Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Obituary: Lauren Bacall

Betty Joan Perske, 89, one of the last of the great stars of the 1940s, better known by her stage name of Lauren Bacall, died today.

Bacall started out as a model before going into film. Director Howard Hawks liked the lanky teenager with the sultry looks and the smoky voice, thinking she was ideal for his upcoming film To Have and Have Not, co-starring with film great Humphrey Bogart. However, Hawks felt that despite Betty having changed her last name from Perske to Bacall, her mother's maiden name (she did add an "l" to it to make it easier to pronounce), the name of "Betty" just wasn't showbiz enough. That's where the "Lauren" came in although she always called herself "Betty."

Bogart was going through yet another lousy marriage at the time the two met. He was married to actress Mayo Methot, his third wife, and they were about on the outs. Despite the Grand Canyon age difference between Bacall and Bogart (he was 25 years her senior), they hit it off offscreen as well as on. Watching them in this film, the sexual chemistry was impossible to miss. That wasn't acting there. They would go on to star in a total of four films together: To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage (my favorite of their pairings), and Key Largo.

After Bogart divorced Methot, he and Betty married in 1945 when she was a mere 20 years old. They eventually had two children, a son and a daughter, and enjoyed a happy marriage by all accounts. Unfortunately by the mid-1950s, Bogart's health began to deteriorate, and in 1957, he died of cancer of the esophagus. Despite this devastating loss, Betty continued on with her career.

For a time she was seriously involved with Frank Sinatra, but they never got married. She instead married a Bogey lookalike, actor Jason Robards, Jr., and had another son with him. They eventually split up. She never married again.

Bacall not just continued acting on film and on television, she also had great success on the stage. She spent 20 years performing in such plays as Applause, Cactus Flower, and Woman of the Year. Following Lilli Palmer's lead, she penned a couple of memoirs without any help from a ghost writer. The first of those memoirs, Lauren Bacall: By Myself, became a bestseller.

She would have turned 90 on September 16.

Bacall is remembered as being a bit of a diva in real life and is also remembered as a woman who was a symbol of class, something we see little of today in Hollywood.

She will never be forgotten.

From the New York Times obituary:

"She also expressed impatience, especially in her later years, with the public and the media’s continuing fascination with her romance with Bogart, even though she frequently said that their 12-year marriage was the happiest period of her life.

“I think I’ve damn well earned the right to be judged on my own,” she said in a 1970 interview with The New York Times. “It’s time I was allowed a life of my own, to be judged and thought of as a person, as me.”

Years later, however, she seemed resigned to being forever tied to Bogart and expressed annoyance that her later marriage to another leading actor, Jason Robards Jr., was often overlooked.

“My obit is going to be full of Bogart, I’m sure,” she told Vanity Fair magazine in a profile of her in March 2011, adding: “I’ll never know if that’s true. If that’s the way, that’s the way it is.”

I think the biggest reason for the fascination with the Bogart-Bacall marriage is because it was one of the happy Hollywood marriages that ended tragically. One other one I can think of that still holds fascination today is the Clark Gable-Carole Lombard marriage, although that one ended far sooner.

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