Star in the Making: Lauren Bacall

Will the Golden Age of Hollywood ever come back? Those were the days when the silver screen was populated with real actors and actresses not just stars. Beginning in the late 1920s way up to the late 1950s, it was the time when filmville maintained the biggest studios, the most colossal productions and the brightest stars. One of the most dazzling luminaries has a trademark – she has a husky voice and sultry looks. There will never be another Lauren Bacall.

One of her favorite quotations was, "I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that." Just look at her today and you will discover how well she lived up to this quote.

Her beauty and talent were at par with the other Hollywood greats of the ‘40s as Vivian Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fountain, Ingrid Bergman, Judy Garland, Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, and Joan Crawford

Lauren Bacall does not like to be called a legend for she believed that “A legend involves the past. She doesn’t like categories. This one is great and that one is great. The word great stands for something.”

The Beginning

On September 16, 1924, Lauren Bacall, the only daughter of Jewish immigrants, William Perske (a relative of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres) and Natalie Weinstein-Bacal was born in New York City. She was named Betty Joan Perske. Even until today, her close friends still address her as Betty.

They were a middle class family with her father working as a salesman and her mother as a secretary. For the first five years, Betty lived in Brooklyn with both parents, but her world changed when her parents divorced. Her father got into his car and left the house for good.

Betty was not greatly affected because she was so much closer to her mother. After awhile, she and her mother moved in with her grandmother and Uncle Charlie.

She loved her grandmother who used to sing German songs and baked the most delicious cookies. She was also close to her Uncle Charlie. Her mother struggled hard to give her a good education and taught her the traditional values of their Jewish faith. She was not a scholar, but she never encountered any problems in school. 

As a schoolgirl, Betty was enthralled with Betty Davis, probably because they bore the same name, and was enamored of Leslie Howard. She had her usual share of crushes, but never had a special boyfriend. She was attractive, however, she was not interested in dating. She thought she was flat-chested, she disliked her height and abhorred her big feet. According to her autobiography, By Myself and Then Some, she was always very self-conscious about the size of her feet, which she describes as big even for a woman of her exceptional height.

Preparing the Groundwork

Despite her thoughts of demeaning herself, she won “Miss Greenwich” of 1942. Her first ambition was to be a dancer, but decided instead to go into acting. She was inspired by the movies she enjoyed watching with her friends.

After high school, she enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. She stayed in the Academy for a year and was able to have some insignificant roles in off-Broadway productions. Her first stage appearance was January Two by Four (1942)

At the end of the term, she did not continue her studies in the Academy because her mother could no longer afford the tuition and unfortunately, she was not offered a scholarship. So Betty entered the world of modeling which was limited only to display clothes to customers in the showroom. Her height, figure and look were her assets for a modeling career. Her measurements as a model were: 34 (bust) - 26 (waist) - 34 (hips)

After quitting showroom modeling, she worked as an usher in one of Broadway’s theaters and she was voted as the Prettiest Usher of the 1942 season. She was 17 when she met and became a close friend of Gregory Peck. She was an usherette at the time. Their closeness remained until his death.

The First Step to Stardom

She was the cover girl for Harper’s Bazaar, which was a famous magazine in the U.S. Slim, the wife of the famous director, Howard Hawks saw the picture and urged her husband to give this cover girl a screen test. The test was a success and Betty was ready to start her acting career.

Lauren Bacall

She changed her name from Betty to Lauren and adapted her mother’s maiden family name, but added another L. Howard Hawks complained about her high nasal voice so she spent two weeks training her voice. When she reported back to work two weeks later, she now had a deep husky voice.

Director Hawk made her choose either Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart as her leading man. Bacall wanted to work with Cary Grant, but Hawks finally offered the role to Humphrey who became her first leading man in the film To Have or Have Not. (1944).

Twinkle! Twinkle! Big Star

Director Hawks assigned Lauren who was only 19 at the time, the role of Marie Browning in the film To Have and Have Not (1944). This film was a thriller with actor Humphrey Bogart in the lead. This had double significance: the start of a Hollywood career and the beginning of filmdom’s greatest love story. 

