Lauren Bacall: More than just a sultry look
NEW YORK -- Lauren Bacall had one of those incredible lives.
The wife and co-star of Humphrey Bogart. A Tony Award-winning actress. A National Book Award-winning author. A giant of fashion. A friend of the Kennedys. One of the last survivors of Hollywood’s studio age.
A star almost from the moment she appeared on screen to the day she died, Tuesday, at age 89, at a New York City hospital.
Her career was one of great achievement and some frustration. The actress received a Golden Globe and an honorary Oscar and appeared in scores of film and TV productions. But not until 1996 did she receive an Academy Award nomination -- as supporting actress for her role as Barbra Streisand’s mother in "The Mirror Has Two Faces."
Bacall would outlive her first husband by more than 50 years, but never outlived their legend, which began in their first movie together in 1944’s "To Have or Have Not."
They were "Bogie and Bacall" -- the hard-boiled couple who could fight and make up with the best of them. They were A-list glamour and B-movie danger. She was less than half Bogart’s age, yet as wise, and as jaded, as he was.
Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske in the Bronx, the daughter of Jewish immigrants. Her parents divorced when Betty was 8, and the mother took part of her family name, Bacal. (Betty added the extra L when she became an actress.)
At first she dreamed of becoming a dancer, but thought herself too "gawky" and acting became her ambition. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and played a few walk-on roles in Broadway plays. Diana Vreeland, the famed editor of Harper’s Bazaar, recognized the slender, long-limbed actress as ideal for fashion modeling. The wife of film director Howard Hawks recommended her for movies, and Bacall went to Hollywood under a contract.
In "By Myself," she wrote of meeting Bogart:
"There was no thunderbolt, no clap of thunder, just a simple how-do-you-do."
Work led to romance. The quarter century age difference (he called her "Baby") failed to deter them, but Bogart was still married to his third wife, the mercurial actress Mayo Methot. She was persuaded to divorce him in Reno, and the lovers were married on May 21, 1945.
Bogart and Bacall made three more movies together. She took time out to bear two children, and to accompany her husband as they roughed it in Africa for "The African Queen," co-starring Bogart and Hepburn. She also joined Bogart in protesting the Hollywood blacklist of suspected Communists and campaigning for Democrats.
But the party began to wind down in 1956, when Bogart was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. For the next 10 months, his wife rarely left home in the evening. She organized late-afternoon cocktail parties where such friends as Sinatra, David Niven, Hepburn and Tracy buoyed Bogart’s spirits with jokes and gossip.
On the night of Jan. 14, 1957, Bogart grabbed his wife’s arm and muttered, "Goodbye, kid." He died in the early morning at the age of 57.
Bacall had a brief, disastrous engagement to Sinatra and a troubled, eight-year marriage to Jason Robards Jr., with whom she had a son. Professionally, she thrived on the stage and remained busy in films. She won Tonys for the Broadway musicals "Applause" and "Woman of the Year," the latter a 1981 production in which she revived the role immortalized by her friend Hepburn on screen.
In the 1940s, Bacall became friends with William Faulkner when he was writing scripts for Hawks. One of her prized possessions was a copy of Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech on which he wrote that she was not one who was satisfied with being just a pretty face, "but rather who decided to prevail."
"Notice he didn’t write ‘survive,’ " she told Parade magazine in 1997. "Everyone’s a survivor. Everyone wants to stay alive. What’s the alternative? See, I prefer to prevail."
AP film writer Jake Coyle contributed to this story. Biographical material in this story was written by The Associated Press’ late Hollywood correspondent, Bob Thomas.
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