“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.
Updates, 8/14: “Ingrid Bergman may have warmed Bogart up in Casablanca, but it was Ms. Bacall who lit him on fire,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “She later complained about being in his shadow; in truth, each burnished the other’s legend, as all four of the movies they made together prove. She made some good ones without Bogart… But after the 1940s, as pneumatic blondes blew up and gender roles were re-established, she didn’t often find the film roles that suited her cool, steady gaze. The movies couldn’t see it, but she was born to go quip to quip, curled lip to lip, with a man.”
“It wasn’t sultriness that made her a star, but its opposite,” argues Wesley Morris at Grantland. “Passion? That was Elizabeth Taylor’s game. She singed. Ava Gardner? Rita Hayworth? Jane Russell? They could stand near a pot of water and, by sheer proximity, bring it to a boil. Bacall would look at the pot, then at you, and say turn on the goddamned stove. She was hot, sure, but mostly, she was cool—though not in that Kim Novak way. Bacall wasn’t chilly, just chilled. And from that cool emerged an onscreen intimidation that was unlike any I’d ever felt with a major star from the 1940s and 1950s.”
“Later in life, Bacall found a niche, not unexpectedly, in voiceover work,” writes Robert Cashill for Biography. As for Howl’s Moving Castle (2005), Hayao Miyazaki “said he preferred the English dubbing to the original Japanese soundtrack, mostly because of Bacall’s performance as the spiteful Witch of the Waste. ‘You can’t find Japanese women who sound like that,’ he commented. Only one woman did.”
“No doubt it seems like a stretch, in contemporary terms, to describe Bacall as a feminist icon,” grants Andrew O’Hehir in Salon. “Nonetheless, by delivering a message in the coded language of movie stardom, Lauren Bacall unmistakably played a role in the feminist revolution.” Further in:
Bacall’s specific accomplishment, as a screen actress, was to embrace the role of sex symbol without hesitation and also to begin the long process of subverting it to other purposes, the process the French Situationists would later call détournement. Of course there had been “bad girls” and sexually aggressive women in movies long before Bacall got there; one of the not-so-secret allures of B-grade American crime cinema was the scandalous suggestion that women actually liked sex, and sometimes actively pursued it. But if Slim Browning [in To Have and Have Not] has autonomy, sexual agency and evident appetites, she isn’t a classic “bad girl” of the sort who generally winds up dead or in jail in movies of that period. She’s a complicated moral agent and the heroine of the story, who will redeem Bogart’s jaded protagonist and then run away with him, not necessarily toward a white picket fence and happily-ever-after.
Sight & Sound has posted James Monaco‘s extensive piece on The Big Sleep from its Winter 1974/75 issue and David Thomson‘s profile of Nancy Gross, aka Slim Hawks.
Updates, 8/16: “She didn’t have the dexterity of Katharine Hepburn, or the emotional register of Elizabeth Taylor,” writes Anne Helen Petersen at Buzzfeed. “But many, many of Hollywood’s greatest stars weren’t actually phenomenal at the craft of acting. They were amazing stars, which is another way of saying that everything about them, on- and off-screen, created an image that seemed to fulfill some societal desire. She was the answer to an unspoken yet overarching question about women and sexuality in the middle of the 1940s, and her marriage to Bogie, and the way that their relationship seemed to fundamentally work despite the age difference and his past philandering, worked to strengthen a somewhat hobbled conception of the endurance of true love.”
“She had the guts and stamina of a classic New York-born Jewish left-liberal,” writes Clancy Sigal in the New Republic, where he calls Bacall “a kickass fighter, the only child of a divorced, dirt-poor single immigrant mother. During Hollywood’s 1950s blacklist purges, when studios denied work to alleged Communist sympathizers and so many in show business ran for cover, Betty Joan Perske Weinstein-Bacal (as Lauren was originally known), pushed her new husband, Bogart, into establishing the Committee for the First Amendment to denounce the blacklist and protect its victims… Bacall, a mere ingénue just starting out, risked her young career to stick her neck out, as did Bogart, who wanted to vote Republican until Bacall persuaded him otherwise…. I was one of her husband Bogie’s agents during the worst of the Hollywood blacklist. (In fact, I’d been blacklisted by Columbia Pictures myself.) The pressure on him and Bacall to recant and retreat was overwhelming—from the government, Warner Brothers studio, and his agents…. For the whole of her life Lauren Bacall stayed a true-blue New York left-of-center liberal Democrat, lobbying later on for Adlai Stevenson and Bobby Kennedy. Or as she proudly boasted in a late interview, ‘I’m anti-Republican. A liberal. The L-word!'”
“In old age,” note Xan Brooks and Rory Carroll in the Guardian, “Bacall raged against what she saw as the mediocrity of contemporary Hollywood, as represented by everything from the career of Tom Cruise to the Twilight movies that her granddaughter dragged her to see. ‘She said it was the greatest vampire film ever made,’ Bacall recalled. ‘After the film was over, I wanted to smack her across the head with my shoe.’ Instead, Bacall bought the child a DVD of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic Nosferatu. ‘Now that’s a vampire film,’ she told her sternly.”
Updates, 8/18: At the Chiseler, Phoebe Green and David Cairns note that “the previous Mrs. Bogart, Mayo Methot, seems now completely forgotten, remembered only as a footnote labeled ‘mean drunk.'” But she could also be “a riveting screen personality whose appeal is more or less diametrically opposite to that of her successor. Bacall was elegant, slender and beautiful, with a studied poise that allowed her to seem ageless when just a kid. Methot was a short and curvy woman who could convincingly play a worn-out, maternal tart at the age of 28.”
At Ferdy on Films, Roderick Heath revisits The Big Sleep, “one of the sexiest films ever made, a rare achievement not just considering the time of its making but also its usually more businesslike, overtly macho genre.”
Update, 8/23: In the Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Douglas recalls meeting Bacall “when she was 17 and I was 24.” She broke through before he did and told producer Hal Wallis to catch Douglas in a play in New York—”and soon after I was on my way to Hollywood with a meaty role as Barbara Stanwyck‘s husband in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers…. It’s hard to lose a friend, especially one with whom you have shared your dreams and your journey. In the case of Betty Bacall, I also lost my lucky charm—the girl who believed in me enough to talk Hal Wallis into giving me a Hollywood career. That was my first lesson in helping others without looking for thanks.”
Update, 8/31: “I traveled cross-country in 2007 for a date with Lauren Bacall.” Eddie Muller tells the story at EatDrinkFilms.
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