Humphrey “Bogie” Bogart and Bacall fell in love and were married on May 21, 1946 at the Pleasant Valley area of Richmond County, Ohio. The venue was at the residence of Pulitzer winning author Louis Bromfield. She was 20 and he was 45. Despite the age difference of 25 years, their marriage never ended in divorce, she became a widow at age 32 when Bogart passed away from cancer in 1957.

Their union started a successful series of Bogart-Bacall movies: The Big Sleep (1946), The Dark Passage (1947), and Key Largo (1948). She prioritized her marriage over career so she made only one picture a year; movies were anticipated eagerly and well- accepted by movie-goers.

Their popularity was even extended to the name given to a kind of muscle tension dysphonia common in professionals who are always using their voices. It was named the “Bogart-Bacall Syndrome (BBS). They enjoyed their team and even ran a syndicated radio program called “Bold Venture”. It was on the air from 1951-52, where Lauren named herself Sailor Duval.

Lauren made other films with other actors. Among which were: Confidential Agent (1945) with Charles Boyer, Bright Leaf (1950) with Gary Cooper, Young Man with a Horn (1950) with Doris Day and Kirk Douglas, Blood Alley (1950) with John Wayne, How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) with Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. Written in the Wind (1956) with Rock Hudson and Dorothy Malone and The Designing Woman (1957) with Gregory Peck.

This was the time of her greatest stress because Bogie was severely ill. On January 14, 1957, Humphrey Bogart died from throat cancer. In his funeral, Lauren reverently placed a whistle inside his coffin in memory of their first film To Have and Have Not, where this famous line was stated: “You know how to whistle don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow”.

After He’s Gone

The demise of her beloved Bogie was a devastating blow for they had been married for almost 13 years and they had such lovely and talented children. Stephen Humphrey was born on January 6, 1949 and was named after his father’s role in To Have and Have Not. He is now a news producer, documentary film maker and author. Leslie was born on August 23, 1952 and was named after the actor Leslie Howard who helped Bogie in his early years as an actor. She is a yoga instructor. For Bogie, Lauren will always be his Baby, a pet name he used even when talking about her with other people.

Some of her TV appearances included: What’s My Link? (1953), Petrified Forest (1956) Ford Star Jubilee (1956).

In 1960, Lauren decided to accept only few films for it was in Broadway where she centered her attention. She starred in a series of big hits: Goodbye, Charlie (1959), Cactus Flower (1965), Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year (1981). The last two plays merited her Tony Awards for performance.

The Second Time Around

Bacall was married to actor Jason Robards, Jr. on July 4, 196, but the marriage ended in divorce on September 10, 1969. They have one son named Sam. He was born on December 16, 1961 and is an actor. His godmother is Katharine Hepburn who is Lauren’s best friend.

Picture of Lauren Bacall holding Jason Robard, Jr's hand (1961)

According to Bacall's autobiography, she divorced Robards mainly because of his alcoholism.

More Movies

Most of the movies she appeared during this periods were mostly- star cast: 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 Ingrid Bergman, Albert Finney and Sean Connery.

 In 1964, she starred in two parts of Craig Steven’s popular CBS drama, Mr. Broadway: first episode "Take a Walk Through a Cemetery", she worked with husband Jason Robards and Jill St. John, and then she portrayed the character of Barbara Lake in the second episode, "Something to Sing About", with Martin Balsam as Nate Bannerman. Bacall won the Sarah Siddons Award in 1972 and received her second trophy in 1984.

In 1976, she was the leading lady in John Wayne’s last picture, The Shootist. Despite their political differences, they became good friends. Lauren is a staunch liberal democrat who was not afraid to voice her political views. She campaigned for Harry S. Truman in the 1948 presidential race.

This was her second starrer with John Wayne, the first was Blood Alley (1955). While shooting the first film, Bacall was emotionally stressed because her husband, Humphrey Bogart, was dying of throat cancer. When she made the second film latter with Wayne, he had lost a lung to cancer twelve years earlier, which was a gloomy prospect of his character in the story.

Awards

Between 1980-90, Lauren appeared in: The Fan (1981), Robert Altman’s Health (1980), Michael Winner’s Appointment with Death (1988), and Rob Reiner’s Misery (1990). Bacall got a nomination as Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for the film, The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996). After more than 50 years in her career, this was to be her first Oscar, but the award went to The English Patient star, Juliette Binoche. She already won a Golden Globe.

