Remembering a Hollywood Legend
Yesterday, Hollywood lost yet another iconic figure, actress Lauren Bacall, who passed away at the age of 89. The husky-voiced actress was considered one of the greatest actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on September 16, 1924 in the Bronx, New York. She was the only child of Natalie Weinstein-Bacal, who later legally changed her surname to Bacall, and William Perske. Both of her parents were Jewish. Her mother emigrated from Romania through Ellis Island and her father was born in New Jersey to Polish-born parents. She was also a first cousin to Shimon Peres, the ninth President of Israel.
The Perske (Persky) family in the 1930 U.S. census in New York (click to view full record)
After her parents divorced, Lauren took her mother’s last name, Bacal. Here she is in the 1940 U.S. Census under the name Betty Bacal.
1940 U.S. census record (click to view full record)
She was 15 and living with her mother, Natalie, and her grandmother Sophia. Note her grandmother is marked as the head of the household, and she is incorrectly listed as “daughter.”
A teen model, Bacall’s appearance on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar caught the eye of director/producer Howard Hawks’s wife, Nancy. After some persuading from his wife, Hawks signed Bacall to a seven-year personal contract and changed her first name to “Lauren.” She took the Romanian form of her mother’s last name, “Bacall.” At 19, she made her big screen debut in the film To Have and Have Not opposite star Humphrey Bogart. It was on the set of To Have and Have Not that she developed her signature gesture, dubbed “The Look.” To minimize her nervousness and calm her quivering, Bacall would begin each take with her chin pressed against her chest, and tilt her eyes upward at the beginning of the shot. The sultry look would become her trademark and launch her reputation as one of the most sought after leading ladies in film noir.
Marriage certificate for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Although Bogart was still married to Mayo Methot, the couple began seeing each other offscreen. Despite their 25-year age difference, the pair married on May 21, 1945 at Malabar Farm, the country home of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield, in Lucas, Ohio.
Check out this archival clip from Paramount of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s wedding.
The couple had two children, a son, Stephen, and a daughter, Leslie. They remained married until Bogart’s death from esophageal cancer in 1957.
In 1961, she married actor Jason Robards, Jr., however the marriage ended in divorce in 1969 largely due to Robards’ alcoholism. They had one son.
As her movie career waned in the 1960s, Bacall starred in several Broadway shows, winning two Tony Awards for her performances. She continued to work later in life and earned her first Academy Award nomination in 1997 for her role in The Mirror Has Two Faces.
On August 12, 2014, Bacall died in her longtime home in New York after suffering a stroke.
Ranked one of the top actresses of all time, Bacall made a number of notable films throughout her career, including How to Marry a Millionaire, The Big Sleep and Key Largo. What was your favorite film?