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Lauren Bacall
smoky-voiced Hollywood legend


By David Hudson, Keyframe, August 13, 2014

James Agee called her “the toughest girl a piously regenerate Hollywood has dreamed of in a long, long while.”


Lauren Bacall, the actress whose provocative glamour elevated her to stardom in Hollywood’s golden age and whose lasting mystique put her on a plateau in American culture that few stars reach, died on Tuesday in New York,” reports Enid Nemy in the New York Times.

“She was 89…. With an insinuating pose and a seductive, throaty voice—her simplest remark sounded like a jungle mating call, one critic said—Ms. Bacall shot to fame in 1944 with her first movie, Howard Hawks’s adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel To Have and Have Not, playing opposite Humphrey Bogart, who became her lover on the set and later her husband.”



“She was a nice Jewish girl brought up right by mother in two rooms on the wrong side of the tracks in Manhattan, her father long fled from their lives,” writes Veronica Horwell in the Guardian. “She was so nervous in her first film role, at all of 19 years old, that her head shook; so she tilted her chin down to steady herself, and had to look up from under at the camera. She stood at the bedroom door of ‘a hotel in Martinique in the French West Indies’—the Warner Bros lot in Hollywood—looked up, and asked Humphrey Bogart for a match. And defined her life.”

“But as much a Bacall trademark as the look she gave him was her voice, kept at a low register at Hawks’s direction throughout the film,” notes Dennis McLellan in the Los Angeles Times. “It gave the young actress a seductive worldliness that was never so evident as when she delivered one of the most famous lines in movie history to Bogart. ‘You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve,’ she says to him. ‘You don’t have to say anything and you don’t have to do anything—not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.’ … Critic James Agee wrote at the time that Bacall was ‘the toughest girl a piously regenerate Hollywood has dreamed of in a long, long while.’”

Sarah Begley for Time: “Bogart and Bacall would marry in 1945, when she was 20 and he was 45, and were paired in three more movies together: The Big Sleep, Dark Passage and Key Largo. Bacall’s list of co-stars reads as a who’s who of the Golden Age of Hollywood: Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire, Gregory Peck in Designing Women, June Allyson in Woman’s World. Equally well known for her stage work, she won two Tony Awards for Best Leading Actress in a Musical: in 1970 for Applause, based on the Oscar-winning film All About Eve, and in 1981 for Woman of the Year. She remained active throughout into her old age, with notable appearances in 1990’s Misery, as James Caan’s agent, and 2003’s Dogville, alongside Nicole Kidman. She also made a cameo as herself on HBO’s The Sopranos, and recently lent her recognizably resonant voice as a guest star on an episode of Family Guy.”

Via Dana Stevens, “Bacall totally owning Bogart in The Big Sleep“:

The Guardian‘s Andrew Pulver has gathered 18 more clips and has notes on all of them. While you’re there, see Susie Mackenzie‘s 2005 profile: “I asked her at one point if she felt that she had simply been unlucky with timing: that she was identified with an era only partly her own—through her association with Bogart, that older generation and the postwar gloom of the film noir. You can’t play the ‘what if’ game she says. ‘If I could have lived as an actress in any period, it would have been the 1920s—I would have loved to have been part of that speakeasy era.’ That would have made her, incidentally, the same age as Bogart. Only fools really regret, she says. ‘If I’d had just my career, I would have missed out on Bogie, on children, on the very substance of life.’ It was Bogart who used to talk to her about the ‘good old days.’ ‘I’d say to him, “Forget it, pal. These are the good old days.”‘”

In 2011, Matt Tyrnauer profiled Bacall for Vanity Fair, quoting from her 1978 memoir, By Myself:

    There have always been rumors about me: Oh, she’s very difficult. Be careful of her. People who don’t know me—even some people who do know me—know that I say what I think. Very few people want to hear the truth. Bogie was like that, my mother was like that, and I’m like that. I believe in the truth, and I believe in saying what you think. Why not? Do you have to go around whispering all the time or playing a game with people? I just don’t believe in that. So I’m not the most adored person on the face of the earth. You have to know this. There are a lot of people who don’t like me at all, I’m very sure of that. But I wasn’t put on earth to be liked. I have my own reasons for being and my own sense of what is important and what isn’t, and I’m not going to change that.

“Here’s the thing with Lauren Bacall,” writes Glenn Kenny: “she turned up on screen and there she was. Like Venus on that half-shell, she was fully formed and all that from frame one. It didn’t matter if she could act or not. There she was.”

