This post is part of the Lauren Bacall Blogathon, hosted by me at my blog: In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood. Click here to view the other articles honoring the indelible Lauren Bacall. Please note: This post was originally written on Lauren’s death anniversary on August 12th but has been edited a bit to serve as a Birthday tribute. I’m also in the midst of working on another article for the blogathon.
Today marks the 91st anniversary of the birth of Lauren Bacall, the legendary actress who was known for her husky voice, sultry beauty and story book marriage to Humphrey Bogart, that would make for the screens most celebrated couple. Here’s to you Lauren on your 91st Birthday.
Even though acting was never heard of in the family, little Betty Joan Perske was destined to be a star from the moment she first made her entrance into the world on September 16th, 1924, at the Grand Concourse Sanitarium in the Bronx, New York. The wide eyed bubbly little baby with the strawberry blonde hair and the green glistening eyes was the prized product of Natalie Weinstein Bacall and William Perske, two sales professionals, who were both of Jewish descent.
Betty’s childhood years were often difficult. When Bacall was young her parents divorced and her mother Natalie was left to raise her only child alone, sometimes with the help from Bacall’s grandmother, who they occasionally lived with. With Natalie working to help maintain an effective income, the family was always impecunious, and unable to afford a permanent residence, which meant that they often moved, sometimes having to resort to living in cheap dilapidated rooms with only one bed for the two of them to share.
Once Betty reached school age, her mother was wondering what to do about her education. She had no money to afford to send her to a proper schooling institute, and with their Jewish background, education was an important factor in life, but fortunately for Natalie, her brother Jack, who was financially secure with a prominent job and opulent lifestyle offered to help with the funding for her education, so at the expense of her uncle, Betty was educated at Highland Manor Boarding School For Girls and Julia Richman High School. Betty enjoyed school, and was popular among students, but at Julia Richman, she found herself getting bored with everyday life and yearned for a place in society, where she could be someone of importance that people would idolize.
At this stage, the only thing that Betty had in mind was theater acting. During her teenage years Betty had the opportunity to see plays on Broadway, and after witnessing the presence of the stars performing on stage, she craved for a career in the theater, and wanted to perform magic on the stage like some of her idols, including Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn did in the movies, but just how was an average girl like Betty going to manage this? . One day Betty’s devotion to her favorite actresses came to a head in 1939 when her uncle arranged for her and her close friend Betty Kalb to meet with Bette Davis privately in her suite at New York’s Gotham Hotel. This was a once in the lifetime event for Bacall, and not only did she talk to Bette about her life, she gained some information from her about how to pursue a career in acting.
As time progressed, her desire to become a theater actress increased and developed into a strong desideratum. In 1941, Betty enrolled and studied acting at the American Academy Of Dramatic Arts, where she attended for a year. Apart from seeing a few live shows, this was her first real exposure to the theater, providing her with enough perspicacity about the theater and how it operates. After a year at the American Academy Of Dramatic Arts, Betty couldn’t return for the following year because of low funds, but she was still determined to secure work in the theater.
Shortly after leaving the academy, she landed a job modeling clothes at David Crystal’s Modeling Agency, a profession that she never thought anything about, and once she commenced work she knew she didn’t want it to serve as her future career, but it was a paid job and it procured her with an income. Knowing that modeling wasn’t going to be her life’s work, she continued her pursuit for a role in a play when she wasn’t modeling.
Betty’s time as a model was only short lived. After a few months of it, she was fired, which meant that she would have the whole day to hunt for what she wanted. At the suggestion of other friends, she obtained work as a theater usher during the night, where she would spend a few weeks ushering at several different theaters in New York. In the day time, Bacall would pound the pavements, selling Actors Cue outside Sardi’s, imploring each producer she seen to find her a part in their upcoming play.
In 1942, at the age of seventeen, Betty Bacall made her acting debut on Broadway when she appeared in a minor role as a walk on in “Johnny 2 X 4”. Though this was only a small part, it gave Betty a taste of what the theater was like, while also making way for future engagements that she would never have dreamed of achieving. Around the same time she was crowned Miss. Greenwich Village, although nothing ever came to fruition with that title, and it soon became an unforgettable thing of the past.
Having acquired modeling experience with David Crystal, Bacall started working for fashion editor Diana Vreeland, posing for magazines such as ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ and ‘Vogue’. It was here while working as a fashion model that Howard Hawks wife Nancy spotted Bacall on the cover of ‘Harper’s Bazaar. As soon as she noticed Betty, Nancy knew that she exuded that rare quality, and had the appeal of a movie star, so Nancy implored Howard to have her audition for a screen test for his upcoming picture “To Have And Have Not” starring Humphrey Bogart. Upon Nancy’s request, Hawks asked his assistant to find out more about her, but with misconception, his assistant ordered Bacall to Hollywood for the audition by sending her a ticket.
Hollywood was a totally different world for nineteen year old Betty Bacall. It was a land that seemed so far away from her, but now after all these years, she finally found herself in the heart of Hollywood, and under the presence of Howard Hawks, who signed her to a seven year contract with a salary of $100 a week.
