“And to begin with, to me, a legend is something that is not on the earth, that is dead…legends are built and evolve in the past. They’re not the present. I don’t like categories either…You are what you are, everyone is an individual.”- Lauren Bacall, 2005
Betty Joan Perske was born in the Bronx, New York, on September 16, 1924. Her mother, Natalie Weinstein-Bacal, had left her home in Romania as a baby. She met William Perske in her early twenties, while working as a secretary. Their marriage was unhappy – Perske was ‘insanely jealous’ – and they separated when Betty was six years old.
Natalie went back to work, and her brothers helped to pay Betty’s fees at Highland Manor Boarding School. She visited her daughter every weekend. Betty enjoyed playing sports and acting in plays. ‘I suppose those years were as close to carefree as I had known or ever would again,’ she recalled in her autobiography, By Myself.
She later returned to the city where she attended Julia Richman High School, and shared an apartment with her mother, grandmother, and Uncle Charlie. Like many young Americans, Betty loved movies. ‘I was forever inflicting my Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis on anyone who recalled them,’ she admitted – and she also had a crush on the English actor, Leslie Howard.
Norma Jeane Mortenson was born almost two years later, in 1926. She never knew her father, and her mother, Gladys, sent the little girl to live with family friends while she worked as a film cutter in the heart of Hollywood. She was a fragile young woman, suffering a nervous breakdown only months after buying a house for Norma Jeane. She was confined to a sanatorium, and her daughter was raised by a succession of distant relatives and well-meaning acquaintances. Norma Jeane spent almost a year in an orphanage, and was sexually abused in at least one of her foster homes. The shy, stammering girl was drawn to the escapism of movies, and her favourite stars included Jean Harlow and Clark Gable.
New York was the home of the stage, and that was where Betty Bacal hoped to make her name. She saw John Gielgud play Hamlet, and Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh as Romeo and Juliet. While studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts – next to Carnegie Hall – Betty befriended a dashing young classmate, Kirk Douglas. ‘Betty saw me shivering in my thin overcoat,’ he told the Hollywood Reporter in 2014. ‘She didn’t say anything, but she talked her uncle into giving me one of his two thick coats. I wore it for three years.’
Although Betty had hoped to study for another year, the Academy did not offer scholarships to women. In May 1941, she took her first job as a fashion model at dress manufacturer David Crystal’s store on Seventh Avenue. She was later hired by the Shubert Brothers as a theatre usherette.
In 1942, Betty Bacall won a part in George S. Kaufman’s comedy, Franklin Street. Unfortunately, the play closed during its Washington run. Bacall, who idolised President Roosevelt, reflected on her loss while visiting the Lincoln Memorial.
She soon had another lucky break, when Nicolas de Gunzburg – an editor at Harper’s Bazaar – spotted her in a nightclub, and introduced her to Diana Vreeland. Bacall was photographed by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, appearing on the cover of the magazine’s ‘Red Cross Issue’ in February 1943.
At sixteen, Norma Jeane married the boy next door, Jim Dougherty – partly to avoid a return to the orphanage. He later joined the Navy, while his bride took a job in a munitions plant. She was ‘discovered’ by a visiting army photographer, and became a popular model – covering dozens of magazines, and emerging as a wartime pin-up. In 1946, the newly-divorced Norma Jeane changed her name, and signed to Twentieth Century-Fox as Marilyn Monroe.
Her early years in Hollywood were filled with occasional bit parts and numerous photo opportunities. In 1948, she was photographed with actor Clifton Webb as publicity for a film she didn’t even appear in. Off-camera, Monroe was a quiet, thoughtful person who studied acting and read widely. She had admired Abraham Lincoln since her schooldays. And yet many in the movie industry dismissed her as a ‘dumb blonde.’
Over the coming years, Marilyn would try many times to contact her father, but he shunned her. It is rumoured that they may have met a year before she died, although other sources say she had finally turned her back on him.
To Have and Have Not
Howard Hawks’ wife Nancy (or ‘Slim’) spotted Betty in Harper’s Bazaar and suggested he offer her a screen test. Hawks was one of Hollywood’s most versatile directors. While he was certainly no feminist, Hawks liked gutsy, outspoken women, both on and off screen.
