“Being a liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you’re a liberal. You do not have a small mind… I’m total, total, total liberal and proud of it.
“I’m a total Democrat. I’m anti-Republican. And it’s only fair that you know it. I’m liberal… The ‘L’ word!”
Lauren Bacall has never been one to mince words or hold back a thought just to be polite — indeed, her unabashed forthrightness, and on-screen sultry demeanor, has made the Bacall brand a true original for over half a century.
One of the few actresses from Hollywood’s golden age still living, Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske in 1924 to Jewish immigrant parents. She was discovered by the wife of director Howard Hawks who saw her on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. In 1944, Hawks brought Bacall to Hollywood to audition for his film To Have And Have Not. The actress would later acknowledge Hawks for convincing her to hone her smoky voice so she could play more “insolent” characters. Nervous and quivering during the screen test, Bacall pressed her chin against her chest and tilted her eyes upward. This became known as “The Look,” Bacall’s trademark.
Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart fell in love while shooting To Have And Have Not. (Bacall was nineteen; Bogart forty-four.) Bogart divorced his wife Mayo Methot and married Bacall in 1945. The two quickly became tinsel town’s most beloved power couple, had two children, and appeared in three more films together (The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo.) In the mid 1950s, Bacall cut down her film appearances while Bogart struggled with esophageal cancer. The actor succumbed to the disease and died in 1957. Bacall was devastated, and at her husband’s funeral she placed a whistle in his casket (a nod to her famous film line: “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.”).
In 1957, Bacall had a short, and vitriolic, fling with Frank Sinatra, whom she called “a complete shit,” and she later dragged though her eight-year marriage to actor Jason Robards (who looked not unlike Bogart’s doppelganger). Bacall sumed up the relationship in a 1979 interview with People magazine:
“When I invited a few friends over to celebrate his [Robards’s] 40th birthday, Jason showed up at 2 a.m., loaded. I grabbed a bottle of vodka, smashed it into the cake and yelled, “Here’s your goddamn cake!” The marriage ended when I came across a letter written to him by his girlfriend.”
Bacall’s career waned in the ‘60s though she was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for The Mirror Has Two Faces. In 1972, she appeared in John Wayne’s final film The Shootist. Despite their opposite political outlooks (Wayne was famously conservative), the two became great friends. In 2006, Bacall made a cameo appearance in The Sopranos. In the episode she is robbed and beaten up and she utters two classic F-bombs.
Bacall, who in her early days in Hollywood hid her Jewish heritage (as did most of her colleagues), later became a public supporter of the Israeli state and her first cousin is former Prime Minister of Israel Shimon Peres.
Lauren Bacall, while slightly less active today, still gets around to her favorite haunts in New York City but it’s her feisty wit that is as sharp today, at eighty-eight, as it ever was.
Recently she said of the popular movie Twilight:
“Yes I saw it, my granddaughter made me watch it, she said it was the greatest vampire film ever. After the ‘film’ was over, I wanted to smack her across her head with my shoe but I do not want a book called Grannie Dearest written about me when I die. So instead I gave her a DVD of Murnau’s 1922 masterpiece Nosferatu and told her, ‘Now that’s a vampire film!'”
Indeed, she’s still got it.
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