Wednesday, 13 August 2014
Lauren Bacall (1924-2014)
It was with great sadness that I heard of the death of Lauren Bacall. The Hollywood star of the Golden Age has passed away at the age of 89.
Born Betty Joan Perske in New York in 1924, Bacall came to the notice of Hollywood director Howard Hawks when she modelled for Harper's Bazaar. She made a very memorable screen debut playing lounge singer Marie 'Slim' Browning in Hawks' 1944 war adventure To Have And Have Not. The 19-year old Bacall starred opposite the 44-year old Humphrey Bogart, and gave one of cinema's most iconic lines: 'You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow.' Called a 'sensational new discovery' and referred to by Variety as 'a young lady of presence' in their review of the year, Bacall impressed many- including Bogart, who she married in 1945. They starred together in three more movies- The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948)- and were together until Bogart died in 1957.
She had a memorable role in How To Marry A Millionaire (1953) opposite Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable, and appeared in televised versions of The Petrified Forest and Blithe Spirit. After Bogart's death, she appeared in a few mediocre films and then took to the Broadway stage, where she performed for five years in various productions to high acclaim. In 1967, she appeared in the Broadway comedy Cactus Flower- which she performed in for two years- and then proceeded to go into a musical version of the 1950 Bette Davis film All About Eve, now titled Applause. Bacall won a Tony for her performance and also played the role in London.
On the big screen, she put in a marvellous performance as the abrasive Mrs Hubbard in Sidney Lumet's star-studded version of Murder On The Orient Express (1974) and appeared in John Wayne's last movie The Shootist (1976). She had a rare starring role as an actress being stalked by a deranged admirer in 1981's The Fan, but the reviews weren't great (although many praised Bacall's performance). Later that year, she returned to Broadway to star in the musical version of Woman Of The Year. In 1988, she appeared in another Agatha Christie adaptation- Appointment With Death- an appeared as James Caan's agent in Misery (1990).
In 1996, Bacall appeared as Barbra Streisand's mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces. For this role, she was nominated for her first- and only- Oscar, in the Best Supporting Actress category (but lost to Juliette Binoche). In the same year, she appeared opposite Jack Lemmon and James Garner in comedy My Fellow Americans.
In 2003, she appeared in Lars Von Trier's Dogville (reuniting with the director for his 2005 film Manderlay) and also provided the English language voice of The Witch Of The Waste for Studio Ghibli's version of Howl's Moving Castle. She also appeared opposite Dogville co-star Nicole Kidman in Jonathan Glazer's controversial 2005 movie Birth, and appeared as herself in an episode of The Sopranos. Her last on-screen credit was in the 2012 movie The Forger with Alfred Molina and Josh Hutcherson.
Whilst never winning a competitive Oscar, she was one of the first recipients of the Governors Awards (honorary lifetime achievement Oscars), receiving the honour in 2009. In her book Now, she wrote “I’m called a legend by some, a title and category I am less than fond of.” Legend, she said, was a reference to the past, and she was more interested in the present and future. Despite her reticence for the title, many do regard Bacall as a legend. I would go one further and say she is an icon of Hollywood's Golden Age. She leaves behind an impressive legacy. My thoughts are with her family and friends at this time.