She was first approached by Hawks’ agent, Charles Feldman. Whereas Feldman was a charming, handsome man, Betty found Hawks ‘inscrutable.’ She flew to Los Angeles for the test, and signed a personal contract with the director. ‘This was the first design in a pattern of work that was to continue all my life,’ she reflected. ‘Either everything at once or nothing – feast or famine.’
Under Hawks’ close supervision, the star-making process began. Over the next six months, he trained Betty to lower her voice, because ‘there’s nothing more unattractive than screeching.’ He sent her to be photographed in a silver lame dress by John Engstead. ‘The portraits were the best I’d ever had, and still are,’ she remembered.
Finally, Bacall was cast opposite Humphrey Bogart in an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, To Have and Have Not. Their characters’ names were changed to ‘Slim’ and ‘Steve’, and the setting was moved from Cuba to an island near occupied France. Just before filming started, Hawks gave her a new name: ‘Lauren.’
On her first day, Betty shot a scene that would make cinematic history. While smoking a cigarette, she tells Bogart, ‘If you want me just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? Just put your lips together and blow.’
While this short sequence is now considered a high watermark of understated eroticism, in practice it was quite different. ‘My hand was shaking – my head was shaking – the cigarette was shaking. I was mortified,’ she wrote. ‘The harder I tried to stop, the more I shook.’ Bogart tried to joke her out of it, then Hawks shot the scene line by line. ‘By the end of the third or fourth take,’ Betty recalled, ‘I realised that one way to hold my trembling head still was to keep it down, chin low, almost to my chest, and eyes on Bogart. It worked, and turned out to be the beginning of “The Look”.’
About three weeks later, at the end of a day’s work, Bogart came to Bacall’s dressing room to say goodnight, and they kissed for the first time. Contrary to her sultry image, Betty was still a teenager – the epitome of ‘a nice Jewish girl,’ in fact. Bogart was 44, and married to his third wife, Mayo Menthot. Also an actress, Mayo was an alcoholic and the relationship was stormy.
The burgeoning romance between the two stars was met with strong disapproval, from Betty’s mother – and her boss. Hawks threatened to wash his hands of her, but the lovers were undeterred. ‘I wanted to give Bogie so much that he hadn’t had,’ Bacall wrote. ‘All the love that had been stored inside of me all my life for an invisible father, for a man. I could finally think of allowing it to pour over this man and fill his life with laughter, warmth, joy – things he hadn’t had for such a long time, if ever.’
Bogart was torn between his desire for Bacall and a sense of duty towards his wife. The affair continued as they collaborated with Hawks on a second film, The Big Sleep. Based on Raymond Chandler’s crime novel, it is an early example of film noir. After its completion, Hawks sold Bacall’s contract to Warner Brothers. ‘The girl he had invented was no longer his,’ she remarked, adding that ‘I knew he had a sneaking feeling for me.’
Bogart divorced Mayo, and married Bacall in 1945. She was now a star in her own right, photographed by Philippe Halsman for Life magazine. While visiting Washington, Betty was persuaded by her press agent to pose with Vice President Harry Truman, sitting on a piano while he played. ‘Truman was not wild about that picture after he became President,’ she recalled, ‘but I loved it.’
As her fame grew, Betty was approached by her father, who had disappeared from her life she was eight. He began giving interviews, blaming her mother for their divorce. Bacall refused to meet him. ‘Sad in a way,’ she explained, ‘but when a man chooses to forget his child, he can expect the same behaviour in return. It’s not deliberate, it just happens. The damage was done long before.’
Bacall helped out her old friend, Kirk Douglas, recommending him to producer Hal B. Wallis. ‘He actually listened to her – did I mention she was persuasive? – and soon after I was on my way to Hollywood,’ he recalled, describing her as ‘my lucky charm.’
Confidential Agent, her first film without Bogart, was a flop. ‘The critics said they’d made a mistake – I was not Garbo, Dietrich, Hepburn, Mae West all rolled into one,’ she noted drily. She disliked the scripts Jack Warner assigned to her, and would be suspended twelve times.
