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Lauren Bacall

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

Lauren Bacall is a name that any true film buff is familiar with, as she is one of the most famous women of the golden age of cinema. She was even named by the American Film Institute as one of the top 20 greatest female stars of classic Hollywood.

Lauren Bacall was born to Jewish parents in The Bronx, New York City on 16 September 1924 although her name at birth was Betty Joan Perske. Her mother had emigrated from Romania, in Eastern Europe and had entered the USA through Ellis Island, while her father was a second-generation immigrant whose parents had come to the United States from modern-day Belarus which was then part of the Russian Empire and is also located in Eastern Europe.

Her parents divorced when Lauren was quite young, after which she no longer had regular contact with her father.  This resulted in her developing an incredibly close relationship with her mother, and in her adopting her mother’s last name, which in Romanian, is Bacall.

Lauren Bacall started her career in 1941 at the age of about 16 when she began to attend classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts along with Kirk Douglas who took the same classes, and with whom she would star in a jazz musical in 1950 called Young Man with a Horn. At the same time, she worked as an usher at the St. James Theater and also took on some occasional modelling work, and it was this that would be the catalyst for her future career and ultimate rise to fame. She started acting in 1942 shortly after she had turned 17. Her iconic sultry look became one of her trademarks and was a big selling point when it came to landing film roles. Whilst still a teenager she even appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue Magazine. It is little wonder then that with her stunning looks gracing the covers of national magazines that it would only be a matter of time before Hollywood started to take notice.

Howard Hanks, a Hollywood producer and director asked his secretary to find out more about the model following prompting by his wife, as she might work well for a movie he was directing, which was called To Have and Have Not. However, through a misunderstanding, the secretary didn’t just find out more about Miss Bacall but also sent her a ticket so she could come to Hollywood for a screen test and audition. This turn of fortune resulted in Hanks signing her to a 7-year contract almost as soon as he met her which was worth $100 per week. He also took personal charge of her career which included changing her name to Lauren Bacall as he thought that Lauren was a better screen name than Betty. He also got her to change the way she spoke, encouraging her to lower the pitch of her voice for which she used the services of a voice coach. This resulted in future critics describing her voice as having a smoky, sexual growl which became another one of her trademarks.

Lauren Bacall’s career started to take off in the 1940s after Warner Brothers decided to embark on an extensive marketing campaign for To Have and Have Not with a view to establishing her as a Hollywood icon. During this marketing push, she visited the National Press Club in Washington, DC where the Warner Brothers publishing agent asked Lauren to sit on a piano while the then vice President Harry S Truman played, thus creating a great photo opportunity for the young actress.

In 1946 Lauren Bacall starred in The Big Sleep which co-starred Humphrey Bogart. This would be the start of her career in film noir, a genre with which she would be forever linked. Bacall and Bogart worked so well together that they starred in two more films, Dark Passage, which premiered in 1947 and 1948’s Key Largo. 

Lauren was a strong woman and even earned a reputation as being difficult, largely due to the fact that she would turn down opportunities due to scripts that she didn’t find very interesting. However, she became one of the great leading ladies of the late 1940s and 1950s and many of the films that she appeared in received very favourable reviews and also included the first CinemaScope comedy in 1953 called How to Marry a Millionaire, which also starred Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable and was a box office smash. She also branched out into radio, joining with her costar – and now husband – Humphrey Bogart, in a radio series called Bold Adventure.

Despite being 25 years her senior, Humphrey Bogart was the love of young Lauren Bacall’s life and they were married on 21 May 1945.  They remained married until Bogart’s death in 1957. The couple had two children, a son called Stephen Humphrey Bogart who was born on 6 January 1949 and a daughter called Leslie Howard Bogart who was named after the actor Leslie Howard.

Following Bogart’s death, Bacall had a short-lived relationship with Frank Sinatra before going on to marry Jason Robards on 4 July 1961. The couple had a son called Sam Robards on 16 December the same year but Robards’ alcoholism would ultimately lead to Bacall divorcing him eight years later.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Lauren Bacall only appeared in a small number of films due to also taking time to appear in Broadway productions such as Cactus Flower, Applause and Woman of the Year, but pretty much everything that starred Lauren Bacall at this time became an instant hit including the likes of Sex and the Single Girl in 1964, Harper in 1966 and Murder on the Orient Express in 1974. She appeared alongside many of Hollywood’s greats at this time including Henry Fonda, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Paul Newman, Janet Leigh, Ingrid Bergman and Vanessa Redgrave among others. In 1976 she starred opposite John Wayne in The Shootist with the two becoming friends even though politically, they had very opposing views.

Lauren Bacall had huge success in Hollywood throughout her life and continued to appear in movies in the 1980s and 1990s, including The Fan, which was released in 1981, Appointment with Death in 1988, and even a small role in Misery in 1990. She won a BAFTA and was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Mirror has Two Faces which premiered in 1996. It was the first Oscar nomination of her career despite it having spanned more than 50 years. She didn’t win but in 2010 the academy presented her with an Academy Honorary Award.

Her career continued into the 2000s with one final role, which was a guest voice appearance in the show Family Guy in 2014, in the episode “Mom’s the Word”. On 12 August the same year, Lauren Bacall suffered a massive stroke at her apartment near Central Park in Manhattan. She was taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital where it was confirmed that she had died, only one month shy of her 90th birthday.

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