By Myself and Then Some
By Lauren Bacall
506 pages, $26.95
The title of Lauren Bacall's autobiography, "By Myself and Then Some" is literal. This is a reissue of "By Myself," her acclaimed 1979 autobiography, updated with "and Then Some," her account of the 26 years of her life since then.
"By Myself" would make a great movie starring a single-minded aspiring young actress whose divorced mother raised her and supported her pursuit of her dreams unconditionally.
Bacall was working as an usher in a New York theater when she was invited to come to Hollywood for a screen test. Director Howard Hawks, who was looking for the next big actress, tapped Bacall to make her film debut opposite Humphrey Bogart in "To Have and Have Not." At her screen test, Hawks discovered "the Look" -- the sultry head-down-and-eyes-up pose Bacall would become famous for, created when Bacall kept her chin down to make her nervous shaking less noticeable.
The 18-year-old unknown was soon the biggest thing in Hollywood, not only on marquees but in the tabloids, when her leading man, 25 years her senior, left his wife for her.
Because Betty Bacall (the studio renamed her Lauren) was a dear friend and confidant of some of the most legendary names in entertainment -- Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Dorothy Parker, Cary Grant and Harold Arlen -- the book is full of delightful stories, including her first encounter with Katharine Hepburn while Bogart was filming "The African Queen." Though Hepburn was at first standoffish, the two would become lifelong friends.
Bogart is a central figure in the book, just as he was in her life. Her writing about their life together pops off the page. Because she has captured the essence of Bogart so beautifully on the page, her account of his illness and its devastating impact on Bacall and their young children is tragic reading.
They never discussed his illness or the possibility of his death, and although he was weakening daily, he never actually believed he was going to die. When he did, Bacall plunged into grief.
There is one light moment in this sad episode. When Bacall requested donations to the Cancer Society in lieu of flowers for Bogart's funeral, she received a telegram from a florists' association which read "Do we say don't go to Lauren Bacall movies?"
Bacall explains her bizarre romance with Frank Sinatra after Bogie's death as a long friendship evolved into an unsettling, if exciting, romance, in which she never quite knew where she stood. In retrospect, she acknowledges she was in a post-traumatic state so soon after Bogart's death.
After Sinatra proposed to her, his buddy Swifty Lazar leaked the news to the omnipresent gossip columnists of the time. Believing that Bacall was the one to leak the news, Sinatra unceremoniously dumped her, causing Bacall tremendous anguish. Realizing the relationship would never have worked, she spent the next few years immersing herself in her career and children before marrying actor Jason Robards in 1961.
Because of the extraordinary nature of Bacall's early life, "By Myself" is a tough act to follow. Sadly, much of the new section is devoted to remembrances of actors who have died since her memoirs first appeared -- Katharine Hepburn, Alistair Cooke, Roddy McDowall, Gregory Peck and John Gielgud. This is not surprising for an actress of her standing or a woman of her age. Her beloved friends are passing away and she wants to pay tribute to them, but one eulogy after another does make for some somber reading.
"And Then Some" has some lighter moments -- Bacall's enjoyment of her work on "The Mirror Has Two Faces" with Barbra Streisand as her director and her subsequent Academy Award nomination. She also describes her experience on "Dogville" and "Birth" with Nicole Kidman, but does not mention the controversy that erupted when she explained that Kidman was too young to be an icon.
Bacall knows whereof she speaks. She's more than an icon. She's a dame. Bogie would be proud.
Kathleen Rizzo Young is a frequent News contributor.