By 1947, the anti-Communist ‘witch hunts’ were in progress. A group of prominent writers and directors, known as the Hollywood Ten, were cited for contempt of Congress after refusing on principle to ‘name names.’ Bogart, Bacall and others formed a ‘Committee for the First Amendment’, flying to Washington as the trials began. While their protest was a strong statement of support, Bogart would later write an article for Photoplay magazine, entitled ‘I’m No Communist.’
Bacall began to earn a ‘difficult’ reputation, although her next two films with Bogart were more successful. Key Largo was directed by John Huston. ‘I was accepted immediately by him because I loved his friend,’ Betty remembered. ‘He didn’t like women much on their own.’ Bacall was now Hollywood royalty, part of a sociable elite including writer Nunnally Johnson; actors Clifton Webb and Judy Garland; directors Billy Wilder, Nicholas Ray and Jean Negulesco; and restaurateur Mike Romanoff.
Her first child was born in 1949, named ‘Steve’ after Bogart’s character in To Have and Have Not. Nonetheless, her marriage wasn’t perfect. She didn’t share her husband’s love of sailing, and was concerned by his heavy drinking. ‘It seems from the beginning I was torn,’ she admitted. ‘I wanted a career and I wanted Bogie, then I wanted both and a child.’
In 1950, Bacall’s contract with Warner Brothers ended. In Young Man With a Horn, her penultimate film for the studio, she appeared alongside Kirk Douglas. When Bogart travelled to the Congo to film The African Queen, Bacall accompanied him, leaving Steve at home. She made a lifelong friend in Bogart’s co-star, Katharine Hepburn.
Meanwhile, Marilyn Monroe’s career was given a boost when one of Hollywood’s most powerful agents, Johnny Hyde, fell for her charms. John Huston cast her as a crooked businessman’s young mistress in his acclaimed heist movie, The Asphalt Jungle. This was followed by a small, but significant role in the Oscar-winning All About Eve. In a series of publicity shots for the film, Marilyn was photographed by John Engstead in a white gown, her honey-blonde hair twisted into a chignon.
In 1952, she was cast as a dim-witted secretary in Howard Hawks’ Monkey Business, and Philippe Halsman captured her in a smouldering portrait for Life, the first of many times she would grace the magazine’s cover. A year later, Marilyn starred as gold-digger Lorelei Lee in Hawks’ musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Although she had shown promise as a serious actress, Hawks believed her niche was in comedy. In a more conservative era, Monroe’s raw sexuality had to be toned down.
How to Marry a Millionaire
Bacall’s daughter, Leslie (after Leslie Howard) was born in 1952. In that year’s presidential election, the Bogarts endorsed the Democratic candidate, Adlai Stevenson. He lost to Eisenhower, but Bacall was strongly attracted to him.
Having been signed by Twentieth Century-Fox, Bacall began looking for suitable properties. Director George Cukor suggested she read Zoe Akins’ play, The Greeks Had a Word For It. This tale of three young women hunting for a rich husband had already been successfully adapted for the screen three times. It would be Bacall’s first film in three years, and her first comedic role.
Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck had acquired the rights to Doris Lilly’s 1951 memoir, How to Meet a Millionaire. He gave it to Nunnally Johnson, who also used parts of Akins’ script, and another play – Loco, by Katherine Albert and Dale Eunson – to create his own screenplay, How to Marry a Millionaire, in which the trio are all models. He then asked Bacall to test for the role of Schatze Page, a bitter divorcee who masterminds their scheme to net rich husbands. Another good friend, Jean Negulesco, was hired to direct, while Betty Grable – who had appeared in an earlier version of the story, Moon Over Miami – would co-star as the madcap Loco. Although Marilyn had wanted Grable’s role, she was ultimately cast as the charmingly vague Pola Debevoise.
While Bacall filmed Millionaire, Bogart and Huston worked together again, shooting Beat the Devil in Italy. It was their first separation in eight years of marriage. Bacall had met Marilyn before, at Romanoff’s with Johnny Hyde. Monroe later attended an early screening of The African Queen with Nicholas Ray.
