Bogie and Bacall – A Timeless Love That Will Last an Eternity (A Tribute to Lauren Bacall)
It was the gaze that first did it. The turn of her head as she cast a sidelong glance at her first co-star, Humphrey Bogart. It was 1944 and 19-year-old Betty Joan Perske had just become a movie star. She was given a new name, Lauren Bacall, and a powerful Hollywood patron, director Howard Hawks. Now she looked at her 44-year-old co-star and told him if he wanted her all he had to do was whistle as she exits his room. Bogie was no fool; as soon as she closes the door he whistles. Laughing at himself, he (and we) know he’s hooked. And not just in the script, either. He had just become the first recipient of The Look, as her stare was soon to become known.
Lauren Bacall, 89, died on August 12, 2014 at her home in New York. The fact of her advanced age and the three adult children she left behind does nothing to dim the memory of her sizzling introduction in To Have and Have Not. In watching her today, her life largely an open book, it’s still hard to believe such a self-possessed and confident performer was a rookie. She held her own with Bogart. In the process, they created their own myth. As the story unfolds it’s obvious that not only their characters, Steve and Slim, are falling in love. So are the performers. Despite what would have been considered a sordid beginning they established themselves as Hollywood’s great romance, the love for the ages.
This would have seemed impossible to anyone who knew Humphrey Bogart at the time. He was half of “the Battling Bogarts.” He and his wife, an alcoholic actress named Mayo Methot, fought constantly and often publicly. She once knifed him. Although they had a perfect storm of co-dependency they stayed together. Then Betty Bacall looked at him and the Battling Bogarts were history.
There was no reason to suspect this at the outset. After Bacall’s screen tests, Hawks told her she would be working either with Cary Grant or Bogart. “I thought Cary Grant, great. Humphrey Bogart‚ yuck,” she later said. That all changed on set; a charged romance quickly ensued (to Hawks’ annoyance – he had his own designs on his find). Divorced from Methot, Bogart married Bacall in 1945. His wedding gift to her was a charm bracelet which included a whistle. She was photographed with the whistle in her mouth, looking seductively at Bogie.
They were only together for 12 years when Bogart died of cancer in 1957. Left widowed with two young children, 32-year-old Bacall created an acting legend of her own. Her star having faded in Hollywood, she moved on to Broadway where she became as big a star of stage as of screen. She won not just one Tony, but two, and an honorary Oscar. She died a legend on the level of her famous first husband although she did not care about awards. She said that “I never went into this business thinking of winning anything. I went into it because I loved it and I wanted to be good at it. It was a form of expression for me. I love to hide behind characters. So [any recognition] I get is a perk.”
Bacall could easily have ended up like many other starlets during the studio era, a faded beauty whose patron could only take her so far. Bacall surpassed her patron, Hawks, the moment she stepped before the cameras for the first time. She married an acting legend yet was never overshadowed by him, becoming an equal partner in the love widely seen as Hollywood’s most romantic real life love story. Her career endured for decades on her own. She once complained that her obituary would be filled with discussions of her marriage to Bogart (as is this one). As she said, “It’s time I was allowed a life of my own, to be judged and thought of as a person, as me.” So be it. Let it be recorded that Lauren Bacall maintained a star power decades after her debut, one that could be attributed to no one’s influence but her own. She was a unique and amazing success story, one unlikely to come along very often.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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