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lauren bacall
Associated Press

Happy Birthday, Lauren Bacall, Actress

September 16, 2010
by Isabel Cowles
Lauren Bacall got her start at age 19 as a sultry screen siren alongside future husband Humphrey Bogart, 25 years her senior. She went on to win Tony, Golden Globe and Lifetime Achievement Awards for her work in theater and film, as well as the National Book Award for one of her autobiographies.

Lauren Bacall's Early Days

Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on Sept. 16, 1924, the only child of Jewish immigrants. Her father, William Perske, worked as a salesman and her mother, Natalie Weinstein-Bacal, was a secretary. The pair divorced when Bacall was 6 years old and she lost contact with her father shortly thereafter. Bacall has admitted that being raised without a father influenced many of her romantic relationships; she had a predilection for dating older men.

Bacall spent her early childhood in Brooklyn, but she and her mother relocated to Manhattan after her parents’ divorce. Throughout high school, Bacall took acting classes on weekends. When she graduated, Bacall spent a year training at the New York School of the Theater. To make money, the aspiring actress took jobs as a model and at 19 she landed the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. The wife of famed filmmaker Howard Hawks spotted Bacall in the magazine and suggested she come to Hollywood for a screen test. Bacall was soon cast in Hawks’ “To Have and Have Not,” (1944) starring Humphrey Bogart.

Bacall's Notable Accomplishments

Bacall’s arresting presence on film as well as her famous line, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow,” in “To Have and Have Not,” assured her ascent to stardom. The romance that developed between Bacall and Bogart while shooting the film would shape the most successful period of her career. She and Bogart fell in love and became a romantic duo both on screen and off, making films like “The Big Sleep” (1946), “Dark Passage” (1947) and “Key Largo” (1948).

After her film debut in “To Have and Have Not,” writer Moss Hart said to Bacall, “You realize, of course, from here you have nowhere to go but down.” But Bacall’s career continued full-throttle until the late 1950s. She lost Bogart to cancer in 1957, and received disappointing reviews for “The Gift of Love” in 1958. Bacall returned to New York and mainly pursued theatrical opportunities during the next few decades, including “Cactus Flower,” “Applause” and “Women of the Year.” She has since alternated between film and theater and has received Oscar, BAFTA and Emmy nominations as well as several lifetime achievement awards, two Tony Awards and a National Book Award.

The Rest of the Story

In addition to a prolific career punctuated by film, television, stage and book awards, Bacall is famous for her dry wit. British actress Maggie Smith, one of Bacall’s closest friends, once told the press that Bacall taught her how to live alone after losing her husband. According to Smith, “[Bacall] has always said living alone is not as bad as living with someone you can't stand.”

When her updated autobiography, “By Myself and Then Some,” was published in 2005, CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell profiled Bacall. Among other topics, she discussed her relationship with Humphrey Bogart. When the two met, Bacall was 19, Bogart 45. “He was very apprehensive about the age difference. But it didn’t bother me. I thought we suited one another perfectly,” she said. According to Mitchell, “Audiences fell in love with how in love they were. So much so that even today … Bacall is still, at least publicly, defined by the that romance.” But Bacall resists that assumption: “Is that the only thing that my life has meant? I don't think so.”

In fact, Bacall went on to have several romances after Bogart’s death: the first to family friend Frank Sinatra, although the engagement between them did not end in marriage. Bacall did eventually marry again, to Jason Robards, with whom she had a son, actor Sam Robards. But the pair divorced after eight years; according to Bacall, “We shared a love of the theatre and we had the same sense of humor. But he had a terrible monkey on his back, he was an alcoholic.”

Bacall also talked with Charlie Rose about “By Myself and Then Some,” and a video of the broadcast is available on the show’s Web site. She told Rose, “I think everyone has a story to begin with. I don’t think there’s anyone who could not write a book about their life if they told the truth about the beginnings … Obviously as long as I’m breathing, there’s an unfinished story.”

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