NEW YORK – Lauren Bacall, the actress whose provocative glamour elevated her to stardom in Hollywood’s golden age and whose lasting mystique put her on a plateau in American culture that few stars reach, died Tuesday. She was 89.
Her death was confirmed by Robbert de Klerk, the co-managing partner with her son Stephen Bogart at the Humphrey Bogart Estate.
With an insinuating pose and a seductive, throaty voice – her simplest remark sounded like a jungle mating call, one critic said – Bacall shot to fame in 1944 with her first movie, Howard Hawks’ adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel “To Have and Have Not,” playing opposite Humphrey Bogart, who became her lover on the set and later her husband.
It was a smashing debut sealed with a handful of lines now engraved in Hollywood history.
“You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve,” her character says to Bogart’s in the movie’s most memorable scene. “You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”
The film was the first of more than 40 for Bacall, among them “The Big Sleep” and “Key Largo” with Bogart, “How to Marry a Millionaire” with Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable, “Designing Woman” with Gregory Peck, the all-star “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974) and, later in her career, Lars von Trier’s “Dogville” (2003) and “Manderlay” (2005) and Robert Altman’s “Pret-a-Porter” (1994).
But few if any of her movies had the impact of her first – or of that one scene. Indeed, her film career was a story of ups, downs and long periods of inactivity. Although she received an honorary Academy Award in 2009 “in recognition of her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures,” she was not nominated for an Oscar until 1997.
The theater was kinder to her. She won Tonys for her starring roles in two musicals adapted from classic films: “Applause” (1970), based on “All About Eve,” and “Woman of the Year” (1981), based on the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn movie of the same name. Earlier she starred on Broadway in the comedies “Goodbye, Charlie” (1959) and “Cactus Flower” (1965).
She also won a National Book Award in 1980 for the first of her two autobiographies, “Lauren Bacall: By Myself.”
She expressed impatience, especially in her later years, with the public and the media’s continuing fascination with her romance with Bogart, even though she frequently said that their 12-year marriage was the happiest period of her life.
“I think I’ve damn well earned the right to be judged on my own,” she said in a 1970 interview with the New York Times. “It’s time I was allowed a life of my own, to be judged and thought of as a person, as me.”
Years later, however, she seemed resigned to being forever tied to Bogart and expressed annoyance that her later marriage to another leading actor, Jason Robards Jr., was often overlooked.
“My obit is going to be full of Bogart, I’m sure,” she told Vanity Fair magazine in a profile of her in March 2011, adding: “I’ll never know if that’s true. If that’s the way, that’s the way it is.”
Bacall was an 18-year-old model in New York when her face on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar caught the eye of Howard Hawks’ wife. Brought to Hollywood and taken under the Hawkses’ wing, she won the role in “To Have and Have Not,” loosely based on the novel of the same name.
She played Marie Browning, known as Slim, an American femme fatale who becomes romantically involved with Bogart’s jaded fishing-boat captain, Harry Morgan, known as Steve, in wartime Martinique. Her deep voice and the seductive way she looked at Bogart attracted attention.
Bacall harbored a lasting, painful regret over an action she did not take during her early relationship with Hawks. After he had made a disparaging remark about Jews, Bacall, who was Jewish, said nothing.
“I was afraid to – a side of myself I have never liked or been proud of – a side that was always there,” she recalled.
During her romance with Bogart, she asked him if it mattered to him that she was Jewish. His answer, she later wrote, was “Hell, no – what mattered to him was me, how I thought, how I felt, what kind of person I was, not my religion, he couldn’t care less – why did I even ask?”
Bacall’s love affair with Bogart began with an impulsive kiss. While filming “To Have and Have Not,” he had stopped at her trailer to say good night when he suddenly leaned over, lifted her chin and kissed her. He was 25 years her senior and married at the time to Mayo Methot, his third wife. But to Bacall, “he was the man who meant everything in the world to me; I couldn’t believe my luck.”
Bogart returned to his wife several times before he accepted that the marriage could not be saved. He and Bacall were married on May 21, 1945, at Malabar Farm in Lucas, Ohio, the home of Bogart’s close friend the writer Louis Bromfield. Bogart was 45; Bacall was 20.
Shortly after Bogart’s death in 1956, Bacall, by then 32, had a widely publicized but brief romance with Frank Sinatra, who had been a close friend of the Bogarts. She moved to New York in 1958 and, three years later, married Robards, settling in at a spacious apartment in the Dakota, on Central Park West, where she continued to live until her death. They had a son, actor Sam Robards, and were divorced in 1969.