“Legends are all to do with the past and nothing to do with the present”
While the world was still reeling from the death of Robin Williams, we learned that Lauren Bacall, one of the finest actresses of her generation had died of a massive stroke at her home in New York on August 12th. She was 89. Yes, Bacall was stunningly beautiful perhaps the most beautiful of all the 1940s screen sirens. From the moment she sashayed onto the screen in Howard Hawk’s To Have and Have Not and asked Bogie if he knew how to whistle,you knew this was a woman beyond the classic pinups of her day. Bacall had a weight and a charisma about her that so few actors have, then or even now.
Born Betty Joan Perske in the Bronx, she would go on to become a willowy, cat-eyed teenage model who defined grace and sensuality. In 1944 Hawks’ wife Nancy discovered her on the cover of Harpers Bazar and convinced her husband to give Bacall a screen-test for his new film To Have and Have Not. He would sign her to a seven year personal contract and Nancy would guide her through Hollywood.
Of course, the rest is Hollywood legend. She would begin an affair with her later married co-star Humphrey Bogart. Their romance would become the blueprint for what chemistry should look like. It was endlessly passionate and romantic. They eventually married in 1945 and had two children. They remained married until Bogart’s death in 1957.
For a long time she would be known as Humphrey Bogart’s wife and later widow, her acting legend forever tied to that iconic film moment but there was so much more. There were the performances in The Big Sleep, Key Largo, How to Marry a Millionaire, and The Mirror has two Faces, for which she received an Oscar nomination. Her later career would be marked by collaborations with Lars Von Trier in Dogville and a memorable cameo as herself on The Sopranos, and she proved that she was still willing to take a risk and make a great joke.
Above all else there was power. In those classic films you never got the sense that this was a woman who needed to be saved, she was strong enough and she was tough enough. Just watch as she makes her appearance in To Have and Have Not. Her first line “Anybody got a match?” is delivered with that look of hers, the one that would become a trademark, chin turned down eyes turned up in a way that tells you she might not even need Bogie to sizzle.
Lauren Bacall’s power and presence will always remain. She was one of Hollywood’s finest and one of our last ties to the Golden Age of cinema, an early reminder that women could be strong and commanding even when it wasn’t the norm.
— Tressa Eckermann