Hollywood has lost one of the last icons of its Golden Age: Lauren Bacall. She died last Tuesday of a suspected stroke at her home in the Dakota in Manhattan. She was 89. “With deep sorrow, yet with great gratitude for her amazing life, we confirm the passing of Lauren Bacall,” the Humphrey Bogart Estate tweeted.
Born Betty Joan Perske in the Bronx to Jewish parents from immigrant families, Bacall took her mother’s maiden name after her father abandoned the family. She studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Her real big break came when, during her part-time job as a model, she landed the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Nancy “Slim” Hawks saw the magazine and convinced her husband, A-list movie director Howard Hawks, to bring Bacall to Hollywood for a screen test. Once groomed for stardom by Hawks, Bacall was ready for the lead role in To Have and Have Not. The nineteen year got to star opposite the legendary Humphrey Bogart. The chemistry between the pair was evident, unfolding on-screen as it did in real life. “Bogie and Bacall” went on to marry in 1945 and to make three other films together, The Big Sleep(1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948). She remained his “Baby”, as he called her, until his death from esophageal cancer in 1957. They had two children together: Stephen and Leslie.
After a serious affair with Frank Sinatra, she moved east and appeared onstage in the comedy “Goodbye, Charlie.” She met and married actor Jason Robards, whose star was on the rise, and they had a son named Sam. Jason’s drinking problems contributed to their breakup and divorce in 1969.
Bacall, who had bought an apartment in 1961 in New York’s legendary Dakota building (where she would live for the rest of her life), found a new home on Broadway, winning best-actress Tonys for 1970’s Applause and 1981’s Woman of the Year . She continued to shine on-screen in such films as The Shootist (her last romantic lead, opposite John Wayne, in his last movie), The Fan, Misery, and The Mirror Has Two Faces, where, as Barbra Streisand’s imperious mother, she finally earned her first and only Oscar nomination at 72. (The Academy finally gave her an honorary award for lifetime achievement in 2009.)
In 1979 she wrote a best-selling autobiography, “By Myself,” which beat out works by William Saroyan among others for the National Book Award. In 1997, she received the Kennedy Center Honors; in 1999, the American Film Institute voted her one of the 25 most significant female movie stars in history.
Lauren Bacall and her three children
Bacall remained an icon of old-school glamour and poise, even as she continued to take risks in her work appearing in Lars von Trier’s experimental film Dogville in 2003, or playing a version of herself who gets mugged by a mobster in a 2006 episode of The Sopranos. She remained hard-working, honest and classy till the end.
She is survived by her three children: Stephen, Leslie and Sam.