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Bacall, Lauren Profile
Written by James Colt Harrison   

 

Lauren Bacall Profile

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Date of Birth: September 16, 1924

Place of Birth: Bronx, New York

Date of Death: August 12, 2014

Place of Death: New York City

Cause of Death:  Stroke

 

 

EARLY YEARS

Actress Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on September 16, 1924 to Natalie and William Perske. Her mother came from Romania and her father was born in New Jersey; both from Jewish parents. After Betty's parents divorced, she no longer saw her father. Betty was a pretty girl with emerald green eyes. Her own interests gravitated toward acting and modeling. She became a teen-age fashion model at 16 and graced the covers of many magazines.

 

SHOW BUSINESS

Perske's interest in acting was furthered when she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1941 with fellow classmate Kirk Douglas. She continued working as a fashion model and a theatre usher. She dipped a small toe into Broadway when she got a walk-on part in Johnny 2 x 4.

Fortune smiled on the young Perske when Nancy "Slim" Hawks, wife of Warner Bros director, Howard Hawks (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), saw Betty in a magazine and brought her to the attention of her husband. He signed her to a seven-year personal contract and set her up for a screen test when he was casting To Have and Have Not.

Slim Hawks was famous around Hollywood as a great photographer and style icon. She took Betty Joan under her wing and taught her about manners, taste, and personal elegance. Howard would have nothing to do with her real name and re-named her "Lauren" with Betty Joan contributing her last name as a variant of her mother's maiden name "Bacall." Thus Lauren Bacall was born anew. However, all through her life her friends called her "Betty."

When the screen tests were being shot in 1944 for To Have and Have Not, Bacall was so nervous her head would shake. So, she lowered her head and looked up, creating a sexy sensation and a new movie icon for movie audiences to drool over and fall in love with in her first screen role.

Sparks flew between Bacall, age 19, and star Humphrey Bogart, 45.What audiences saw on screen was a reflection of real life. The two were crazy about each other and the age difference never mattered to them. They got married in 1945 and had two children, son Stephen (1949) and daughter Leslie (1952).

Warner Bros. knew they had a terrific screen team and immediately cast them into follow-up pictures such as The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948), all smash hits.

Bacall was always a sort of "homebody" and she turned down scripts to raise her children. She popped up in 1950 with her old classmate Kirk Douglas in the jazz film Young Man With A Horn, which helped make him a star. CinemaScope was a big screen sensation at the time and 20th Century Fox called up Bacall and asked her to star with Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe in the zany wide-screen comedy How To Marry A Millionaire in 1953. It was another blockbuster hit. 

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Hudson, Bacall - Written on the Wind
Bacall was "Hot" at this time and went over to Universal to star in the now-classic tear-jerker Written on The Wind (1956) with Rock Hudson and Dorothy Malone. It was while she was working on Designing Woman in 1957 with Gregory Peck that Bogart became ill with cancer. She nursed him at home and tried to do comedy on the sound stages. Bacall pulled through but Bogart did not. Ending a happy marriage from 1945 to 1957, the cancer took Bogart away and left Bacall a very unhappy woman, indeed. To use a cliché, theirs was a love made in Heaven. 

After Bogart's death, Bacall was floundering in her personal life. She was still a beautiful and vibrant woman. She dated various men to keep herself occupied. She even had a mini-romance with Frank Sinatra. That didn't work out, and they split. Bacall met actor Jason Robards, Jr. and they were married from 1961 to 1969. She had a son with Robards but later divorced the actor because of his severe alcoholism problem. 

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Harper
With her film career slowing somewhat in the 1960s after such hit films as Sex and the Single Girl (1964) with Natalie Wood and Harper (1966) with Paul Newman and Robert Wagner, Bacall turned to the  stage for work. On Broadway she had starring roles in the comedies Goodbye, Charlie (1959) and Cactus Flower (1965). 

She achieved her greatest success on the stage with Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year (1981).  Applause was the musical version of the Bette Davis film All About Eve (1950) with Bacall playing the grand theatrical star Margo Channing. Bacall was so good she won the Tony Award as Best Actress.

 

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Applause
After an eight-year hiatus from films, Bacall returned in the Agatha Christie comedy-mystery Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and followed that with the John Wayne western The Shootist (1976). 

Again, with good film roles not coming her way, she decided to go back on the stage. Woman of the Year  (1981) by the song-writing team of Kander and Ebb was another triumph for Bacall. It was the updated musical version of the 1942 Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy MGM comedy hit of the same name. The show was nominated for six Tony Awards, and Bacall won the coveted trophy as Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, her second Tony. She played in New York for two years and then did the show in London.

Bacall returned to Hollywood to do a handful of films. She hit her pinnacle when she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996) opposite singing icon Barbra Streisand.

Always one who liked to work, she appeared in more than 38 films since her triumph in the stage musical Woman of the Year in 1981, made several popular television commercials and guest appearances on hit series. She never really retired. In 2014 she completed her last work doing voice-over in the animated feature Ernest & Celestine.

Lauren Bacall died peacefully of a stroke at age 89 in her New York home at the famed Dakota Apartments August 12, 2014. All of her children survive her.

 

INTERESTING TRIVIA

Bacall wrote three autobiographies: Lauren Bacall by Myself (1978), Now (1994), and By Myself and Then Some (2005).

She starred on the radio series Bold Venture with her husband Humphrey Bogart in 1951- 52.

Other stage appearances were in Wonderful Town (1977), Sweet Bird of Youth (1985), The Visit (1995) and Waiting in the Wings (1999).

Raquel Welch filled in for Woman of the Year during Bacall's two week vacation.

Bacall was tall for a leading lady -- 5'9"

Bacall said "Stardom isn't a profession; it's an accident."

 



                       

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