Lauren Bacall (1924-2014)

Lauren Bacall
Lauren Bacall
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Lauren Bacall was an American actress, known for her distinctively deep and husky voice, powerful screen presence, and sultry looks. Her partnership with Humphrey Bogart was a massive box-office success and she was an important player in the 1940's and 1950's in many genres but most famously in film noir.

Her stardom continued long after Bogart's death 1957, and she became regarded as one of the greatest female entertainers of her generation.

She is ranked at number 20 in the American Film Institute's listing of the top 25 actress legends. Although she never won an Academy Award, Bacall won two Tonys for Best Actress in a Broadway Musical, for 'Applause' in 1970 (which also gained her a Drama Desk Award) and for 'Woman of the Year' in 1981. In 1996 she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in 'The Mirror Has Two Faces' and she was selected in 2009, to receive an Academy Honorary Award at the inaugural Governors Awards.


Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske in New York City on September 16, 1924. Into a comfortably-off middle class family. She was the only child of European Jewish immigrant parents and she was related to Shimon Peres, former Prime Minister of Israel.

After the divorce of her parents when she was five she took the surname of her mother, but later added an 'l' to Bacal. She became very close to her mother but never reconciled with her father.

Early Years

With the financial help of wealthy relatives, she went to private boarding school in Tarrytown, New York and then to the Julia Richman High School in Manhattan, at first wanting to be a dancer but then transferring her ambitions to acting. When she left school, she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, whilst at the same time working as a theater usher and doing some part-time fashion modeling. Her theatrical acting debut came in 1942, aged 17, whilst still a student, with a walk on role in 'Johnny 2 x 4'.

Her remarkable beauty was brought to the attention of Diana Vreeland, fashion editor of 'Harper's Bazaar' magazine, who featured her in the magazine for three consecutive months. In March 1943 Betty's face was on the cover of the magazine as part of an appeal for blood donors for the war effort. It was the start of a remarkable sequence of events. The magazine cover was seen by Nancy, the wife of Hollywood director, Howard Hawks who urged her husband to give nineteen-year-old Betty a screen test for the "new look" he was searching for. The result was a seven-year contract with Warner Bros. and a new first name suggested by Hawks which she always disliked, preferring to be known as Betty. Nevertheless Lauren Bacall had arrived.

Hollywood Actress

Hawks re-created her image, and she was sold by Warner's publicists as a strong, smart and sexy woman with "The Look", stressing the smooth silkiness of her hair, large expressive eyes, and sensuous mouth. In fact, the initial "Look" was caused by Lauren pressing her chin down to her chest due to her nervousness at facing the camera.

Bogart and Bacall

Her first film role was as Marie "Slim" Browning in 'To Have and Have Not' in 1944, a romantic thriller loosely adapted from the novel by Ernest Hemingway. Only 19 years old, she played opposite the established superstar, Humphrey Bogart. The film, and Bacall, became an instant hit and some of her banter went into movie folklore-"You do know how to whistle".

Lauren was feted as one of the most sensational newcomers of 1944 and she and Bogart began one of Hollywood's most famed personal and professional partnerships. They were married in 1945. She was 20 and Bogart 45 years old.

They started a series of successful films together: 'The Big Sleep' in 1946, 'The Dark Passage' the following year and 'Key Largo' in 1948. Lauren was careful to put her marriage before her career and she made only one picture a year; this gave each movie a rarity value and each was well received by the public. She also tried to control her career by turning down parts she didn't like, which resulted in her receiving frequent suspensions by the studio. Her only film without Bogart was the disappointing 'Confidential Agent' in 1945 but in 'Young Man with a Horn' in 1950, and subsequent successful movies she showed she could act well on her own account.

Later in 1950 she starred with Gary Cooper in 'Bright Leaf' and in 1953 she appeared in the smash hit comedy 'How to Marry a Millionaire' with co-stars Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable. She continued making films with other strong leading men and in 1956 she co-starred with Rock Hudson in 'Written in the Wind' and the following year with Gregory Peck in 'The Designing Woman'.

Life After Bogart

In January 1957 Lauren became a widow at 32, when Bogart died from cancer of the oesophagus. Shortly afterwards, Lauren began a relationship with Frank Sinatra and the two became engaged. However Sinatra ended the relationship when news of their romance was leaked to the press.

Lauren's first film following Bogart's death was 'The Gift of Love' with Robert Stack which was not well received and after a British adventure film 'North West Frontier' in 1959, her screen career began to noticeably wane.

Undaunted and determined, she moved back to New York and appeared in several Broadway plays with great critical and box-office success and she continued her theatrical work intermittently for the next half century. Among the Broadway plays she appeared in were: 'Cactus Flower' (1965-1968), 'Applause' (1970-1972), for which she won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, 'Woman of the Year' (1981-1983), again winning the Tony Award in 1981, and 'Waiting in the Wings' (1999-2000).

During this time of great success on stage, Bacall continued to appear on screen, mainly in character roles. After a gap of five years, she appeared in 1964 in 'Shock Treatment' and 'Sex and the Single Girl' with Henry Fonda and Tony Curtis and she went on to appear with Paul Newman in 'Harper' in 1966, then, 'Murder on the Orient Express' in 1974, 'The Shootist' with John Wayne in 1976, 'The Fan' in 1981, 'Mr. North' in 1988, 'Misery' in 1990, and 'My Fellow Americans' in 1996. Also in 1996 she received her sole Academy Award nomination, for Best Supporting Actress for playing Barbra Streisand's mother in 'The Mirror Has Two Faces'.


Lauren married Humphrey Bogart in 1945, the marriage ending with Bogart's death in 1957. Lauren's second marriage was to actor Jason Robards in 1961. He had an alcohol problem and she divorced him in 1969.

Lauren had a son and daughter with Bogart and a son with Robards. She had two autobiographies in print, "Lauren Bacall By Myself" in 1978 and "Now" in 1994. In 2005, she published an update to the first volume: "By Myself and Then Some".

Lauren never stopped working. She appeared in movies such as 'The Limit' in 2004, 'These Foolish Things' in 2006 and 'Wide Blue Yonder' in 2010. To the end of her life she was a major force and very much in demand.

Lauren Bacall died from a stroke on August 12th, 2014 in New York. She was 89 years old.

Lauren Bacall Academy Awards

No Wins:

One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Supporting Actress ... The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996)

Honorary Award:
"In recognition of her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures." (2009)


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Lauren Bacall Filmography

Confidential Agent
Dark Passage
Young Man with a Horn
Bright Leaf
How to Marry a Millionaire
Woman's World
The Cobweb

Blood Alley
Patterns of Power (uncredited)
Written on the Wind
Designing Woman
The Gift of Love
North West Frontier
Shock Treatment
Sex and the Single Girl
The Moving Target
Murder on the Orient Express
The Shootist