The Golden Age of Hollywood

Lauren Bacall: TCM’s Star of the Month for September

on September 8, 2012

Every Wednesday night this September, Turner Classic Movies will be airing a series of Lauren Bacall movies, documentaries, and interviews. For more information and scheduling details, visit the TCM webpage.


Background and Education
Lauren “Betty” Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske in New York City in 1924. Her parents divorced when she was five and she would remain very close to her mother throughout her career. Bacall began dancing as a child but became interested in acting and modelling as a teenager. After graduating high school , she studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and worked as a theatre usher and model.

Film Career
Bacall was first noticed by the wife of directer Howard Hawks, Nancy “Slim” Hawks, on the cover of “Harper’s Bazaar.” Hawks cast the 19-year-old Bacall for a part in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944), a film loosely based on the Hemingway novel and starring Humphrey Bogart. In 1953, Bacall made her first comedy, HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, co-starring Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable. Bacall’s career spans several decades and includes performances in film, and on stage, television, and radio. She co-starred with a bevvy of stars in Agagtha Chrstie‘s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974), and a couple years later she appeared with John Wayne in his final picture,  THE SHOOTIST (1976).


One True Pairing (OTP)
Bacall and Bogart met and fell in love during the filming of her first film, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944). The two would make four films together, including THE BIG SLEEP (1946), DARK PASSAGE (1947), and KEY LARGO (1948). Bogart had been married three times before her met Bacall, but his marriage to Bacall was the longest, lasting from 1945 until his death in 1957. Early in their marriage, Bogart had given Bacall a small gold whistle charm, a reference to their first scene together on the big screen. Bacall had the whistle placed in his casket when he passed away.

Bogart and Bacall with a little horse-play

Persona
Lauren Bacall was known for her deep, sultry voice and independent-spirited sex appeal. Bogart referred to her as “A real Joe.” In order to calm her nerves during the screen test for her first film role, Bacall lowered her chin and raised her eyes to the camera, thus inventing “The Look” for which she would become famous. Over the years, Bacall developed a reputation in Hollywood for being difficult because she constantly rejected scripts she did not think were worth her while. This sense of professional autonomy apparently made it’s way into her household as well:

“I remember my eldest son, Steve, saying to me once, “I don’t ever remember seeing you with an apron on.” And I thought, “That’s right, honey, you did not.” This was his concept of what a mother should be.”

Bacall and Bogart with their children, Leslie and Steven

Like Katharine Hepburn, Bacall held certain views about how to reconcile personal relationships and career. Both women took several years off from their film careers to care for their partners:

“I put my career in second place throughout both my marriages and it suffered. I don’t regret it. 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.”

Both Hepburn and Bacall realized the potentials of both career and personal relationship both on screen and off in a way that would revolutionized how society would define the structural role of women.

Politics

“I’m a total Democrat. I’m anti-Republican. And it’s only fair that you know it. I’m liberal – the “L” word! Being liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone if you’re liberal. You do not have a small mind.”

Bogart and Bacall lead the charge against HUAC – Washington, 1947


In 1947, Bogart and Bacall went to Washington with the Committee for the First Amendment to protest the House Un-American Activities Committee, claiming that the HUAC witch-hunt for Communists infringed on basic civil liberties, especially free speech. They were joined by other Hollywood liberals – find a more complete list here. Unfortunately, in order to retain their professional reputations in Hollywood, the couple distanced themselves from the “Hollywood Ten” and appeared in a 1948 edition of Photoplay magazine in an article entitled “I’m No Communist.”

Over the years Bacall campaigned for Democrats Harry S. Truman (1948 Presidential election), Adlai Stevenson (1952 Presidential election), and Robert Kennedy (1964 Senatorial election).

President Truman plays piano for Lauren Bacall

Religion
Bacall’s parents were Polish and Romanian Jewish immigrants who had entered the United States through Ellis Island. Her cousin Shimon Peres is President and former Prime Minister of Israel.

“I love being Jewish; I have no problem with it at all. But it did become like a scar, with all these people saying you don’t look it.”


Friendship with Katharine Hepburn

Bacall, Bogie, and Hepburn fly to Africa

Hepburn and Bacall first met during the filming of THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951). Bacall traveled with Humphrey Bogart for the on-location shooting of the film in the Belgian Congo. In her book The Making of the AFRICAN QUEEN or How I Went to Africa with Bogie and Bacall and Almost Lost My Mind, Hepburn remembers her first thoughts about her co-star’s wife:

“I kept looking at her and looking at her. In the first place, she is young and and she has lovely tawny skin and she has the most fabulous sandy hair. Beautiful whether it’s straight or curled. In fact you have never seen her until you’ve seen her in her bright-green wrapper on the way to the outhouse in the early morning with her hair piled up on her head and no lipstick or anything else. Her sleepy-slanty green eyes and her common-sense look and her lost voice and her lanky figure and her apparent fund of pugilistic good nature. Once she gets on the track of anything, be it picking out a can of baked beans or doing her nails or typing a letter or sunbathing or talking to anyone, don’t try to get her on anything else – don’t try to hurry her – she is immovable. I gazed at her and wondered whether I would go mad with jealousy as I compared our ages – our skin – our hair – our natures. No, she didn’t sweat much either. She and Bogie seemed to have the most enormous opinion of each other’s charms, and when they fought it was with the utter confidence of two cats locked deliciously in the same cage.”

Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Bogie, and Bacall would remain friends long after AFRICAN QUEEN. Both Hepburn and Bacall were liberals. Hepburn and Tracy visited Bogie just before his death in 1957, and Hepburn was godmother to Sam Robards, Bacall’s only child with her second husband, Jason Robards.

Hepburn, Bacall, and Bogie on location in Africa

In 1981, Bacall earned the Tony award for her performance in a remake of Katharine Hepburn’s first film with Spencer Tracy, WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942). More recently, in 2006, Katharine Hepburn’s alma mater Bryn Mawr College awarded Bacall the very first Katharine Hepburn Medal, which recognizes “women whose lives, work, and contributions embody the intelligence, drive, and independence of the four-time-Oscar-winning actress.” In her acceptance speech at the Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center at Bryn Mawr, Bacall recounted an anecdote about whe she and Hepburn were simultaneously nominated for a Tony Award in 1970, Hepburn for Coco and Bacall for Applause:

“She [Hepburn] called em the night before the Tony Awards were to be presented, and she said, “Darling Bet, when my name is announced as winner, would you mind picking up my award for me?” True – absolute truth! I’m not making it up! You can imagine, I was in shock for a minute. And with my mouth hanging open, I just finally stammered, “Oh, sure, Kate. Absolutely.” I thought to myself, my God, if it happend, what would I do? But I got even with her! I won!”

Bacall ends her speech enumerating Katharine Hepburn’s best qualities and stating that “there never will be anyone like her.”

Recommendations
If you have TCM on your TV, these are some must-see Lauren Bacall films that will be airing on Wednesday this month:

    

3 responses to “Lauren Bacall: TCM’s Star of the Month for September

  1. Love Bacall! Having made similar choices about career versus family, I appreciate the quote you included about that. Thanks for that reminder! TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT is one of my favorite movies, but I do love Bacall in HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, too!

  2. Thanks, Jennifer! I love both of them in TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT – so sexy!

  3. Great post! I didn't realize Shimon Peres was her cousin.Yesterday, I caught Kelsey Grammer's lovely tribute to Bacall on TCM. So glad they are devoting September to her.

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