Production began in March 1953. Although a recent Fox epic, The Robe, was being re-shot in Cinemascope, How to Marry a Millionaire was the first movie to use the new technology from the outset. This created many technical obstacles, not least the fact that Travilla’s full-skirted designs looked bigger on the wide screen. Monroe, who preferred figure-hugging attire, asked him to alter her costumes.
On the first day of filming, Marilyn arrived two hours late – much to the annoyance of the highly disciplined Bacall. Unpunctuality was a habit with Marilyn, and Negulesco began calling her earlier, in the hope that she would arrive on time. Her acting coach, Natasha Lytess, was a constant presence on the set. Chronically insecure, Marilyn deferred to her judgment – which often differed from Negulesco’s.
As a result, numerous retakes were required. ‘I’d have to be good in all of them as no one knew which one would be used,’ Bacall wrote. ‘Not easy – often irritating. And yet I couldn’t dislike Marilyn. She had no meanness in her – no bitchery. She just had to concentrate on herself and the people who were there only for her.’
Having recently studied mime with Lotte Goslar, Marilyn displayed a skill for physical comedy in her scenes as accident-prone Pola, who refuses to wear glasses and is forever bumping into walls. ‘It was the first time that Marilyn was not self-consciously the sex symbol,’ Nunnally Johnson believed. ‘The character had a measure of modesty.’
Photographer Frank Worth captured the three stars at their most relaxed. In one picture, they are gathered around a dressing table, enjoying a joke. A flashback scene in a divorce court was later cut at the request of the censors, while a still photo shows another deleted sequence, with Monroe and Bacall dancing together in their empty apartment.
Johnson had little patience with Marilyn’s erratic behaviour, but Negulesco slowly gained her trust. Despite setbacks, Millionaire was one of Monroe’s more harmonious productions. She bonded instantly with Grable, whom she would soon replace as Fox’s reigning queen. Her relationship with Bacall was more distant, but still friendly. The camaraderie between the three actresses is evident on the screen.
While the tough, independent Bacall appeared to be Monroe’s polar opposite in temperament, they had more in common than might be expected. Both had grown up without knowing their fathers, and were attracted to mature, intellectual men. Like Monroe, Bacall had begun her career as a model and struggled to prove herself an actress. The scene in which she models outfits in a store could have been taken from her own life.
As filming progressed, Marilyn’s fan-base continued to grow. She would ultimately earn top billing. One day, Bacall was asked to present her with Look magazine’s Achievement Award as ‘Most Promising Female Newcomer.’ The ceremony was filmed as a Movietone newsreel, and Stanley Gordon presented Monroe with the June issue, featuring herself with Grable and Bacall on its cover.
Early biographers noted the contrasts between Marilyn and Bacall, with Maurice Zolotow describing their relationship as ‘coldly polite.’ But when interviewed by author Fred Lawrence Guiles, Bacall spoke of her warmly. ‘We all felt we had to take care of her a little bit,’ she said. ‘I’m anti-studio and I used to tell her, “Don’t let them push you around.” To them, she was a commodity. We were both rebels of a kind.’
‘She was always looking to be loved by somebody,’ Bacall told Guiles. ‘There were a lot of leeches in her life. I’m not saying who they are.’ (Bacall was probably referring to Natasha Lytess, who often antagonised Marilyn’s co-workers.)
‘She came into my dressing room one day and said that what she really wanted was to be in San Francisco with Joe DiMaggio in some spaghetti joint,’ Bacall wrote later. ‘They were not married then. She wanted to know about my children, my home life – was I happy? She seemed envious of that aspect of my life – wistful – hoping to have it herself one day.’
‘There was something sad about her – wanting to reach out – afraid to trust – uncomfortable,’ Bacall observed. ‘She made no effort for others and yet she was nice. I think she did trust me and like me as well as she could anyone whose life must have seemed to her so secure, so solved.’
After filming ended, Bacall and Bogart were reunited in London. On June 26, Marilyn’s foot and hand-prints were immortalised in cement outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. As a child, she had often placed her hands and feet in Jean Harlow’s prints. That evening was a triumph for her.
