lauren bacall
(1924 - 2014)


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lauren bacall

l a u r e n   b a c a l l  :   b i o g .  ]

"Bogie always told me not to relive the past."
- Lauren Bacall

biography | death
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movie rarities in stock
lauren bacall
humphrey bogart | charlie chaplin | howard hawks
alfred hitchcock | fritz lang | f.w. murnau
erich von stroheim | robert wiene



    13th August 2014: Lauren Bacall passed away Tuesday morning from a massive stroke at her Manhattan home. Her appartment was at The Dakota building on the Upper West Side, best known as the former home of John Lennon and Polanski's Rosemary's Baby.

    One of the last of the truly great names from Hollywood's golden era has now gone. Just saying her surname outloud makes you feel nostalgic for that long long lost era. Bacall. Bogie & Bacall. A true star whose star will shine for as long as they keep making movies.

    How could anyone forget that look, that voice? She just had that magnetic star quality few really have ever possessed.

    From a spark to a flame? What did she mean to you? Were you ever fortunate enough to meet her? E-mail here and I'll put your comments up with just you initials as your signature.


    'Slinky! Sultry! Sensational!' was how Lauren Bacall came to the screen, along with press releases as to how her husky voice had been developed by making her shout across a canyon for six months. But she was not a joke at all. James Agee described her:

      'She has cinema personality to burn, and she burns both ends against an unusually little middle. Her personality is compounded partly of percolated Davis, Garbo, West, Dietrich, Harlow and Glenda Farrell, but more than enough of it is completely new to the screen. She has a javelinlike vitality, a born dancer's eloquence in movement, a fierce female shrewdness and a special sweet-sourness. With these faculties, plus a stone-crushing self-confidence and a trombone voice, she manages to get across the toughest girl a piously regenerate Hollywood has dreamed of in a long while...She does a wickedly good job of sizing up male prospects in a low bar, growls a louche song more suggestively than anyone in cinema has dared since Mae West.'

    She was born (Betty Pepske - she hates the name Hollywood gave her) in New York City in 1924 and was brought up by a divorced mother, who had her study dancing and acting and enrolled her at the AADA - which she quit after one term. She was an usherette briefly, then got a couple of minor stage jobs and - she was strikingly handsome - several modelling assignments. One Harper's Bazaar cover was seen by Howard Hawks, who tested her and signed her to a seven-year contract, 32 weeks a year. (Columbia asked her to be the Harper's Bazaar girl in Cover Girl, but she knew his was likely to provide a better future.)

    Hawks showed the test to Warners - who promptly bought half her contract - and trained her for a year. While coaching her, Hawks began to see her potential more clearly, and when he and Warners cast her opposite Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not (1944) he moulded her into a younger, a female Bogart - though he let her often make her own decisions. She was even more cynical than Bogie and more coolly independant: to his second kiss she responds 'It's even better when you help.'

    The sexual antagonism between them worked sufficiently to carry this mangled version of Hemingway to success; and they married the following year. Warners were so pleased with her that they bought the other half of her contract from Hawks and raised her weekly pay from $550 to $1,000, the start of a new seven-year contract, to go to $1,250 in the second year and thence to $1,500 with $500 weekly annual increases to a ceiling of $3,500. She was to be paid 52 weeks a year instead of the usual 42, but they believed she was a strong actress who should not be overexposed; the sales force was calling for a reteaming with Bogart and indeed one was in the can, but release was delayed till after the next one, since it was more topical and Jack Warner thought her better in it.

    Confidential Agent (1945) was in fact set in pre-war Britain, with Bacall as a local girl who aids Spanish Republican Charles Boyer. The New York Times thought her performance:

      'close to becoming an unmitigated bore...Miss Bacall starts out brusque and surly, obtuse and emotionally cold - and she ends up that way, with neither a flicker of responsiveness or "give" in between.'

    It is curious that Warners should have preferred that to Hawks's The Big Sleep (1946), the one with Bogart; the magic between them worked again, he as a private eye and she as a wealthy, insolent divorcee. She did two more with him, Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948), but these were roles which any competent actress might have played. She was a strongly individual heroine, but clearly less effective than before. Meanwhile, Hollywood had proliferated with imitators, from the variable Lizabeth Scott downwards.

    Encouraged by Bogart - who wanted her to be as independant of Warners as he now was - she quarrelled frequently with the studio over roles; but not, alas, over those in Young Man with a Horn (1950) and Bright Leaf, both old favourites. In the former, she was the wealthy socialite who seduces Kirk Douglas from his music and Doris Day; in the second, the madam who comforts Gary Cooper on excursions from wife Patricia Neal.

    The sixth suspension in six years was over the co-starring role with Errol Fynn in Rocky Mountain (Patrice Wymore - his wife - played it); then she bought herself out of her contract, just a few months before Warners dropped many players in a panic at the threat from TV.

