Lauren Bacall, a glamorous actress who purred every word, died from a cerebral hemorrhage just a month shy of her 90th birthday, reported the New York Times.
Her death was confirmed by her son Stephen Bogart. “Her life speaks for itself,” Mr. Bogart said. “She lived a wonderful life, a magical life.”
Bacall, who was noted for her smoky voice and sultry gaze, was one of the most glamorous actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age.
She was born Betty Joan Perske, a self-described “nice Jewish girl from the Bronx,” and while studying acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York she began working as a model. She was crowned Miss Greenwich Village in 1942 at the age of 18.
In March 1943 her picture on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar caught the attention of Howard Hawks who wanted to cast her in a film with either Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant.
“I thought Cary Grant, great. Humphrey Bogart‚ yuck,” she later said. However, Hawks had her meet with Bogart and could not help but notice their immediate chemistry. Hawks re-named her Lauren Bacall and gave her the starring role in “To Have And Have Not” opposite Bogart, to whom she purred provocatively in her deep, husky voice one of the most unforgettable lines in all of film history: “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together, and blow.”
Her stardom was confirmed when Walter Winchell welcomed her with a column headlined “The Bacall of the Wild.” Life magazine put her on the cover and wrote, “Her simplest remarks sound like jungle mating cries.”
Not just Steve and Bogie, but millions of movie fans were instantly smitten by her cool delivery and a legendary romance was born. Despite a 25-year difference in their ages, Bacall and Bogart were married a year later in 1945.
Bogie and Bacall became one of Hollywood’s most famous couples, remaining together until Bogart’s death in 1957.
She went on to star with Bogart in The Big Sleep, Dark Passage and Key Largo in the 1940s. She was famous for “the look,” a worldly, seductive expression that masked an independent, whip-smart woman who could hold her own against leading men more than twice her age.
Bacall later admitted her so-called cool was just a way of concealing her jangled, first-movie insecurity. “I used to tremble from nerves so badly that the only way I could hold my head steady was to lower my chin practically to my chest and look up at Bogie,” she said.
In the 1940’s her fame skyrocketed as she made a film a year and she became known as a belle of film noir. Many of those films are considered classics: To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948), all of which were with Bogart.
She went on to make more than 60 films in her career including comedies, romances, dramas and adventure sagas. The 1957 romantic comedy Designing Woman, in which she played a fashion designer who could banter deftly with Gregory Peck’s sportswriter character, she claimed as one of her favorites, although her joy was short-lived. Soon after the film was released, she was devastated when Bogie died of throat cancer, leaving her with their children, Stephen and Leslie. Bacall was 32 at the time.
She had been happy being a wife and mother. But the Bogart home became party central and she became the unofficial “den mother” to the original Hollywood Rat Pack, whose members included Bogart, Frank Sinatra, David Niven, Judy Garland and others.
Following Bogart’s death, Bacall dated Frank Sinatra and was set to marry him. But days after she accepted his proposal in 1958, The Los Angeles Herald flashed the story across page 1 and Sinatra broke things off, refusing to speak to her for two decades. “Frank did me a great favor. He saved me from the complete disaster our marriage would have been,” she told People magazine in 1979. “But the truth is that he behaved like a complete shit.”
In 1953 she co-starred with Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable in How to Marry a Millionaire, a light-hearted comedy about a trio of scheming women intent on nabbing rich husbands. The film was a smash hit.
In 1961 she married Oscar-winning actor Jason Robards, but they were divorced in 1969. Their son, actor Sam Robards, survives them. It was a stormy relationship that ended dramatically.
“I had invited a few friends over to celebrate Jason’s 40th birthday and Jason showed up at 2 a.m., loaded. I grabbed a bottle of vodka, smashed it into the cake and yelled, ‘Here’s your goddamn cake!’ The marriage ended when I came across a letter written to him by his girlfriend.”
She continued to perform in her later years, including a part in edgy filmmaker Lars Von Trier’s 2003 film Dogville. She also co-starred with Nicole Kidman in Birth in 2004. In 2012 she played in The Forger, a light drama about art forgery. Throughout her career, she lent her distinctively husky voice to various parts, including Howl’s Moving Castle in 2004 and, more recently as the voice of Evelyn in the Family Guy t.v. series.
Bacall received her only Oscar nomination for her supporting role as Barbra Streisand’s monstrous, vain mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996). She was the recipient of an honorary Academy Award in 2010 “in recognition of her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures.”
She said she felt more at home in the theater than in the movies, and she enjoyed a splendid stage career, winning two Tony Awards, for her starring roles in Applause in 1970 and Woman of the Year in 1981. Applause was adapted from the film All About Eve, in which she played Margo Channing, the role created by her idol Bette Davis, whose films she used to skip school to watch. Bacall’s part in Woman of the Year was originated by Katharine Hepburn, a good friend whom she once called “the female counterpart to Bogie.”
She also wrote two memoirs, Lauren Bacall: By Myself, which won a National Book Award in 1980, and Now (1994), in which she mused about getting older and living alone. In 2006 she issued an expanded and updated version of her memoirs titled By Myself and Then Some.
Bacall and Bogart were politically outspoken from the start of their marriage. In the late 1940’s they protested the House Un-American Activities hearings. She claimed that she and Bogie wanted to fight for what they thought was right and against what they knew was wrong. And she castigated Hollywood as “a community which should be courageous but which is surprisingly timid and easily intimidated.”
In 1952 she campaigned for Adlai E. Stevenson, the Democratic candidate for president, and persuaded Bogart, who had originally supported the Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, to join her.
In spite of her fame she claimed that she never quested for the spotlight, saying: “Stardom isn’t a career, it’s an accident.”
Late in life she claimed that she hadn’t been happy for years. “Contented, yes; pleased and proud, yes. But happy, no.”
Still, she said, she had been lucky: “I had one great marriage, I have three great children and four grandchildren. I am still alive. I still can function. I still can work.”
“You just learn to cope with whatever you have to cope with. I spent my childhood in New York, riding on subways and buses. And you know what you learn if you’re a New Yorker? The world doesn’t owe you a damn thing.”