Shortly before How to Marry a Millionaire was released, Bacall was invited to do the same. She declined, telling reporter Joe Hyams, ‘I feel that my career is undergoing a change and I want to feel I’ve earned my place with the best my business has produced.’ Unlike Monroe, Bacall would have many more years, and honours to come.
Bacall attended the New York opening with her mother. ‘I knew the film was good,’ she recalled, ‘and success does give one a lift.’ She also appeared at the Los Angeles premiere, on November 4. Wearing a blue sequinned dress by Norman Norrell, and long white gloves, accompanied by Bogart in a tuxedo, she drove to Nunnally Johnson’s house for cocktails.
Monroe had arrived at the studio at midday. After having her hair set, she went to the make-up room. Her dress was a strapless, platinum silk, beaded sheath with a long train, and had been provided by the studio. She was sewn into it that afternoon, which meant she had to walk slowly. Diamond earrings, opera gloves and a white fox stole were added later, to stunning effect. In the words of columnist Mike Connolly, her fantastic beauty stirred memories of ‘Gloria Swanson at her most glittering.’
She arrived at the Johnsons’ a little late, and quite nervous. After downing three beakers of bourbon and soda, a slightly tipsy Monroe (who, unlike the others, was not much of a drinker) joined the others in a limousine. The streets were closed for five blocks around the Fox Wilshire Theatre, and thousands of onlookers had congregated. When Marilyn stepped out, crowds screamed her name.
Photographs taken inside the theatre, showing Bogart with his wife on one arm and Marilyn on the other, seem to symbolise the glamour of Hollywood’s golden age. Dorris Johnson accompanied Marilyn to the ladies’ room, and had to wedge her out of her skin-tight dress.
‘Women who have been sewn into their clothes should never drink to excess,’ Nunnally said later. Speaking to reporters, Marilyn said, ‘This is just about the happiest night of my life. It’s like when I was a little girl and pretended wonderful things were happening to me. Now they are. But it’s funny how success makes so many people hate you. I wish it wasn’t that way. It would be wonderful to enjoy success without seeing envy in the eyes of everyone around you.’
Life Goes to a Party
Bacall was directed by Jean Negulesco again in Woman’s World (1954), playing an executive’s wife alongside her friend Clifton Webb. It would be another busy year for Marilyn, who married Joe DiMaggio in January. The couple travelled to Japan in March, and Marilyn was invited Korea to entertain US troops.
Behind the scenes, however, she was unhappy with her career, and her marriage. In September, she began filming The Seven Year Itch, George Axelrod’s hit play. Charles Feldman, her unofficial agent, had procured the comedy for her. Directed by Billy Wilder, it would be one of her greatest successes.
That same month, the Bogarts were interviewed at home by Ed Murrow for his Person to Person show. Marilyn would appear on the famed television program in 1955, while staying at the Connecticut home of photographer Milton Greene.
In October 1954, Monroe announced her separation from Joe. A month later, the studio threw a party for her to celebrate her latest film role. ‘Golly, I don’t know many people,’ she confessed to co-star Tom Ewell. ‘I wonder whom I could ask. I know Betty Grable. We worked on a picture together. And I know Lauren Bacall. She was in How to Marry a Millionaire too. She and Humphrey Bogart might come.’
The party at Romanoff’s was attended by Hollywood’s finest – Sam Goldwyn, Jack Warner, Clifton Webb, Darryl F. Zanuck, and the Bogarts, among others. Dressed in red, Monroe danced with her childhood idol, Clark Gable. The guests – including Bogart and Bacall – each signed a portrait of Marilyn which she kept as a souvenir.
Monroe’s friend, photographer Sam Shaw, covered the event for Life magazine. In one picture, Bacall – wearing a white gown with pearls – embraces the renowned agent, Irving ‘Swifty’ Lazar. ‘This party was a big deal to Marilyn,’ wrote columnist Sidney Skolsky, ‘because it signified in its peculiar Hollywoodian manner that the elite of the town had finally accepted her.’Unbeknown to Skolsky, Marilyn was already planning to leave Hollywood behind. In December, she flew to New York. She would spend the next year in a legal battle with Fox, and studying with Lee Strasberg at the Actor’s Studio.
