Obituary: Lauren Bacall

File photo: Lauren Bacall, 1 January 1951 Image copyright Getty Images

Lauren Bacall smouldered on our cinema screens portraying a new type of femme fatale - independent, intelligent yet still erotic.

She became one of the most famous actresses in post-war cinema, renowned for her husky voice, the trademark look and her marriage to Humphrey Bogart.

She was born Betty Joan Perske on the 16th September 1924, in Brooklyn, to a Polish father and a Romanian mother.

Her parents divorced when she was five and she took her mother's maiden name as her surname, although she added an extra "l" to her mother's Bacal.

Like many aspiring actresses, she financed her studies at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts by taking on part-time work, in her case as a theatre usherette and a model.


Bacall became an overnight success when film director Howard Hawks realised his long-term ambition of turning an unknown actress into a star.

Hawks' wife spotted the aspiring young Bacall on the cover of Harper's Bazaar magazine in March 1943 and recommended her to her husband.

Hawks brought a different type of woman to the big screen, one who could hold her own with anyone and had as many dimensions and problems as her male counterparts.

Known as "Hawksian women," his characters were hugely varied. He renamed her Lauren, and sent her for voice training to develop the low, sexy tones which became her trademark.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Bacall appeared in more than 30 movies and won awards for her musical performances

Her first film performance, as the tough and tender dame in To Have and Have Not, became one of the most powerful debuts in film history.

The film featured her legendary lines: "You don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything and you don't have to do anything. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and ... blow.

One critic said that she was "the toughest girl a piously regenerate Hollywood has dreamed of in years".

Hollywood blacklist

During the filming of To Have and Have Not, she and her co-star Humphrey Bogart began a relationship which led to Bacall, 25 years Bogart's junior, becoming his fourth wife.

Despite his no-nonsense physical on-screen persona, Bacall once said of her husband: "Was he tough? In a word, no. Bogey was truly a gentle soul."

The couple went on to star in three more films together, the most famous of which was The Big Sleep. In this classic film noir, Bogie and Bacall had an on-screen rapport that other Hollywood couples could only dream of.

Yet, later in life, she refused to watch her early work, once reportedly saying: "I can't bear to see myself looking young.

"It is a form of torture to be reminded of what used to be now I'm a wrinkly old woman."

During the late 1940s, Bogart and Bacall set up the Committee for the First Amendment. Established by some of Hollywood's biggest names, it was an attempt to counter attacks on Hollywood by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

HUAC's campaign to rid American cinema of anyone with allegedly communist tendencies led to a blacklist of Hollywood writers and actors.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Bacall and Bogart shortly after their wedding in 1945

Together with some 50 other celebrities, Bacall and Bogart flew to Washington DC in 1947 to lend support to those blacklisted but their efforts failed to end the persecution.

Her career continued to blossom during the 1950s. She received good reviews for her performance in the jazz influenced film, Young Man with a Horn, where she appeared with Doris Day and Kirk Douglas.

More plaudits followed for the 1953 film, How to Marry a Millionaire and Written on the Wind in 1956.

However, Bogart, who was a heavy smoker and drinker, had been in failing health. He was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus in 1956 and died a year later.


After Bogart's death she was briefly engaged to Frank Sinatra and, in 1961, she married another Hollywood heavyweight, Jason Robards.

Bacall's film career faded in the 1960s but she made a triumphant transfer to the stage.

She performed in the popular comedy Cactus Flower and the musical Applause, which ran for nearly two years and earned her a Tony Award for the best actress in a musical play.

Image caption Still smouldering in the BBC's 1993 production A Foreign Field

In the 1970s she wrote a remarkably frank autobiography called Lauren Bacall, By Myself, which went on to become a bestseller in several countries.

The American Academy of Dramatic Arts presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to Lauren Bacall in 1963 and Harvard University named her Woman of the Year in 1967.

She was nominated for an Oscar in 1996 for a more recent Hollywood role in the mother-daughter tale The Mirror Has Two Faces, opposite Barbara Streisand.

In 2009, she received an honorary Oscar and joked: "I can't believe it - a man at last."

Paying tribute to the actress on the night, actor Kirk Douglas described her as "a pussycat" adding she had "a heart of gold".

The first years of the 21st Century saw something of a revival in her film career with appearances in Dogville in 2003 and Birth a year later, in both films starring opposite Nicole Kidman.

Proving age had not diminished her spirited nature, the veteran actress reacted badly when Kidman was described on TV as a "legend".

Bacall replied: "She's not a legend. She's a beginner... she can't be a legend at whatever age she is."

However, she told a press conference promoting the film at the Venice Film Festival that she and Kidman had a "fabulous relationship".

Tall, elegant and determined with an acerbic sense of humour, she brought a fresh knowingness to her roles.

She appeared in some of the greatest films in Hollywood's Golden Era and helped to define the role of the strong, determined woman who knows exactly what she wants out of life, and knows just how to get it.

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