Lauren Bacall was one of Hollywood's most enduring actors with a career spanning almost 70 years
Lauren Bacall was born as Betty Joan Perske on September 16 1924 in The Bronx, New York. She’s the only child of Jewish immigrants, William Perske (a relative of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres) and Natalie Weinstein-Bacall. Her parents divorced when she was six-years-old.
Lauren took lessons at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts whilst working as a theatre usher and fashion model. She was spotted by Howard Hawks' wife on the cover of Harper's Bazaar and her film debut followed, at the age of 19, opposite Humphrey Bogart in 'To Have and Have Not'. Howard Hawks had already signed Lauren to a seven-year contract and took control of her career, his wife, Nancy, took Lauren under her wing and was paramount in shaping her look. It was Nancy that suggested Lauren had her voice trained to be lower -a feature that came to play an enormous role in her appeal.
Lauren married Bogart, 25 years her senior, in 1945. In the same year she appeared in the critically panned ‘Confidential Agent’ but a year later the couple were successfully cast opposite each other again in Raymond Chandler’s classic ‘The Big Sleep’. Their on-screen chemistry was irresistible and the pair appeared together in 1947’s ‘Dark Passage’ and John Huston's melodrama 'Key Largo', which gave Lauren the chance to portray her vulnerable, feminine side.
Like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich before her, Lauren's sulky, androgynous beauty made for an interesting variety of roles, from the femme fatale in 'Young Man with a Horn', to the whimsical, 'How to Marry a Millionaire' right through to the distraught wife in Douglas Sirk’s underrated 1956 tear-jerker 'Written on the Wind'.
Despite her successes during the peak of her career, from the mid-1940’s to the late 1950’s, Lauren was sometimes off the screen for several years at a time. She earned a reputation for being difficult after rejecting scripts that didn’t interest her, opting to spend time with her family and Bogart, by now suffering from Cancer of the Oesophagus.
Bogart’s deteriorating health required a great deal of attention, but, in 1957, Lauren starred alongside Gregory Peck in the comedy 'Designing Woman'. Shot during Bogart's last days her performance remains a testament to her professionalism.
For Lauren, the 1960s were a low period for screen activity but not without a few notable highs, namely, ‘Sex and the Single Girl’ with Henry Fonda, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood, and ‘Harper’ with Paul Newman and Shelley Winters. For most of the 60’s she was married to actor Jason Robards, with whom she had a son, but the marriage broke up after eight years largely on account of his alcoholism.
In the 1970’s Lauren returned briefly to the stage. She’d appeared in the 1959 Broadway production of ‘Goodbye, Charlie’ and ‘Cactus Flower’ in ’65 with some measure of success, but in 1970 she received a Tony for ‘Applause’ (she won a second Tony for ‘Woman of the Year’ in 1981) and won the Sarah Siddon award in ’72 (and again in 1984) for her work in the Chicago theatre.
In 1974, after an eight movie year hiatus, Lauren returned to the screen in the hugely entertaining 'Murder on the Orient Express'. In 1976 she co-starred in John Wayne’s moving final movie ‘The Shootist’ where she was nominated for a BAFTA.
In the 1980’s Lauren appeared in star vehicle 'The Fan', which was, unusually, poorly received. Subsequent movie roles have included turns in Robert Altman's 'H.E.A.L.T.H.', 'Appointment with Death' and 'Misery' playing James Caan’s literary agent. She re-teamed with Altman for 'Ready to Wear' ('Pret-a-Porter') suitably cast as a former fashion editor and worked alongside her son, Sam Robards.
In 1996, Bacall earned her first Oscar nomination, as Barbra Streisand's acerbic mother in 'The Mirror Has Two Faces'. She received a Golden Globe for best supporting actress and was nominated for a BAFTA in the same category.
Since 2000 Lauren has appeared in a diverse range of projects, ‘Dogville’ and ‘Birth’ both with Nicole Kidman, Paul Shrader’s 2007 effort ‘The Walker’, plus a handful of TV roles ranging from ‘The Sopranos’ to ‘Scooby-Doo’. She even featured in an episode of the wonderfully subversive ‘Family Guy.’
She was, without doubt, one of Hollywood’s all-time greats.
Lauren passed away on 12 August 2014 at the age of 89 after reportedly suffering a major stroke at her home in New York.