979.)
- There were other movie roles (most notably perhaps 1996’s comedy My Fellow Americans with Jack Lemmon and James Garner) and stage characters she portrayed.
In recognition of her film career the Academy awarded Lauren Bacall an Honorary Oscar in 2009.
In her personal life, Lauren was briefly engaged to Frank Sinatra (the relationship fell apart). She remarried (fellow actor Jason Robards with whom she had one child); the marriage ended in divorce. In a later interview Lauren admitted that it wasn’t possible to find a replacement for Humphrey Bogart.
It’s been said that at Bogie’s funeral, she put a whistle in his coffin. (Think of her memorable lines: “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.” from To Have and Have Not, the film that first brought them together.) Apparently, a whistle had a special meaning to the couple.
Lauren Bacall had many famous friends (Katharine Hepburn and George Peck were among them).
There’s something to be said about Lauren Bacall’s distinctiveness which she successfully asserted. Her beauty wasn’t conventional; neither was her height or voice. Her liberal values were not widely accepted. And yet, Lauren Bacall – the artist and the person – was well-liked and highly respected.
Personality and uniqueness used to be valuable. Uniqueness is what stars – of the old school – were made of. Not every major star from the past would be considered beautiful by today’s standards. Many however brought an element of their personal uniqueness to their public personas which made them different from the rest and in many ways timeless. There is no shortage of talent or beauty today. Uniqueness, on the other hand, is in short supply.
As we are saying goodbye to yet another Hollywood Legend we appreciate Lauren Bacall’s talent as well as her strength, courage and yes, her uniqueness.