She was one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in Film History for 1995. In 1997, she got the 11th place as the top 100 Movie Stars of all times.

Among Lauren’s other awards were: the Kennedy Center Honors in 1997; and In 1999, The American Institute voted her as one of the 25 most significant female movie stars in history.

Her performances in these projects were well received: Dogville (2003) and Birth (2004), both with Nicole Kidman. She was one of the stars in Paul Schrader's 2007 movie The Walker.

In September 2006, Bacall was the first star to ever receive the Katharine Hepburn Medal, which recognizes "women whose lives, work and contributions embody the intelligence, drive and independence.” It was presented at the Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center.

What she is doing now

She acts as spokesperson for the Tuesday Morning discount chain which encourages their customers to come early for sales events. She produces a jewelry line with the Weinman Brothers Company.

For the past sixty years, she received only one nomination for an Academy Award. She was 73 when she was nominated for the movie The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996). At the inaugural Governors Awards on November 14, 2009, Lauren Bacall finally received an honorary Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

As of last year, Lauren is the sole surviving legend mentioned in Madonna's 1990 #1 hit song "Vogue". Other legends mentioned: Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Grace Kelly, Jean Harlow, Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth and Bette Davis, who were already dead before the release of the song. Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Joe DiMaggio, Marlon Brando, Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn and Lana Turner had all demised earlier.

In Italy, her movies were dubbed by Clelia Bernacchi at the beginning of her career, then in most cases by Lidia Simoneschi. Franca Dominici, Renata Marini and Anna Miserocchi also lent their voices to Bacall at some point.

The Complete Woman

There is a saying that a woman is never complete until she has children, a successful career and has written a book. Lauren Bacall has authored three books:

Personal Quotes

This article is not complete unless Lauren’s witty quotes are included.

“I never believed marriage was a lasting institution . . . I thought that to be married for five years was to be married forever.”

“I would hate now [2005] to be married. It does occur to me on occasion that, if I fall and hit my head, there will be no one to make the phone call. But who wants to think about that disaster? I'd prefer not to.”

“I was this flat-chested, big-footed, lanky thing.”

“I don't think being the only child of a single parent helped. I was always a little unsteady in my self-belief. Then there was the Jewish thing. I love being Jewish, I have no problem with it at all. But it did become like a scar, with all these people saying you don't look it.”

“I remember my oldest son, Steve, saying to me once, ‘I don't ever remember seeing you with an apron on.’ And I thought, "That's right, honey, you did not. That was his concept of what a mother should be.”

“I am still working, I've never stopped and, while my health holds out, I won't stop.”

“I put my career in second place throughout both my marriages and it suffered. I don't regret it. You make choices. If you want a good marriage, you must pay attention to that. If you want to be independent, go ahead. You can't have it all.”

“Actors today go into TV, which I don't consider has a lot to do with acting. They only think of stardom. If you photograph well, that's enough. I have a terrible time distinguishing one from another. Girls wear their hair the same, and are much too anorexic-looking.”

“We live in an age of mediocrity. Stars today are not the same stature as Bogie [Humphrey Bogart], James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart [James Stewart].”

“A legend involves the past. I don't like categories. This one is great and that one is great. The word "great" stands for something. When you talk about a great actor, you're not talking about Tom Cruise. His whole behavior is so shocking. It's inappropriate and vulgar and absolutely unacceptable to use your private life to sell anything commercially, but I think it's kind of a sickness.”

“I'm a total Democrat. I'm anti-Republican. And it's only fair that you know it . . . I'm liberal. The L word!”

“Was he tough? In a word, no. Bogey was truly a gentle soul.”

 “He was about something.”

“I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that.”

“Imagination is the highest kite that can fly.”

“Aman at last!”

Last Words

Go over the lives of big stars and you will notice that like these great stars, Lauren Bacall has all the talent to be on top of her profession. But what makes her different the rest: She has very strong traditional values; she raised her children well; she has never gone into drugs and alcohol; she does not have a string of divorces and she never tried to commit suicide.

You can hardly find all of these qualities in one person in the tinsel world. These qualities alone make her different from all the rest.

More information about Lauren Bacall is found in these links: