12 August 2014

Farewell to a Legend

This is a week filled with sadness. First came the terrible shocking news about Robin Williams and now, less than 24 hours later, the announcement that Lauren Bacall has passed away at the age of 89. The woman known for the "look" (chin down, eyes tilted upwards) and that voice was one of the last stars of Hollywood's Golden Age. 

Born Betty Joan Perske on September 16, 1924 in the Bronx, she studied drama and worked as an usher and model before director Howard Hawks brought her to Hollywood, where he put her under contract and changed her name to Lauren Bacall (she never liked the new moniker and had her friends call her Betty). 

Her film debut was in Hawks' To Have and Have Not (1944) in which she was cast opposite Humphrey Bogart. She was 19 and the new kid; he was 25 years her senior and a huge star. Yet Bogie and Bacall had an immediate chemistry that heated up the screen, and they were paired together three more times in The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), and Key Largo (1948), becoming one of the most famous couples in film history.

Off screen the two fell in love during the making of their first film and were married after Bogie obtained a divorce from his third wife. They had two children together and remained happily married until Bogie's death from cancer in 1957.

Bacall continued to act both on the screen and stage, winning two Tonys for Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year (1981), and wrote a best-selling autobiography, By Myself (1979). Never afraid to speak her mind, she was politically active and a lifelong supporter of Democratic causes. She went on to marry another great actor, Jason Robards, with whom she had a son (that marriage ended in divorce). Yet she will forever be linked to Bogie. 

While Bacall starred in many good films, her best ones remain the four she made with Bogie. All of them are classics starting with To Have and Have Not in which she delivered her most famous lines. After kissing Bogie, Bacall starts to leave the room only to stop at the door and say, "You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve. 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." The stuff of legends. Farewell, Lauren Bacall.

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