Legend of Bacall
From the moment she opened her mouth in "To Have and Have Not," Lauren Bacall was a captivating screen presence, and her life—with and without Bogie—was no less fascinating. Here, to mark her birthday, are 40 things you may not know about the sultry star from Hollywood's Golden Age.
Becoming Lauren Bacall
She was born in the Bronx on September 16, 1924. Although the name on her birth certificate was Betty Joan Perske, she took on her mother's surname—Bacall—when she was six, after her parents divorced. In Hollywood, she became Lauren Bacall, but friends would always call her Betty.
She Started Out as a Model
Director Howard Hawks' wife Slim—later known as Slim Keith—brought Bacall to her husband's attention when the 18-year-old model appeared on a cover of Harper's Bazaar. After inviting Bacall to do a screen test, Hawks cast her as "Slim" in 1944's "To Have and Have Not."
She Wasn't Thrilled About the Prospect of Working With Bogart
When Hawks mentioned Humphrey Bogart, Bacall said years later, "I thought, Bogart? 'Dese, dem and dose' guys … not for me." The director also brought up Cary Grant as a possibility. "I said, 'Well, now you're talking.'" Of course, she ended up co-starring with Bogart and soon fell in love with him. Bacall was 19, Bogie 44.
She Was Raised to Be "a Nice Jewish Girl"
But Bacall—seen here at age 9—kept that quiet when she began her acting career. "There was anti-Semitism in Hollywood and I was terribly frightened," she told People magazine in 1979. "Remember, I was 19 and wasn't exactly swimming in self-confidence. It's one area of my life I am not proud of."
She Won a Beauty Contest ...
In 1942, after moving to downtown Manhattan with her mother, Bacall was crowned Miss Greenwich Village.
... But Never Thought She Was Beautiful
"I don't look in the mirror; don't like what I see; never have. I am not my idea of a beauty. Never was. This is not false modesty. I've just never been enamored of my face, which of course is magnified umpteen times on screen."
She Stayed in Character
On the set of "To Have and Have Not," Bacall called Bogart "Steve" (the name of his character) and he called her "Slim." Hawks later claimed that Bogart had actually fallen in love with Bacall's character—"so she had to keep playing it the rest of her life." Observers said the director was just jealous.
That Voice Took Work
Some attribute her husky voice to chain smoking, but Bacall actually trained herself to speak in a low register at the request of Hawks. She practiced by reading "The Robe," a 1940s best-seller, in as deep a voice as possible. (Fun fact: It was long rumored that her singing in the movie was dubbed—by a young Andy Williams! In fact, that almost happened, but in the end, the director went with Bacall's singing.)
"The Look" Was an Accident
"I used to tremble from nerves so badly that the only way I could hold my head steady was to lower my chin practically to my chest and look up at Bogie. That was the beginning of 'The Look.'"
She Almost Won a Dubious Award
In 1945, Bacall was the runner-up for the "Least Cooperative Actress" prize given by the Hollywood Women's Press Club. The winner was Greer Garson. (Fred MacMurray was voted "Least Cooperative Actor.")
She Was a Fighter
"You don't always win your battles, but it's good to know you fought."
She Became a Pitchwoman
"RC tastes best," Bacall was quoted as saying in a mid-'40s advertising campaign for Royal Crown Cola. She also endorsed Robt. Burns Cigarillos ("I love to see a man smoke a Cigarillo") in an ad that featured both her and Bogart.
The Age Thing Wasn't a Problem
Bacall, who married Bogart in May 1945, saw only advantages in having an older husband. "I fairly often have thought how lucky I was," she told Vanity Fair decades later. "I knew everybody because I was married to Bogie, and that 25-year difference was the most fantastic thing for me to have in my life."
Bogie and Bacall Loved Working Together—Maybe Too Much?
They had a blast while filming 1946's "The Big Sleep." One day, according to Bacall, the couple received a memo from studio chief Jack Warner: "Word has reached me that you are having fun on the set. This must stop."
She Made Four Big Movies With Bogart
"To Have and Have Not" and "The Big Sleep" were followed by "Dark Passage" and "Key Largo." Bogart also wanted Bacall to co-star with him in 1954's "Sabrina," but that part went to Audrey Hepburn.
A Vocal Dysfunction Is Named After Them
There's a medical term for a deep or hoarse voice typical of men and women who speak or sing at an unnaturally low register. It's called "Bogart-Bacall syndrome."
They Took a Stand
Bacall and Bogart were front and center in 1947 when members of the Committee for the First Amendment flew to Washington to protest hearings held by the House Un-American Activities Committee that led to the Hollywood blacklist.
She Had More Than One Leading Man
Although Bacall was often paired with Bogart, he wasn't her only leading man on the big screen. In 1950 alone, she co-starred with Gary Cooper in "Bright Leaf" and Kirk Douglas—who'd been her classmate in acting school—in "Young Man With a Horn."
They Named Their Son After His Father
Or rather they named him after Bogie's character in "To Have and Have Not." Christened Stephen, the boy was called Steve.
It Was a True Hollywood Romance
"Everyone could see their love right there on celluloid," Stephen Bogart recalled decades later. "He was the great love of her life, and she his."
She Lived for the Moment
"You can't start worrying about what's going to happen," Bacall said. "You get spastic enough worrying about what's happening now."
She Adored Katharine Hepburn
The outspoken actresses met on the set of 1951's "The African Queen" and remained close friends until Hepburn's death in 2003. Said Bacall, "There's an empty space in my life without Kate."
Working With Marilyn Monroe Was "Not Easy"
Her co-star in 1953's "How to Marry a Millionaire" was frightened and insecure on the set, according to Bacall. "A scene often went to 15 or more takes, which meant I'd have to be good in all of them as no one knew which one would be used. Not easy—often irritating. And yet, I couldn't dislike Marilyn. She had no meanness in her."
She Was Shimon Peres' Cousin
Bacall met the future president of Israel in the early '50s, when he came to New York as an Israeli government official. After hearing that his original name was Perski, she gave him a call and they discovered that they were related.
She Put a Whistle in Bogart's Coffin
Bogie and Bacall—seen here aboard a yacht in 1955—were together until his death from cancer in 1957. The whistle she put in his coffin alluded to her famous line in "To Have and Have Not": "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow."
She Stole a Part From Grace Kelly
Kelly was supposed to star in "Designing Woman," but the shooting schedule conflicted with the Wedding of the Century, where she became Princess Grace of Monaco. So, in stepped Bacall, who had desperately wanted to be cast in this 1957 rom-com. Grace wasn't pleased, but as Bacall put it, "She got the prince, I got the part."
She Named the Rat Pack
Bogart was in the original Rat Pack, which dated back to the early '50s, and it was Bacall—their "den mother"—who gave them that name. That group led to the famous Rat Pack of the '60s, the one that included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr..
She Was Engaged to Frank Sinatra
After Bogart's death in 1957, she nearly married Sinatra, but the plan fizzled. Probably just as well. Later, Bacall said, "I wish Frank Sinatra would just shut up and sing."
She Seldom Spoke About Bogart
"Being a widow is not a profession," said Bacall, seen here with her children, Leslie and Stephen.
She Put Marriage First
Although Bacall's second marriage, to Jason Robards, was turbulent, she gave it precedence over her career—which suffered as a result. "I don't regret it," she said, "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."
She Wasn't Stuck in a Bygone Era
Here's Bacall with Jack Nicholson in 1976. "I am not a has-been," she said long after the passing of Hollywood's Golden Age. "I am a will-be."
She Really Wrote Her Memoir
Unlike most stars, Bacall didn't rely on a ghostwriter to produce "By Myself," which became a No. 1 bestseller in 1979. Editor Robert Gottlieb recalled giving her an office at Knopf where she wrote every day on yellow legal pads, got her own coffee and sometimes brought a box of doughnuts for the staff.
She Heard the Gunshots That Killed John Lennon
Bacall—seen here in her nine-room apartment at the Dakota, where John Lennon was one of her neighbors—said she assumed that the noise she heard that day in 1980 was the sound of a car backfiring. A little later, she turned on the news and learned that Lennon had been killed.
On Women vs. Men
With Ellen Burstyn in 1986. "Generally women are better than men—they have more character," Bacall once said. "I prefer men for some things, obviously, but women have a greater sense of honor and are more willing to take a chance with their lives."
She Was Against Cosmetic Surgery
"I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that."
She Had a Big Night With Bob Dylan
Bacall and Dylan both received Kennedy Center honors in 1997.
She Had a Running Competition With Kathleen Turner
It was a deep-voice contest. Turner described it at the 1997 Kennedy Center event: "When we run into one another, we say, 'Hello, Miss Turner,' 'Hello, Miss Bacall,' and see who can get down the lowest."
She Was Brilliant on 'The Sopranos"
In a stunning late-career cameo, Bacall played herself as the presenter at an awards show. Midway through the episode, Christopher (Michael Imperioli) interrupts her poolside to tell her how much he loved her in "The Haves and Have-Nots." He later mugs her, running off with her gift basket after punching the feisty Hollywood icon in the face.
She Didn't Like to Be Called a Legend
Not while she was alive, anyway. "It's a title and category I am less than fond of," Bacall wrote in 1994, two decades before she died in her apartment at the Dakota. "Aren't legends dead?"
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