    She signed a long-term contract with 20th, but made only two films for them over a two-year period; after a long absence, How To Marry a Millionaire (1953). as a gold-digger, and A Woman's World (1954), as the bored wife of executive Fred MacMurray. Not surprisingly, she proved to be a stylish light comedienne, incisive and elegant, a shrewd woman-about-town who knows the answers before the questions are asked. In the former she stole scenes from Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable; in the latter there was little competition from June Allyson or Arlene Dahl.

    Changing mood again, she embarked on a quiet romance with Richard Widmark in The Cobweb (55) at MGM, the only good 'serious' film she made - but not a success. It would be more difficult to divine her motives in taking on conventional parts in either Blood Alley, a mediocre John Wayne vehicle, or Written on the Wind (56), a lurid melodrama with Rock Hudson, especially as the Wayne film was a silly anti-Red drama, and Bogart and Bacall were considered to be on Hollywood's Left. Still, Wayne admired her and made one of his rare comments on a co-star:

      'One of the smartest of all Hollywood's tempting women. Betty never flaunts her loveliness, nor her intellect. A man in her presence is conscious only of her charm.'

    When Grace Kelly departed for Monaco, MGM substituted Bacall in Designing Woman (1957), a comedy about spouses with different interests, with Gregory Peck - an actor whom Bogart particularly despised. Bogart died while she was completing it and working to forget (she had been, by all accounts, a particularly devoted wife) might explain her acceptance of The Gift of Love (58) at 20th, with Robert Stack. That one was a two-time loser, having failed 10 years earlier as Sentimental Journey with Maureen O'Hara.

    She went to Britain to play another action-tale heroine in North West Frontier (1959), with Kenneth More, and then had a Broadway success in Goodbye Charlie. In 1961 she married Jason Robards Jr (they were divorced in 1969). Films were not too kind: the unsuccessful Shock Treatment (1964), as a mixed-up psychiatrist; Sex and the Single Girl (1965), as Henry Fonda's quarrelsome wife; and Harper (1966), with Paul Newman, as the enigmatic wealthy woman. That film had some in-jokes - Newman was a Bogart-likkkeeee private-eye - but Bacall's striking apparition was warmly welcomed for its own sake. Despite the infrequency of her appearances she had, like all strong players, kept her hold.

    There was another stage role and in Cactus Flower (1967) for a couple of years she was, literally, the toast of Broadway; and she was again when she did the musical version of All About Eve called Applause! (1970). She said at this time:

      'Bogie always told me not to relive the past. . .Sometimes I've thought that if the public didn't stop taking these trips down Memory Lane about me, I was going to lose my mind...Being a widow isn't exactly a profession. I've had thirteen years of bad luck, and I mean desperately bad luck. But now I feel the cycle of life is changing. This musical is like a second chance, as if my life is beginning again.'

    She played it in London two years later, and filmed it there for American TV; and in England she was one of the several stars suspected of Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Opposite John Wayne in The Shootist (1976) she was his landlady, their friendship ripening as the film progressed. A TV movie, Perfect Gentlemen (1978), co-starred her with Sandy Dennis; and a memoir, By Myself, found its way to the bestseller lists and redirected Hollywood attention to her: Health (1980), as an 80-year-old food expert, with Carol Burnett and James Garner; and The Fan (1981), as a Broadway star menaced by a psychotic admirer. Bacall's own particular glitter could not hide the fact that the piece was unworthy of her.

    She would like to work more, she has said, but she turns down much:

      'I've been sent an average of two or three plays a year lately - one worse than the other. They're awful. It's all well and good to do things for money if occasionally you have to, but not a film that's going to come back to haunt you. And certainly not a play that you have to do eight times a week. I couldn't bear it.'

    She returned to Broadway in 1981 in Woman of the Year, a musical based on the Tracy-Hepburn film, for a long run - and a Tony Award. In 1985 she played Sweet Bird of Youth in London, subsequently taking it to Australia and the West Coast. It was not, frankly, one of her finest moments, for she totally lacked the vulnerability essential to the role.

    Films then again beckoned: an Agatha Christie thriller, Appointment with Death (1987), directed by Michael Winner; Mr North (1988), directed by Danny Huston after his father John died, as a boarding-house keeper; The Tree of Hands (89) in Britain, from a novel by Ruth Rendell; and The Actor, made in France, with Anthony Quinn.


l a u r e n   b a c a l l   d v d s  ]

l a u r e n   b a c a l l   v i d e o s  ]


biography | gallery
books | dvds | posters | videos
movie rarities in stock
lauren bacall
humphrey bogart | charlie chaplin | howard hawks
alfred hitchcock | fritz lang | f.w. murnau
erich von stroheim | robert wiene








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Changes last made: 2014