Lauren Bacall: Sultry film-noir legend who taught Humphrey Bogart how to whistle and starred with Monroe and Grable

 

One of the cinema's greatest sirens, Lauren Bacall will be forever remembered as the sultry young actress who made a startling impact with her first film, To Have and Have Not (1944), in which her opening line was a provocative "Anyone got a match?" Later she appears in the open doorway of Humphrey Bogart's hotel room to huskily inform him, "You know, Steve, that if you want me all you have to do is whistle. You know how to do that, don't you? You just put your lips together and blow." Bogart married her just after the film's completion, and she became known (with some resentment on her part) as "Bogie's Baby".

Bacall was a new type of screen heroine, able to be on equal terms with tough-guy Bogart, and the sparring of the pair had audiences enthralled. To Have and Have Not, loosely based on the Hemingway novel, was produced and directed by Howard Hawks, who liked his films to have resilient heroines, but none had captured the combination of independence, insolence and sheer allure of Bacall.

She revealed later that her intense nervousness at acting with Bogart caused her to press her chin against her chest to hide her shaking, raising her eyes as she spoke and creating what studio publicists dubbed "The Look".

She made three further films with Bogart, notably the classic thriller, The Big Sleep (1946), and her other films included How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Northwest Frontier (1960) and Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Bogart died in 1957, and many years later Bacall stated, "In my eleven years as his wife, I knew the greatest happiness of my life. I have never known that quality of pure happiness since."

She married once more – a stormy liaison with actor Jason Robards Jr– and had affairs with Frank Sinatra and several of her leading men (plus an alleged relationship with Adlai Stevenson).

Professionally, she had enormous success in the theatre, winning Tony Awards for the comedy Cactus Flower (1965) and the musical, Applause (1970), while personally her vitriolic candour and ambition made her as many enemies as friends. "Ruthless, yes, I admit to that," she said. "But I've got my human, tender side, believe it or not – if people deserve to be shown it."

Bacall was stage-struck from an early age. The daughter of a salesman and a secretary who divorced when she was five, she was born Betty Joan Perske in 1924 in New York City. "Bacal" was part of her mother's Romanian maiden name adopted after the divorce, and Bacall added an extra "l" to clarify its pronunciation.

Having taken dancing classes at the age of three, she took acting tuition on Saturdays while attending high school. Her idol was Bette Davis ("My fifteen-year-old idea of perfection") and after graduation in 1940 she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.



The following year, with no money to continue classes, she became a model, then a theatre usher while trying agents' offices.

She made her Broadway debut with a bit part in Johnny 2 x 4 (1942), an epic portrayal of speakeasy life, which had 75 players. She appeared in all three acts as a customer, and opened the third dancing the jitterbug before taking her place at one of the tables.

It was her photograph on the cover of Harper's Bazaar's January 1943 edition that caught the eye of "Slim" Hawks, the wife of director Howard, and she suggested to her husband that he sign her to a personal contract.

Shortly afterwards, Bacall was on her way to Hollywood and her star-making role in To Have and Have Not. Howard Hawks is reported to have fallen in love with Bacall, but when she and Bogart started an affair he switched his attentions to another newcomer in the film, Dolores Moran, and sold Bacall's contract to Warner Brothers.

Hawks directed Bogart and Bacall again in The Big Sleep, which was completed early in 1945 but with the approaching end of the war it was held up while the studio rush-released films with a war theme.

Audiences therefore next saw Bacall's third film, based on Graham Greene's thriller, Confidential Agent. It was released early in 1945, and critics who had hailed the newcomer now turned on her and were scathing about her portrayal of a British diplomat's daughter. Bacall did not get along with director Herman Shumlin ("much ego and no communication") and later stated that he gave her no guidance ("I didn't know what the hell I was doing").

Meanwhile, Bacall's agent, Charles K Feldman, had seen The Big Sleep and wrote to studio head, Jack Warner, pleading him to make drastic changes, cutting out much talky exposition, building up Bacall's part considerably and giving her scenes with Bogart in which they could spar verbally much as they had in their previous partnership. Warner totally agreed, as did Bogart – provided the new scenes were directed by Hawks.

The most notorious of the new sequences, in which the couple talk ostensibly about horse-racing, demonstrated how the studios could get risqué material past the censors and has become as famous as the whistling scene in their earlier film. The judicious re-editing and new scenes of Bacall's insolent sparring with her leading man turned a good thriller into a masterwork, and put Bacall back in favour with both public and critics.

Lauren Bacall stars in Lauren Bacall stars in "Diamonds" in 1999 (Getty Images)
Bacall was always a staunch Democrat and an outspoken political campaigner. In 1947 she and Bogart were part of a group called The Committee for the First Amendment that marched on Washington to protest against the methods of the House Un-American Committee, though Bogart later recanted (something he was not proud of).

Bogart and Bacall made two more films together. Dark Passage (1947), was a moderately effective thriller which did not show Bogart's face until halfway through the film, when his character has plastic surgery to transform his features. Key Largo (1949), based on Maxwell Anderson's play about a notorious gangster holed up in a hurricane-swept hotel, benefited from a fine cast which included Edward G Robinson, Claire Trevor and Lionel Barrymore, with Bacall holding her own as a spiky war widow, anxious to hear from veteran Bogart about her husband's last hours.

Read more: Lauren Bacall: A 'siren who never lost her poise'
Lauren Bacall's guide to love, marriage and men
Lauren Bacall's best loved film moments

One of her best roles was as the vindictively jealous wife of jazz trumpeter, Kirk Douglas, in Young Man With a Horn (1950), inspired by the life of Bix Beiderbecke, but she frequently went on suspension for refusing film scripts she found weak, including Storm Warning and The Girl from Jones Beach, and she was happy when her contract expired.

20th Century-Fox then gave her a good role starring with Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe in the comedy, How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). As one of three fortune-hunting ladies, she got on well with both her co-stars, and critic Otis L Guernsey wrote, "Tall and commanding, she is the brains of the outfit. The script gives her all the brightest sarcasms and she handles them smartly."

Her husband was an executive competing for a top job in the glossy Woman's World (1954) and she was a therapist having an affair with a married doctor in a mental clinic in the over-heated melodrama, The Cobweb (1955).

She co-starred with John Wayne in Blood Alley (1955), Rock Hudson in Written on the Wind (1955) and, at the urging of Bogart, who was dying, she accepted a comedy role with Gregory Peck in Designing Woman (1957).

After Bogart's death, she made The Gift of Love (1959), an ill-advised remake of the lachrymose hit, Sentimental Journey.

Frank Sinatra, who had been one of Bogart's best friends and a comfort to Bacall, eventually became her lover, but the relationship ended when he angered her by talking about possible marriage on a broadcast.

Lauren Bacall with Vice-President Harry Truman at the National Press Club, Washington in 1945 Lauren Bacall with Vice-President Harry Truman at the National Press Club, Washington in 1945 (AP)
In 1961, she married actor Jason Robards Jr, but the union was volatile and ended after 12 stormy years, during which Bacall carved a new career as a star of the theatre.

In 1959 she had a personal triumph co-starring with Sydney Chaplin in George Axelrod's comedy, Goodbye Charlie, and she had another comedy hit with Cactus Flower (1965), though she was disappointed when the film version went to Ingrid Bergman.

In 1970 she won the Tony Award for Applause, a musical version of All About Eve, playing tempestuous actress Margo Channing, a role created by her idol, Bette Davis. Her show-stopping numbers included "Who's That Girl?", in which she mocked the younger version of herself being displayed on television's late show ("Who's that girl with the cute shoulder pads, Could it be that long ago?").

A later musical, Woman of the Year (1981), was based on the vintage film starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, but though it had a respectable run, its score by Kander and Ebb was patchy and the show was never produced in the UK.

Bacall's infrequent movie roles included Harper (1966), with Paul Newman as the titular private-eye, the all-star Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and The Shootist (1976), with John Wayne.

In 1985 she appeared in a London production of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth. She received her first and only Oscar nomination in 1996 for her uncompromising portrayal of Barbra Streisand's monstrous mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces. Though she lost, she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. This year she provided a voice for Family Guy.

Throughout her life, she tried to achieve recognition as an actress rather than a film star or the widow of Humphrey Bogart, but recently confessed that she knew it could never happen. The vision that will persist will be of the sultry, husky-voiced seductress who, after kissing Bogart with little response, tries again more effectively, and comments, "It's even better when you help."

Tom Vallance

Lauren Bacall (Betty Joan Perske), actress: born New York City 16 September 1924; married first Humphrey Bogart, 1945 (one son, one daughter); second Jason Robards Jr, 1962 (one son, marriage dissolved); died New York City 12 August 2014.

News
people
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

RE Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Teacher of Religious Education ...

A Level Chemistry Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: A Level Chemistry Teacher - Humb...

NQT Secondary Teachers

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is actively r...

ICT Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ICT Teacher - Scunthorpe This r...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence