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 phenomenal talent. One of the most dazzling luminaries had trademark husky voice and sultry looks. There will never be another Lauren Bacall.

She once said "I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that." Just look at her and you will see how well she lived up to this quote.

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

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 and even later in her life her close friends still addressed her as Betty.

They were a middle-class family. Her father worked 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 by her father’s departure, as she was so much closer to her mother. After a while, 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 worked 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 and was enamored of Leslie Howard. She had her usual share of crushes, but never had a special boyfriend. She was attractive, but not interested in dating. She thought she was flat-chested, 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 self-image, she won “Miss Greenwich” in 1942. Her first ambition was to be a dancer, but she 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 at AADA 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 displaying clothes to customers in the showroom. Her height, figure, and look served her well during her modeling career. Her measurements as a model were: 34 (bust) - 26 (waist) - 34 (hips).

After quitting showroom modeling, she worked as an usherette in one of Broadway’s theaters and she was voted as the Prettiest Usher of the 1942 season. She was 17 and working as an usherette when she met and became a close friend of Gregory Peck. Their closeness remained until his death in 2003.

The First Step to Stardom

She was the cover girl for Harper’s Bazaar, a famous magazine in the U.S. Nancy Gross, nicknamed “Slim”, the wife of famous director Howard Hawks saw the picture of Betty 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 adopted and adapted her mother’s maiden family name, by adding 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 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.

The late 1950s was a time of great stress for Lauren because Bogie was severely ill. On January 14, 1957, Humphrey Bogart died of throat cancer. In his funeral, his window 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.

In 1960, Lauren decided to accept only few films, for it was on Broadway that 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 her performance.

The Second Time Around

Bacall was married to actor Jason Robards, Jr. on July 4, 1961 in Ensenada, Mexico, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1969. According to Bacall's autobiography, she divorced Robards mainly because of his alcoholism. They have one son named Sam. He was born on December 16, 1961 and is an actor. His godmother was Katharine Hepburn who was Lauren’s best friend.

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

More Movies

In the 1960s and early 70s, most of the movies she appeared in were mostly star cast: Sex and the Single Girl (1964) with Henry FondaTony Curtis and Natalie WoodHarper (1966) with Paul NewmanShelley WintersJulie HarrisRobert Wagner and Janet Leigh, and Murder on the Orient Express (1974), with Ingrid BergmanAlbert 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.

That was her second movie with John Wayne, the first being 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 11thplace 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 intelligence, drive and independence.” It was presented at the Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center.

The Later Years

In the new millennium, she was a spokesperson for the Tuesday Morning discount chain, which encourages their customers to come early for sales events. She produced a jewelry line with the Weinman Brothers Company.

In her lifetime, 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.

She was one of many legends mentioned in Madonna's 1990 #1 hit song "Vogue". Other legends mentioned: Marilyn MonroeJames DeanGrace KellyJean HarlowFred AstaireRita Hayworth and Bette Davis, who were already dead before the release of the song. Greta GarboMarlene DietrichJoe DiMaggioMarlon BrandoGene KellyGinger RogersKatharine Hepburn and Lana Turner have all demised since the song’s release.

In Italy, her movies were dubbed by Clelia Bernacchi at the beginning of her career, then in most cases by Lidia SimoneschiFranca DominiciRenata 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 would not be complete unless Lauren’s witty quotes are included:

Her thoughts on marriage:

“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.”

Her thoughts on hey body:

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

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

Her thoughts on being a single child and on being Jewish:

“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.”

Her thoughts on motherhood:

“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.”

Her thoughts on work:

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

Her thoughts on career and marriage:

“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.”

Her thoughts on actors:

“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 CagneySpencer TracyHenry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart [James Stewart].”

Her thoughts on being a legend:

“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.”

Her thoughts on politics:

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

Her thoughts on some of the men in her life:

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

 “He was about something.”

Her thoughts on the imagination:

“Imagination is the highest kite that can fly.”

Upon receiving her Honorary Oscar:

“Amen 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: