Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
By Amy Phillips Penn

“It’s all about money nowadays. There’s no accent on quality,
on standards, and they don’t write parts for women anymore.
When I first went into pictures, women absolutely ran the show.
Bette Davis practically owned Warner Brothers. She was my favorite.
Every time she’s on television, I love to watch her work.”
— Lauren Bacall


 

When Betty Joan Perske was a young girl, she couldn’t be confined by her name or the Bronx. The world was waiting.

A New York woman knows what she wants and doesn’t believe in “no” — especially if she is a classic beauty with a throaty, come-and-get-me-by-invitation-only voice and has ‘the look.’

A supermodel of her era knew that Bacall could make an extravagant impression, when the Bronx-beauty-gone-Hollywood made an alpha entrance into the dressing room for a Harper’s Bazaar shoot.  “Betty” gratuitously announced that she wanted Bogie for herself. All hands — white gloved, manicured or decorated courtesy of Harry Winston — were hands off only.

Did anyone else in that room even have eyes for Bogie? Who knows? But we do know a Hollywood ending when we see one. Bogie and Bacall…Bacall and Bogie.

She knew how to beckon, seduce with her voice, and mastered “the look,” that she was known for. When doing a screen test, in order to hide her nerves, she rested her chin on her chest and looked up at the camera with her fetching eyes. She also knew how to dispense of those she didn’t have eyes for.

A boy was once alone in an elevator with Bacall. He was young, shy, and bedazzled, but summoned up the courage to ask her for her autograph. In her throatiest voice, she looked down at him, and asked, “and who are you, little boy?” He did a marathon sprint out of the elevator.

Betty became Betty Bacall to those who knew her well, and Lauren Bacall to the rest of her fans. She married two mythical actors: Humphrey Bogart and Jason Robards, Jr. She dazzled everyone on her own with well-earned theatrical and cinematic awards, and co-starred with Henry Fonda, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Charles Boyer, and of course, “Bogie.”

She met her idol, Bette Davis, when she was aspiring to be an actress. Later on, Bette would go backstage when Bacall starred in Applause to congratulate her. To round off her resume, she purred in a hot temptress voice for a Fancy Feast cat food ad. To reveal her gravitas, she announced that she was related to Shimon Peres, the ninth president of Israel. They traded family lineage together. 

When I read Bacall’s book some time ago, I remember her talking about her daughter, Leslie Bogart. Every now and then, to paraphrase Bacall, she would say that Leslie was still struggling through the Lycee Francais. I loved her for that. I, too, had struggled through the Lycee, and had eventually said “Uncle” (or “Oncle”) and left for English speaking pastures. “All you owe the public is a good performance,” said Humphrey Bogart.

My mother was often compared to Lauren Bacall in looks, but no one ever stopped her on the street and asked for an autograph. My father was constantly mistaken for Jason Robards, Jr., Bacall’s second husband. People all but tripped over him on the street to ask for his. “I’m not who you think I am,” my father replied, and most of his followers moved on.

New Yorkers can be little overzealous, and many of us enjoy being right.

One man asked my father for his autograph, and didn’t take no for an answer.  He became belligerent and insisted that my father sign, and was furious that he wouldn’t comply. It came close to being a soap opera-esque confrontation, but my father escaped, unscathed.

Many New Yorkers have stories about being related to someone famous by x degrees of separation, or having been mistaken for a movie star.

But how many of us can deliver, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together … and blow,” and then blow the world away?

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