Her name was Betty Joan Perske but the world will remember her as Lauren Bacall. She was born September 16, 1924 in the Bronx section of New York. Like many young girls she dreamed of her name in giant letters across the marquis of Broadway. To help that dream come true she studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. It helped and she found herself performing on Broadway in minor rolls but she didn’t make it to the top.
To keep money coming in she exchanged lines on a script for curves in magazines and became a model. She had the looks and she used them well. Her big break came in March 1943 when her picture graced the glossy cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Mrs. Howard Hawks took one look at the woman and showed her husband. Her Hollywood producer-director husband agreed and in one month Bacall had a seven year contract from Warner Brother’s in her hot little hand.
Perhaps the studio sensed something but either way their pairing her with leading man Humphrey Bogart yielded pure magic in her screen debut, To Have and Have Not. The two were fire on the silver screen and the now famous and much quoted line, “If you want anything, all you have to do is whistle,” spelled it out. Her line, “It’s even better when you help,” to a returned kiss from Bogart informed viewers that they were witnesses to much more than film simply rolling from one reel to another.
The true reality was the 19-year-old Bacall and the 45-year-old Bogart were falling in love during the film’s shooting. By the following year they were married and together they would make three more films together. Each with a slightly different tone but each with the same smoky come hither look from Bacall that would earn her the name, “The Look.”
Over the years she made more movies but they were sporadic as the studio presented her with parts and pictures she refused to do. Eventually Warner Brother’s suspended and fined her. From there she moved on to 20th Century Fox and other studios. During the 50’s her career was in a slump but always Bogart stood beside her, loving and encouraging. She became content with simply being a supportive wife and caring for their two children, Stephen and Leslie. When he diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 1956 she devoted herself completely to him. He died the following year and for a time she went into depression.
She remarried in1961 to Jason Robards, Jr. and together they had a son (actor Sam Robards.) Unlike her marriage to Bogart, which was complicated but good, her marriage to Robards was stormy. No longer able to deal with Robards’ violent behavior when drunk she left and they were divorced in 1969.
At the end of the 60’s she returned to Broadway where she appeared in the successfully received play Cactus Flower. Then in 1970 her youthful dream came to fruition in the form of a play entitled Applause (a musical remake of the film All About Eve) for which she won the Tony. After an eight-year absence from the movies she returned in 1974 but she didn’t give up on appearing in plays. In 1981 she had another hit when the play, Woman of the Year, rose to the top. In movies she found another triumph when she was nominated for the first time for best supporting actress in the 1996 film The Mirror Has Two Faces. In 2009 she received an honorary academy award.
Miss Bacall made her last film in 2012. She died of old age 35 days before her 90th birthday on August 12, 2014.
A List of Her Most Memorable Rolls:
- To Have and Have Not (1944)
- Confidential Agent (1945)
- The Big Sleep (1946)
- Dark Passage (1947)
- Key Largo (1948)
- The Shootist (1976)
- The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996) – Academy Award Nomination (Best Supporting Actress)
- The Forger (2012)
The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz 4th Edition Ó 2001 Bacall, Lauren, pg. 73
Chicago Tribune Wednesday August 14, 2014, Section 1, Page 14
Chicago Tribune Thursday August 15, 2014, Section 4, Page 1,6