Lauren Bacall (Betty Joan Perske)
Born: September 16, 1924, Bronx, New York
Died: August 12, 2014, New York, York
Occupation: Actress, Model
Marital Status: Humphrey Bogart (Widow), Jason Robards Jr. (Divorced)
Children: Stephen Humphrey Bogart, Leslie Bogart, Sam Robards
Education: The American Academy of Dramatic Arts
“I think your whole life shows in your face
and you should be proud of that.” — Lauren Bacall
While actors change to fit a role, Lauren Bacall had to change who she was to become a star. The Bronx native was born Betty Joan Perske. The first change would come after her alcoholic father left the family. Her mother changed their last name from Perske to her grandmother’s maiden name, Bacal, and added the second “l.” Although she appeared in many plays on and off Broadway, her first big break came when she appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in 1943.
Her appearance caught the attention of Nancy Hawks; her husband, Howard, was a powerful Hollywood director. At his wife’s suggestion, Hawks gave Bacall a screen street. After she arrived in Hollywood, he taught her to speak in a lower, sexier tone, which resulted in one of the most distinctive voices in Hollywood. He also asked her to change her first name to mask her Jewish heritage. Bacall never really got over that request, and still feels uncomfortable with that decision.
Bacall made her big screen debut in the 1944 film, To Have and Have Not. Her trademark gesture: “The Look” would originate in this film. Her severe nervousness caused her to keep her chin pressed against her chest to keep from shaking until just before the cameras rolled, causing her to begin every shot bringing her gaze upward. The film propelled her to stardom. She became a leading way in the Film Noir genre because of it. You can see her give “The Look” from this scene in To Have and Have Not:
The film also starred Hollywood heavyweight, Humphrey Bogart. Despite Bogart being 25 year her senior and married, the two fell in love. After divorcing his wife, Bacall and Bogart married on May 21st, 1945. While she was happy, she worried that the marriage hurt her career. She believed Bogart’s established fame made her seem like just another wife of an actor. The pair co-starred in three more films (The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo), and had two children together, Stephen and Leslie. In 1957, Bogart died of lung cancer, and Bacall was left devastated. After recovering from that ordeal she made her way to Broadway.
Bacall earned a Tony for Best Actress for her performance in the Broadway musical, Applause, which was based on the 1952 film All About Eve. She won her second Tony in 1981 for a semi-autobiographical role in the play Woman of the Year.
Bacall minimized her film appearances in later years. She has been rather open and honest about her dislike of modern Hollywood. Despite that, she accepted an honorary Oscar in 2009. Bacall will forever be associated with the golden age of Hollywood.