Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bye Bye Betty

Lauren Bacall has died.  She was one of the last of the major Hollywood stars during WWII.

She was named Betty, but changed it for the movies.  She was a teenage model who appeared in Vogue in the 40s.  Slim Hawks, director Howard Hawks' wife, saw her picture and thought she had something.  He signed her up and she made one of the biggest debuts ever in pictures as the female lead in To Have And Have Not in 1944.

Though a novice, she more than held her own against Humphrey Bogart.  Hawks liked his women tough, and he decided her character would be even more insolent than Bogie's.  He had her go outside and scream to lower her voice.  She was so nervous during shooting that she held her head down and looked up, which just made the character looks tougher.

The most famous scene, where she asks him if he knows how to whistle, was written as an audition piece, but it worked so well Hawks put it in the film.  Hawks (though married) definitely had designs on her, but Bacall, to her surprise, fell for Bogart (also married).  Bogie got divorced and the two married in 1945.

She made three more films with Bogart, all in the 40s, The Big Sleep (also by Hawks--a great film, though it's more Bogie's than hers), Dark Passage and Key Largo--these films, more than any others, are the ones on which her fame rests, though I think the first two are far superior to the final two.  Bogart died in 1957, but by then she'd established herself on her own in films, with titles like Young Man With A Horn, How To Marry A Millionaire, Written On The Wind and Designing Woman.

She took time off in the 60s, and when she returned to films was generally playing the older woman. But she also had some hits on Broadway, starring in the comedy Cactus Flower in 1965 and the musical Applause (she wasn't a great singer but she managed) in 1970. She'd come back in another hit musical, Woman Of The Year, in 1981.  She won Tonys for those last two shows.

Meanwhile, she was now a grand old dame in the cinema, appearing in films like The Shootist and Murder On The Orient Express. She wrote a fine autobiography, By Myself, in the 80s.  In her final decades she was a living legend, but the kind who works regularly. She was in movies and TV up till the end, sometimes in big Hollywood productions like The Mirror Has Two Faces--for which she received an Oscar nomination--sometimes in art films like Dogville.  One of her more memorable appearances in later years was playing herself on The Sopranos in "Luxury Lounge"--she gets mugged by Christopher.  She won an honorary Oscar in 2010.

She had a long and varied career. But I think she'll always be remembered and the young woman who taught Bogart to whistle.


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