In 1955, Bacall starred in Vincente Minnelli’s The Cobweb, and acted with Bogart in a television remake of his 1936 film, The Petrified Forest. She took the role originally played by one of her own idols, Bette Davis.
The Bogarts continued to be at the centre of Hollywood’s social life. Frank Sinatra flew them to Las Vegas to celebrate Noel Coward’s birthday, alongside David Niven, Mike Romanoff, Judy Garland and others. After four days of non-stop partying, Bacall quipped, ‘You look like a goddamn rat pack.’ The inaugural meeting of the Rat Pack was held soon after, in a private room at Romanoff’s.
‘In order to qualify,’ Bacall explained, ‘one had to be addicted to nonconformity, staying up late, drinking, laughing, and not caring what anyone thought about us.’ That night, she was appointed Den Mother. ‘What fun we had with it all!’ she remembered. ‘We were an odd assortment, but we liked each other so much, and every one of us had a wild sense of the ridiculous. The press had a field day, but we had the upper hand.’
In early 1956, the party came to an end. Bogart was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. His oesophagus was removed, but the cancer had spread. Plans to make a fifth movie with Bacall – Melville Goodwin, USA, in which he would play a general and Bacall a press magnate – were halted. Instead, she played Elvira in a television production of Blithe Spirit. In December, Douglas Sirk’s lavish melodrama, Written on the Wind – starring Bacall and Rock Hudson – was released. Bogart died a month later, aged 57.
Still grieving, Bacall found comfort in work. Designing Woman, in which she starred opposite Gregory Peck – explored the tensions in a marriage where both partners have high- powered careers. Bacall gave one of her best performances, describing it as ‘one of my happiest film experiences.’
Within a few months, Bacall had drifted into an ill-advised affair with Frank Sinatra. He swiftly proposed, and she accepted. Shortly afterwards, Bacall was accosted by columnist Louella Parsons during a night at the theatre with Swifty Lazar. Bacall refused to confirm her engagement to Sinatra, but after Bacall left, Lazar admitted it. When the story was published, a furious Frank severed contact with Bacall.
‘Now I can see that I was trying to erase Bogie’s death – pretend it had never happened – that he had never happened,’ she wrote later. ‘The pain of that loss was so excruciating, I wanted to deny its being. Impossible – ridiculous – but real at the time.’
‘Actually, Frank did me a great favour – he saved me from the disaster our marriage would have been,’ she reflected. ‘Well, he’s paid for his lacks in life – okay, it’s his life – but why the
hell did I have to pay for them too?’
In the wake of their break-up, Bacall was frozen out by former friends. ‘I was suddenly an outcast,’ she recalled, ‘and there was no one to really talk to.’ Without Bogart, life in Hollywood was miserable. ‘I had to get out from under being Bogart’s widow,’ she decided. ‘That was not a profession, after all – and there would be no hope of a new beginning unless I fought for
When George Axelrod offered her a role in his new Broadway play, Goodbye Charlie, she seized the opportunity. She played a philandering bachelor who is reincarnated as a woman. The play was not a success, but Bacall’s return to New York would be permanent. She met actor Jason Robards at a party in Lee Strasberg’s home. They were married in 1961, and had a
After the Fall
In 1956, Marilyn married playwright Arthur Miller, who had been charged with contempt of Congress after refusing to ‘name names’ to the House Un-American Activities Committee. She stood by him devotedly, until his acquittal two years later. Meanwhile, she won critical praise for her roles in Bus Stop, The Prince and the Showgirl, and Some Like it Hot.
After completing John Huston’s The Misfits, Marilyn divorced Miller. She returned to Los Angeles, and had a short-lived affair with Frank Sinatra. They shared a mutual friend in actor Peter Lawford, whose wife Patricia was the sister of President John F. Kennedy, and his brother Bobby.
Monroe was offered the lead in a big-screen adaptation of Goodbye Charlie, but turned it down. (Debbie Reynolds would ultimately play the role created by Bacall, opposite Tony Curtis.) In 1962 she began filming Something’s Got to Give with another Rat Pack alumni, Dean Martin. Although Marilyn had been impressed by Nunnally Johnson’s screenplay, she became disillusioned after director George Cukor recruited another writer.
