“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”
— Lauren Bacall
Betty Joan Perske was born on this day in the Bronx, New York in 1924. She is 88 years old.
She grew up in a middle class family. Her father, William Perske, was a salesman and her mother, Natalie Weinstein-Bacal Perske, was a secretary. Betty’s father, an alcoholic, left when she was six. Her mother changed their last name to Bacall. (The Romanian form of her mother’s maiden name.)
Bacall loved to dance but was smitten by the acting bug too. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. And got some work in off-Broadway productions. She had her first paid acting gig in Johnny 2×4 it was a walk on role, she was 17. She ushered at theatres to make money. She also modeled and it was a modeling gig on a Harper’s Bazaar cover in 1943 that brought her to the attention of director Howard Hawks’ wife Nancy. Nancy convinced Hawks to give Bacall a screen test. Hawks liked what he saw. He offered her a seven-year contract starting at $100 a week. He got her to modulate her voice (so she spoke in a lower, more sultry, register) and to her to change her first name to Lauren. Nancy Hawks befriended Bacall and helped her with matters of dress “elegance, manner, and taste.” [ Original Old Radio ]
Her first role was in To Have and Have Not with Humphrey Bogart in 1944. The movie is loosely based on a book by Earnest Hemingway, the screenplay was by William Faulkner, but the famous “whistle” line was written by Hawks for Bacall’s screen test. After seeing the test, he not only offered her the role, but he asked Faulkner to work the scene into the script. Bogart’s Harry addresses Bacall’s Marie as ‘Slim’, she calls him ‘Steve’ — the same nicknames Howard and Nancy Hawks used for each other. Her famous “Look” was the result of nerves.
“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. That was the beginning of The Look.” [Lauren Bacall as quoted on Brainy Quotes]
Bacall was only 19. Bogie, who was a quarter century her senior, fell in love with the beautiful, talented, strong woman, and she fell in love with him. The two married in 1945.
The duo made The Big Sleep, Dark Passage and Key Largo together. By limiting the number of films she made she could choose her roles carefully. She’d made one flop, Confidential Agent following To Have and have Not, and she thought her career never fully recovered from it. With her reputation as a solid actress — and the security of being married to one of Hollywood’s leading men — she was able to turn down roles that she didn’t find interesting. Bacall averaged one film a year while she was married to Bogart.
She and Bogey had two children, Stephen and Leslie Bogart and enjoyed 12 years of marriage before Bogart died of Lung cancer.
Bacall returned to New York and started the second phase of her career, this time focusing on Broadway.
“I finally felt that I came into my own when I went on the stage,” [bio.TRUE STORY]
In 1961 Bacall married again, this time to actor Jason Robards, Jr., and had third child, Sam Robards.
Bacall starred in Goodbye, Charlie (1959), Cactus Flower (1965) and had the lead in the musical adaptation of the 1952 movie All About Eve, Applause. The show earned Bacall her first Tony. Her second Tony came in 1981 for Woman of the Year.
She wrote two autobiographies, part one, Lauren Bacall By Myself, came out in 1978, the second part, Now, was published in 1994.
Both volumes openly discussed difficult parts of her life, including the alcoholism of both of her husbands, despite the fact that some of the topics were relatively controversial for the time. [bio.TRUE STORY]
She also tells about a time in her teens when she met actress Bette Davis in Davis’ hotel. Davis returned the favor when Bacall was giving new life to Margo Channing, the roll Davis’ originated in All About Eve. Davis came backstage at the Palace Theatre after a showing of Applause and congratulated Bacall on her performance.
Bacall was honored with a Governor’s Award for Screen Legends from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2009.
Other Lauren Bacall quotes:
“I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that.”
“Find me a man who’s interesting enough to have dinner with and I’ll be happy.”
“I am not a has-been. I am a will be.”
“I wish Frank Sinatra would just shut up and sing.” (They were briefly engaged. Sinatra abruptly broke it off when he found out that news about the engagement had been leaked.)