A note from Lindsey: This post is a combination of a tribute and a Star Spotlight. We lost Lauren Bacall last month, and at the time I wasn’t able to collect my thoughts properly. Prior to the news of her passing, I had two separate posts drafted for her — a birthday tribute to be posted today, and a Star Spotlight that would be posted a few months down the road. She has been a favorite of mine for years, though, so it is only fitting that we celebrate her 90th birthday extravagantly, with a very big post and a heavy dose of adoration.
Born Betty Joan Perske
Date of birth: September 16, 1924
Date of death: August 12, 2014
Betty Joan Perske didn’t become screen legend Lauren Bacall by accident. She did so through a sense of determine and drive which have made her an inspiration to many. Today, on what would have been her 90th birthday, we celebrate her life and career.
A teenager with a wish to make a proper actress of herself, Betty got her start in an not-so-unexpected place: working as an usher on Broadway. Having taken classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, she devoted all of her waking hours to the pursuit of her dream. If she couldn’t be on the stage just yet, she would at least keep herself in the Broadway environment, hence the ushering gig. She also worked as a model.
In 1942, billed as Betty Bacall, she finally got to step onto the stage. She had a small walk-on role in a play called “Johnny 2×4.” But this wasn’t her big break. The usher who had made it to the stage would become the model who made it to the screen.
Bacall posed for a now-famous Harper’s Bazaar cover in 1943, and it caught the attention of Howard Hawks’ wife, “Slim.” Hawks was in the process of casting a little film called To Have and Have Not starring Humphrey Bogart, which would become Lauren Bacall’s screen debut and would completely change her life.
And so, thanks to that Harper’s Bazaar cover, Betty got her Hollywood start. She also found love, with co-star Bogart. Bogart was married during the shooting of To Have and Have Not, but he soon divorced. Bogart and Bacall married in 1945 and remained so until his death in 1957. The couple made three more films together after To Have and Have Not: Key Largo, Dark Passage, and my personal favorite, The Big Sleep.
“When he saw me at the beginning of the day and when he called me on the telephone, his first words were always ‘Hello, Baby.’ My heart would literally pound… I couldn’t think of anything else – when I wasn’t with him I was thinking of him, or talking about him. One-track-minding with a vengeance.” -Bacall on the early stages of her relationship with Bogart in her autobiography, By Myself and Then Some
“There is hardly a day that passes that I don’t remember something he said to me. He used to say, ‘Long after I’m gone you’ll remember this.’ And I do. I remember it all.” -Bacall in introduction to Bogie: The Definitive Biography of Humphrey Bogart, 1966
Her romance with Bogart was a remarkable one, but it isn’t all she should be remembered for. After Bogart’s untimely death, Bacall persevered. She raised her children and eventually married again.
Most importantly, she continued acting. She pursued film and television roles as well as making a return to the stage. She took home two Tony awards for her starring roles in the stage musicals Applause and Woman of the Year. Even up until this year, she was still taking on projects. Her most recent credit was a guest spot voicing a character named Evelyn on the animated TV series Family Guy, and she had two film roles (one live-action and one animated) in 2012.
Ms. Bacall was many things — all at once an immense, enduring talent and an icon of a bygone era. She was a woman of great wit and fearlessness (despite the nerves that led her to create “The Look”), and she lived one heck of an extraordinary life. Happy birthday, Betty.
Best known for…
…her legendary on and off-screen romance with Humphrey Bogart
…her dramatic performances
…her husky voice
…giving “The Look”
…fangirling over Bette Davis
…being the “den mother” of the original Rat Pack
- Nominated for an Oscar for The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996). She won the SAG award and a Golden Globe for the same role.
- Received an honorary award from the Academy in 2009
- Received the Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes in 1993
- Nominated for two BAFTA awards (supporting actress for The Mirror Has Two Faces and best actress for 1976’s The Shootist)
- Received honorary/lifetime achievement awards from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the Cesar Awards and the Stockholm Film Festival
- Received a star on the Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960