The production was fraught with problems, and Marilyn was later fired. She embarked on what would be her final battle with Twentieth Century-Fox. Plans were afoot to resume shooting that autumn, with Jean Negulesco – who had directed her in Millionaire – replacing Cukor at the helm. But this victory came too late for Marilyn, who died of an overdose in August.
Robards was cast in the lead role in After the Fall (1964), Arthur Miller’s first play in eight years. It would be the inaugural production at the Lincoln Center, founded by Miller and Elia Kazan, who also directed the play. After the Fall was perhaps Miller’s most personal work, dealing frankly with the collapse of his marriage to Monroe. The critic Robert Brustein condemned the play as ‘an act of exhibitionism which makes us all voyeurs,’ and defenders of Marilyn were appalled.
‘The Lincoln Centre people did not live up to their promise of no commercialism,’ Bacall reflected. ‘Miller sold serial rights to the play to a magazine, the television rights too – movies too, I think – making a fortune. Here was Jason working his tail off, getting practically no money for an ideal that was being crashed to the ground.’
Their own marriage was also suffering, partly because of Jason’s alcoholism. Bacall resumed her movie career, starring alongside Paul Newman in Harper (1965), ‘a kind of suspense film patterned after The Big Sleep.’ She played a spinster who poses as her boss’s wife in the hit Broadway comedy, Cactus Flower. Although the play enjoyed a three-year run, Bacall was bitterly disappointed to learn she would be replaced by Ingrid Bergman when it was adapted for the screen.
She agreed to co-operate with Joe Hyams on a biography of Bogart. ‘The Bogie cult had begun,’ she remarked. ‘It was extraordinary that Bogie transcended generations, that the young could identify with him, recognise something in him that they admired and wanted to emulate.’ The same could be said of Marilyn Monroe’s enduring public appeal.
In 1968, Bacall endorsed Bobby Kennedy in his bid for the presidency. ‘Funny – I cared greatly about John Kennedy’s election, and worked for him, but I cared more about Bobby,’ she wrote. ‘Some who’d known him in Joseph McCarthy days and when Jack was President didn’t trust him. But I did – he had changed, had had the courage to change and the capacity.’
Bacall was devastated by Bobby’s assassination, and remained close to the Kennedy family – particularly the women – throughout her life. Her marriage to Robards ended in 1969, and a year later she took on her most demanding role to date. Applause was a musical version of All About Eve, the Broadway satire which had given Marilyn Monroe one of her first important roles. Bacall would win a Tony award for her performance as Margo Channing, the volatile stage diva played by Bette Davis in the 1950 film.
Bacall loved Paris, visiting whenever she could. In 1968 she filmed a television special in the city with Milton Greene, and formed a lasting friendship with designer Yves Saint Laurent. There would always be a close link between Bacall and the fashion world, culminating in her role in Robert Altman’s Prêt á Porter (1994.)
In 1978, Bacall starred with another Hollywood great – John Wayne – in what would be his last film, The Shootist. ‘He played a man who was dying of cancer and he was dying of cancer,’ she told CNN’s Larry King in 2005. ‘He never complained…he and I always got along extremely well. We never discussed politics, needless to say, but we really liked one another…He was surprising, you know, Duke.’
Her autobiography, By Myself, won a National Book Award. An updated version, Now, followed in 1994, and her final memoir, By Myself and Then Some (2005), added a new chapter to the original. Unlike many celebrity autobiographies, Bacall’s was completed without a ghost-writer.
Bacall would return to the stage in 1981, in a remake of Woman of the Year. This romantic comedy had first been filmed in 1942, with Hollywood’s other great couple – and her own long-term friends – Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Bacall would win a second Tony award for her role as Tess Harding, a television personality whose marriage to a cartoonist comes second to her career.
Verita Thompson, a Hollywood hairdresser and wigmaker, published her memoirs in 1982. In Bogie and Me, Thompson claimed to have had a thirteen-year affair with the actor, both before and after his marriage to Bacall. Her story has not been verified.