“To Warner minds, the only thing worse than one ingrate Bogart was a pair of them.” John McElwee recounts the rocky relationship between the studio and Lauren Bacall.

“I wanted to be her.” The LAT‘s Susan King looks back on a 1998 interview with Bacall that went very, very well. “The 20 minutes turned into 90 minutes. Bacall was warm, tough, open. And that husky voice.”

Slate‘s Aisha Harris revisits How to Marry a Millionaire: “The 1953 comedy about a trio of gold-digging women who go in together on a New York City penthouse—the better to snatch up a wealthy man, so their thinking goes—is one of those rare films that delivers on the promise of its all-star cast. When it was released in all of its Technicolor-Cinemascope glory, it boasted three of Hollywood’s most captivating actresses at the time: Bacall, of course, along with Betty Grable (she of the million-dollar legs) and Marilyn Monroe (who’d already played a different gold digger, to much success, earlier that year). Grable as the plucky Loco and Monroe as dumb blonde Pola are great—but Bacall as Schatze stands out as a towering force.”

New York fashion writers Isabel Wilkinson and Véronique Hyland: “When Lauren Bacall strode into a room—dress shirt open and tucked into high-waisted pants, a long chain dangling below her braless sternum—sunglasses covering her most of her face, men practically flew from their chairs at the chance to light her cigarette. Her deep, confident voice, insouciant gaze and perfectly molded waves made her, perhaps, the original embodiment of Effortless Glamour.”

Updates:“The most touching thing about Bacall’s autobiography is her bewilderment about having been given so much at such a young age and then having it all taken away from her,” writes Dan Callahan at RogerEbert.com. “It should be remembered that she was only in her early thirties when Bogart died. After that, she was his official widow, and other men she was involved with, like Frank Sinatra and Jason Robards, who was her second husband in the 1960s, felt that they couldn’t measure up to the legend of Bogart, which only increased with time. In her book,Bacall tells about the impassioned way that Bogart loved her in such detail that everything else after his death seems like a bad dream for her where nothing seems to fit. She did not always react gracefully to that uncomfortable position. But she did keep going, and going, for more than half a century after losing him.”

“Marlene Dietrich came up to Hawks after one screening of To Have and Have Not and said, ‘You know, that’s me about 20 years ago.’” Bilge Ebiri for Vulture: “Her persona may have fit noir best, but she brought it with her to different genres, sometimes with unusual results…. [I]n Douglas Sirk’s wild, wonderful Written on the Wind, Bacall’s cool keeps the melodrama grounded. Playing an assistant who winds up marrying drunk playboy Robert Stack, even as she’s coveted by a lovelorn Rock Hudson (who is in turn pursued by Stack’s nymphomaniac sister Dorothy Malone), Bacall is in many ways the film’s real hero. She may be an object of desire, but she’s also the one character who feels like a real person cast amid this brightly colored, larger-than-life Sirkian farrago. Her noirish reserve sells the film’s heightened emotions and style.”

In 1957, the year that Bogart died, Bacall “appeared opposite Gregory Peck in Vincente Minnelli’s Designing Woman, the story of a fiercely independent clothing designer who enters into a fractious marriage with a loving but oafish sportswriter.” Slate‘s Dana Stevens: “In retrospect, choosing the role of a headstrong woman opposite a well-established leading man like Peck seems like Bacall’s way of letting Hollywood know that, heartbroken as she might be, she was determined to carry on acting, loving, and living—which she proceeded to do in grand style for the next six decades.”

“The toughness was conferred upon her in the great roles given to her in the glorious early movies with Bogart,” writes the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, “and then she had to show real toughness in standing up to the studio system, turning down dumb roles, and going on suspension, and then challenging McCarthy-ism in the 1950s.”

“Lauren Bacall was the ideal postwar star—as sexy as any pin-up, but she was a woman’s woman at heart, a reminder in the age after Rosie the Riveter that a great woman is exactly like a great man, only better.” Teo Bugbee for the Daily Beast. “She looked better, she sounded better, she wore better clothes, she could flirt better, sing better, walk better than every man she ever shared the screen with, including her husband, and he knew it.”

More from Scott Feinberg (Hollywood Reporter), Tim Gray (Variety) and Linda Holmes (NPR). Meantime, Jonathan Rosenbaum‘s posted his 1997 essay on The Big Sleep. And at Filmmaker, Vadim Rizov‘s posted video (5’16″) from Bacall’s 1987 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in which she remembers John Huston, who’d died just the week before.


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