If you’ve been on a computer or turned on a TV this week, you’ve undoubtedly seen reports of Robin Williams’ tragic death. While the world has been focused on mourning this brilliant star, the death of a legendary actress has gone somewhat unnoticed. Femme fatale, Rat Pack Den Mother, sultry vixen, political activist, and all around phenomenal actress Lauren Bacall passed away on Tuesday, and we at Eventful would like to give you a look back at the life of this shining star.
Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on September 16, 1924 to a Romanian mother and Polish father in The Bronx, New York. She received a first rate education at private schools paid for by wealthy relatives, and is said to be the first cousin of Shimon Peres, the ninth President of Israel. Her parents divorced when she was five and she became very close with her mother, eventually taking a modified version of her mother’s last name, Bacal.
Bacall began her career as a teenage fashion model, her slinky form and sultry eyes gracing the covers of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. At the same time she was studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts alongside classmate Kirk Douglas, and premiered on Broadway the next year. But it was her modeling that got Bacall discovered in a story straight out of Hollywood fantasy. Nancy Hawks – wife of legendary director Howard Hawks – noticed her on the cover of a magazine and convinced her husband to let her audition for To Have and Have Not. Hawks was hesitant and tasked his secretary with finding out more about her. The secretary misheard him and sent her a plane ticket to audition in Hollywood. Needless to say, Bacall scored the part, and it was the film that would change her life forever.
Nancy Hawks took Bacall under her wing, teaching her social graces and developing her sense of style. She was taught to speak in a lower tone of voice, making it more seductive; eventually a voice disorder caused by distorting one’s natural voice – called Bogart-Bacall Syndrome — would be named after her. During screen tests for To Have and Have Not, Bacall would become so nervous that she’d press her chin to her chest and tilt her eyes upward, which became her signature look. While promoting the film, she notoriously sang on top of a piano being played by Vice-President Harry Truman. It was also on this film that she met actor Humphrey Bogart, where the two quickly fell in love both on-screen and off, and during this time when they were married. She continued to act opposite Bogart in some of the biggest noir films of her career, including The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo.
Bogart and Bacall’s relationship became as legendary off-screen as it did on-screen. Despite being 25 years younger than Bogart, Bacall often acted as a caregiver and mother to the notoriously rowdy and outspoken actor. She made a perilous trek to Africa with Bogart during the filming of The African Queen, often making sandwiches and setting camp for the cast and. During filming, she became very good friends with Katherine Hepburn, who – along with her husband Spencer Tracy – would become founding members of The Rat Pack; the ORIGINAL Rat Pack. It’s said that Bogart, Hepburn, Tracy, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and others looked so disheveled and worn out after a trip to Las Vegas, that Bacall shouted “You look like a goddamn rat pack.” The name stuck, and the group nominated Bacall as Den Mother and put Bogart in charge of public relations. Despite a hard partying lifestyle, Bacall still took time for political activism, speaking out against McCarthyism and eventually supporting liberal democrats Adlai Stephenson and Robert Kennedy.
Bacall had a tremendous career without Bogie, starring alongside Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable in How to Marry a Millionaire. Bacall managed to give an acclaimed performance in Designing Women alongside Gregory Peck while simultaneously staying at home to take care of Bogart, who was sick with esophageal cancer. The film premiered four months after Bogart’s death. It was said that Sinatra and Bacall were engaged a few years later, but that Sinatra angrily broke it off after word reached the press. Despite her grief, she managed to round out the 1950s with a command performance in North West Frontier.
Besides a role in the star studded Murder on the Orient Express, Bacall spent much of the 60s and 70s off the silver screen and on Broadway. She received Tony Awards for her performances in Applause and Woman of the Year and won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in the Chicago theatre scene. She was also married to Jason Robards Jr. for much of that time, but even his alcoholism was too much for the notorious caregiver and their marriage ended in divorce. Her later career featured terrific roles in peculiar projects, including Misery, an Oscar-nominated role in The Mirror has Two Faces, Dogville, The Sopranos, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Ironically, Lauren Bacall’s final acting role was a vocal appearance on Family Guy, playing a manipulative and clever seductress — the same type of role that made her famous.
In a world where leading ladies were diminutive, obedient, and gaudy, Lauren Bacall was the antithesis. She was strong, outspoken, and fierce, while still tender and caring at heart. She wasn’t the ditzy dame you took out as arm candy; she was real. You can’t visit her handprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, because there are none; she refused to leave any, because that’s the kind of woman she was. Rest in Peace, Lauren Bacall.