In 1985, Bacall revived another American classic in London’s West End. ‘Sweet Bird of Youth was a great high for me,’ she remembered, ‘first because I was able to speak the words of Tennessee Williams – a great poet and playwright – and because I was directed by Harold Pinter – another great playwright.’
She continued to appear in movies, including a supporting role in Misery, the 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about an invalid writer and his deranged nursemaid. Six years later, she won her first Oscar nomination for The Mirror Has Two Faces, also starring Barbara Streisand. She would be presented with a Lifetime Achievement award by the Academy in 2010.
In her late seventies, Bacall was offered a part in Dogville (2003), an experimental film directed by the controversial Danish filmmaker, Lars Von Trier, and starring Nicole Kidman. ‘I’d worked with the one director I considered to be close to genius status, John Huston,’ she commented. ‘Lars was a horse of an entirely different colour…The result was a controversial – Lars is always controversial, a good thing and he’s never dismissed, also a good thing – but very interesting and worthwhile movie.’
Bacall and Kidman also appeared in Manderlay, the second film in Von Triers’ ‘U.S. Trilogy’ (although both films were produced in Europe.) Bacall grew close to the younger actress, and they went on play mother and daughter in Jonathan Glazer’s Birth (2004.)
‘We were in Venice for Birth at the film festival,’ Bacall told Larry King. ‘And one of the journalists said, you’re an icon and Nicole Kidman’s an icon, and what do you think about that? And I said, why do you have to burden her with the category?’
King also asked Bacall about Marilyn Monroe. ‘We had a great time on How to Marry a Millionaire,’ she replied. ‘She was late a lot. But she wasn’t late to make a statement, she was late because she was frightened and because she was insecure. And she had quite a lousy childhood, I think. And she – no, she was sweet. She was just always yearning for someone – a prince
on a white horse to take her away.’
In another 2005 interview – for Turner Classic Movies’ Private Screens – Bacall said of Monroe, ‘Fifty years on, we’re still watching her movies and talking about her. That’s not a dumb woman – trust me!’
Bacall played herself in a 2006 episode of the acclaimed HBO series, The Sopranos. Her final screen credit was a voiceover in a 2014 episode the hit animated series, Family Guy. Just before her death, she was rumoured to be considering a role in an adaptation of Trouble is My Business, a collection of short stories by Raymond Chandler (author of The Big Sleep.) The movie is set to be produced by Santana Films, a company led by Stephen Bogart, who now manages his father’s estate.
Lauren Bacall died on August 12, 2014, at her apartment in the Dakota Building, overlooking Central Park, where she had lived for over fifty years. She was 89, and had suffered a massive stroke.
Many obituaries mentioned that Bacall was the last Hollywood star mentioned in Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ to pass away. Another young singer, Lana Del Rey, has also been influenced by Bacall, featuring the ‘whistling scene’ from To Have and Have Not in an early homemade video. ‘She never let anyone [persuade] her to be something she wasn’t,’ Del Rey told Fashion magazine in 2013. ‘She was strong. She always looked like she knew what she was doing.’
‘The movie phenomenon known as Lauren Bacall took time to put together,’ the feminist author Germaine Greer wrote in a 2006 article for The Guardian. ‘When Bacall came into the limelight the war was still on, and women were still self-sufficient… These were women with their own agenda, who took risks knowingly, and took the consequences.’ But soon after the war ended, they were ‘back in the bedroom and the kitchen, working on the baby boom.’
As for the feisty Bacall, ‘nobody knew what to do with her…The Hawksian woman was an idea that flourished at a time of crisis, in the depression and during the war, when the full energies of women were needed if they were to survive. After the war she was supplanted by the female eunuch, weighed down with huge hair and false eyelashes, unequal to any
challenge – all things to all men and nothing to herself.’
By Tara Hanks
By Myself and Then Some, Lauren Bacall, 2005.
Legend: The Life and Death of Marilyn Monroe, Fred Lawrence Guiles, 1984.
‘Kirk Douglas Remembers Lauren Bacall’, Hollywood Reporter, 2014.
‘Interview With Lauren Bacall’, Larry King Live, 2005.
‘Siren Song’, Germaine Greer, The Guardian, 2006.