WEIRDLAND: Immortal Lauren Bacall (R.I.P.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Immortal Lauren Bacall (R.I.P.)

If the sun was shining, I wanted to be outside. If it rained, I wanted to be watching a Bette Davis film. I was a good student – not summa cum laude, mind you, but able to get through well without too much effort. What mattered was that Saturday mornings I took classes at the New York School of the Theatre. Mother agreed that I could go and that was what I got through the week for. There I had my first taste of improvisation, of memorizing scenes, playing parts of all ages. And I was continuing my dancing lessons. My last year at school I studied ballet with a great old Russian dancer, Mikhail Mordkin, who had been Pavlova’s partner on many of her tours.

One Saturday morning in 1942, Mother and Rosalie took me to the Capitol Theatre to see a movie called Casablanca. We all loved it, and Rosalie was mad about Humphrey Bogart. I thought he was good in it, but mad about him? Not at all. She thought he was sexy. I thought she was crazy. Mother liked him, though not as much as she liked Chester Morris, who she thought was really sexy – or Ricardo Cortez, her second favorite. I couldn’t understand Rosalie’s thinking at all. Bogart didn’t vaguely resemble Leslie Howard. So much for my judgment at that time.

Just after Christmas I was called to the studio by Howard Hawks and he gave me the only present I wanted from life. It was a scene from To Have and Have Not . He was going to make the movie – he had Bogart – it would start in February 1944, and he wanted me to test for it right after the first of the year. I read the scene – it was the ‘whistle’ scene. I was on cloud ten – a very high, comfortable cloud, far from reality. I walked to the door of Bogart’s room, said, ‘Anybody got a match?,’ leaned against the door, and Bogart threw me a small box of matches. I lit my cigarette, looking at him, said ‘Thanks,’ threw the matches back to him, and left. Well – we rehearsed it. My hand was shaking – my head was shaking – the cigarette was shaking. I was mortified. The harder I tried to stop, the more I shook.

I found out very quickly that day what a terrific man Bogart was. He did everything possible to put me at ease. He was on my side. I felt safe – I still shook, but I shook less. He was not even remotely a flirt. So To Have and Have Not transformed me from a nothing to a combination of Garbo, Dietrich, Mae West, Katharine Hepburn. I was the greatest discovery since… I made Bogart sit up and take notice … I was a new face to deal with on the screen … I was the answer … Hooray! So proclaimed the press. I was everything Howard Hawks had always wanted. My name would be on everyone’s lips all over the country, my words would be immortal – my God, what was I going to do about the me that was buried beneath all that, the me that I was stuck with, that was real?

A funny thing happened to my career after the first few years of being Mrs Bogart. Funny-peculiar. Everyone thought I was terrific personally, but they stopped thinking of me as an actress. I was Bogie’s wife, gave great dinners, parties, but work was passed over. It was very frustrating. I wanted my career to go on. From the beginning Bogie had made it clear that he would It became apparent to me that, overjoyed as I was to be Mrs Bogart, I had no intention of allowing Miss Bacall to slide into oblivion.-"By Myself and Then Some" (2010) by Lauren Bacall

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