Tony-Winning Stage and Screen Icon Lauren Bacall Dies at 89

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and Adam Hetrick
12 Aug 2014

Lauren Bacall
Lauren Bacall

Stage and screen actress legend Lauren Bacall, who earned Tony Awards for her performances in the Broadway musicals Applause and Woman of the Year, died at her home in Manhattan Aug. 12 at the age of 89.

The Bogart Estate confirmed news of Bacall's death on Facebook: "With deep sorrow for the magnitude of our loss, yet with great gratitude for her amazing life, we confirm the passing of Lauren Bacall."

The cause was a suspected stroke.

The leggy, throaty legend of Hollywood's golden years, Lauren Bacall's name was forever linked with that of her first husband and ultimate co-star, Humphrey Bogart.

Ms. Bacall was one of the last survivors of Hollywood's studio system. But, then, she got an early start. She was all of 19 when she made her film debut in 1944's "To Have and Have Not," a loose, noirish adaptation of Ernest Hemingway (by William Faulkner), directed by Howard Hawks, in which she starred opposite Bogart for the first time.



The actor was nearly 25 years her senior, and no match in the looks department for the long-stemmed, statuesque beauty with the wavy hair and sexily blase expression. But it was no matter. They crackled together onscreen, the neophyte going toe to toe with the veteran actor in terms of poise, charm and magnetism. Several of her lines in that film became instant classics, none so much as "You know how to whistle don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow."

The two were soon an item—even though Bogart was married at the time—and in 1945 they wed. They remained together until Bogart died in 1957, etched in the public imagination as the peerless Bogie & Bacall, one of the timeless pairings in both real life and the silver screen. They co-starred in three more films, the confoundingly complex, Howard Hawks-directed Raymond Chandler thriller "The Big Sleep" (1946), the film noir "Dark Passage" (1947) and the Maxwell Anderson adaptation "Key Largo" (1948), directed by John Huston. In each, Bogart was street-smart, hard-bitten, cynical but good-hearted, and Bacall was the one woman who appreciated and understood him.

It was Hawks' wife, Nancy, who had first spotted Bacall—then modeling under her given name Betty Joan Perske—in a magazine and encouraged her husband to give her a screen test. Hawks gave Bacall her screen name and signed her to a seven-year contract. Nancy, meanwhile, schooled her in terms of behavior and coaxed her into lowering her voice into a more sultry register.

Ms. Bacall's film work outside her pairings with Bogart were a mixed bag. She scored successes with "Young Man With a Horn," opposites Kirk Douglas (1950), the comedy "How to Marry a Millionaire," alongside Marilyn Monroe (1953), Douglas Sirk's pulpy melodrama "Written on the Wind," again with Douglas (1956) and the odd-couple comedy "Designing Woman" with Gregory Peck (1957), in which she played a fashion designer who married a sports writer. But other films failed.

Her career waned in the 1960s, but she soon found an unlikely new home on Broadway. She starred in the musicals Applause, Charles Strouse, Lee Adams, Betty Comden and Adolph Green's adaptation of the film "All About Eve" in 1970, and, in 1981, "Woman of the Year," a John Kander and Fred Ebb show drawn from another old Hollywood film. She won Tony Awards for both performances.

She played the diva-ish Bette Davis role in Applause, which played for 896 performances. "The Margo Channing of Applause and myself were ideally suited," she said of the part. "She was approaching middle age. So was I. She was being forced to face the fact that her career would have to move into another phase as younger women came along to play younger parts. So was I. And she constantly felt that the man she was in love with was going to go off with someone else, someone younger of course, and I, too, had had those feelings" (In an episode of life-imitating art, during the show, she had an affair with her much younger co-star, Len Cariou.)

Despite her noted limitations as a singer (Clive Barnes said "she sings with all th misty beauty of an on-tune forlorn"), Ms. Bacall scored a success. "With this thundering appearance," wrote Walter Kerr in the New York Times, "Miss Bacall ceases being a former movie star and becomes a star of the stage."

Bacall toured with the musical for a year and repeated her work in the West End production.

Woman of the Year ran nearly as long as Applause. As with Applause, Bacall played a successful woman—in this case, a television personality—who is chagrined by her lack of luck in the romance department. Kander and Ebb tailored the score to her alto register, and librettist Peter Stone wrote lines suited to the actress' dry wit.

By this time, the critics recognized the actress as not a movie has-been, but the stage's own. "This star's elegance is no charade, no mere matter of beautiful looks and gorgeous gowns," wrote Frank Rich in the Times. "Her class begins where real class must - in her spirit -and only then makes its way to her angular physique, her big, sensuous eyes and that snapdragon of a voice. Even when her leading man, Harry Guardino, dumps a pot of water over her head, she remains not only mesmerizing, but also completely fresh."

Other Broadway appearances include Goodbye Charlie (1959), Cactus Flower (1965), and Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings (1999). Her later films roles were usually in the supporting category and occasionally memorable. She was one of the murders in the starry 1974 movie version of Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express," played the tough mother of Barbra Streisand in "The Mirror Has Two Faces" (1997) and was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe.

Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on September 16, 1924, the only child of Jewish parents. Her mother Natalie Weinstein-Bacal was a secretary who later legally changed her surname to Bacall, and her father, William Perske, worked in sales. Her parents were divorced when she was five, and thereafter she seldom saw her father. She was a first cousin of Shimon Peres, the ninth president of Israel.

The actress continued to attract alpha male types following the death of Bogart. She dated singer Frank Sinatra for a time. And she was married to actor Jason Robards Jr. from 1961 to 1969. "I put my career in second place throughout both my marriages and it suffered," she said. "I don't regret it. You make choices. If you want a good marriage, you must pay attention to that. If you want to be independent, go ahead. You can't have it all."

Following her last union, she chose to live alone. She had a son and daughter with Bogart and a son with Robards—the actor Sam Robards. They all survive her.