With a new life, and a career transformation, Betty adopted a new name. Shortly after Betty Bacall became Lauren Bacall, and before she knew it, she was about to conquer the world.
In 1944, when Lauren Bacall was still nineteen, she made her film debut in Howard Hawks directed masterpiece, “To Have And Have Not”, starring Humphrey Bogart, who at first Bacall didn’t find herself attracted to until half way through the picture when she discovered that she was enamored by his charm and tough guy aura.
During filming Lauren was so nervous that to help reduce her quivering, she pressed her chin against her chest, and because she was too shy to face the camera, she titled her eyes upwards, an effect that would instantly earn her the nickname “The Look”, and would soon become her trademark.
Several weeks into shooting, Humphrey Bogart became infatuated by Lauren Bacall. Though at the time marriage sounded impossible. Bogart was twenty five years her senior and already married to Mayo Methot. His relationship with Methot was nothing more than tumultuous. Due to their unhappy marriage, both Bogart and Mayo drank heavily, and to escape his current lifestyle, he started dating Lauren. Mayo Methot eventually got word of their affair and filed for divorce on May 10th, 1945 in Las Vegas.
On May 21st, 1945, Lauren Bacall married Humphrey Bogart at Malabar Farm in Lucas, Ohio. With Bacall, Bogart had finally found the love of his life, and the mother of his two children, something that he had hoped for, but never thought he would see the day that he would become a father. In January 1949, Lauren Bacall gave birth to their first child, a son, who they named Stephen, after Bogart’s character in “To Have And Have Not”. A few years later in 1952, their daughter Leslie was born. Sadly a few years after the birth of Leslie, Bogart became ill with Esophageal Cancer, and passed away twelve months later in 1957, leaving Bacall with their two children.
Following the success of “To Have And Have Not”, Lauren Bacall was cast alongside Humphrey Bogart for the second time in “The Big Sleep”. The film opened to critical acclaim, and by now audiences were enthralled by the sexual on screen chemistry of Bogart and Bacall, so much that they were cast in two more vehicles together, “Dark Passage” in 1947, and “Key Largo” in 1948.
After the four Bogart and Bacall collaborations, Lauren Bacall maintained a career of her own. In the 1950’s, she appeared in an array of notable productions that garnered her a plethora of accolades. Some of these films include, “How To Marry A Millionaire”, Written On The Wind” and “Blood Alley”.
In 1955, Bacall re teamed with Bogart again for the television version of “The Petrified Forest”, Bogart’s breakthrough movie in 1936, in which he co-starred alongside Bette Davis and Leslie Howard.
With the death of Humphrey Bogart, Bacall was left distort, and started dating Frank Sinatra, who she knew from the Rat Pack. The couple had planned to marry, but after an altercation it never eventuated, and shortly after, Lauren Bacall packed up and moved back to New York with Stephen and Leslie, where she purchased an apartment at the Dakota Building. This address would serve as Bacall’s residence right up until her death in 2014.
Not long after moving to New York, Bacall met fellow actor, Jason Robards Junior, and married a month later. The couple bore one child, a son named, Sam Robards. The marriage was disastrous from the start, and after ensuing several years of Jason’s alcoholism, they divorced in 1969.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, Bacall’s career was on a downward spiral. She only appeared in a small handful of films in those years, none of them garnering the success that she had hoped for. With her career in wane, she decided to return to the stage, where she starred in “Applause”, the musical version of the 1950 perennial classic “All About Eve”. The stage play was an immediate triumph, and Lauren was complimented for her commendable performance.
In 1981, she appeared alongside her close friend, James Garner in “The Fan”, a film that was largely panned at the box office and is forgotten about today. By now her roles were very few and far between, and none of them really gaining the recognition that she deserved. Her next big break would come in 1996, when she starred in “The Mirror Has Two Faces” starring Barbra Streisand. The film boasted wide encomium, garnering Lauren Bacall her first Academy Award nomination.
The following year she received the Kennedy Center Honors, and in 1999, she was voted one of the twenty five most significant female movie stars in history by the American Film Institute. Her next mark of distinction would come in 2009, when she was selected by the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences to attain the Honorary Oscar.
During her later years, Lauren Bacall was often cast in supporting roles or appearing in commercials, which included being the spokesperson for the Tuesday morning discount chain. Prior to that she was a celebrity spokesperson for High Point Coffee and Fancy Feast cat food.
Sadly Lauren Bacall passed away on the morning of August 12th, 2014, after suffering from a massive stroke. At the time of her death, Lauren was a month shy of her 90th Birthday. She is survived by her three children, six grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
The recipe for Lauren Bacall’s success is that she never stopped working. With a career spanning seventy years, Lauren Bacall will be remembered as the nineteen year old who won the heart of Humphrey Bogart, and who would go on to become one of the brightest stars to ever grace the silver screen.
Rest In Peace Lauren Bacall.