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.
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.
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).
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|
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|
"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.
"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|
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|
"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|
"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."
If you have TCM on your TV, these are some must-see Lauren Bacall films that will be airing on Wednesday this month:
- September 12, 11:15 pm EST: THE YOUNG MAN WITH THE HORN (1950), co-starring Kirk Douglas and Doris Day
- September 19, 8:00 pm: HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953), co-starring Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe
- September 26, 10:00 pm: SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL (1964), co-starring Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, and Henry Fonda
- September 26, 2:15 am: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974), co-starring Albert Finney, Ingrid Bergman (won Oscar for her role in this film), Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, and Wendy Hiller