There are two kinds of movie stars we love. There are those we look up to and want to be, the Hepburns and Bogarts of the world. Then you have those you think you could be, who are relatable and easier to make eye contact with.
It’s been a rough couple of years for the latter category. Both Ernest Borgnine and Jack Klugman, the kind of everymen you could admire and emulate, died in 2012.
Flash forward to last Tuesday, we lost another great one when a woman known to her friends as Betty left us.
Born Betty Perske in the Bronx, Lauren Bacall was first and foremost a fan. Her autobiography, titled “By Myself,” opens with her professing an endless love for both Bette Davis and Leslie Howard.
Calling Davis her “fifteen-year-old idea of perfection,” Bacall would cut school to watch Dark Victory and other Davis pictures, all the while smoking in the theater balcony. Bacall’s mother would eventually punish her … for the smoking.
Bacall’s feelings for Howard were shared by her future husband Humphrey Bogart, who got his first big break in The Petrified Forrest thanks to Howard’s support. The couple would later name their daughter after him.
While in high school, Bacall actually met Davis before seeking theater work and eventually moving to Hollywood. Trembling, ignoring her tea for fear of spilling it in front of the “Queen,” Bacall listened as Davis offered sympathy and advice.
“Well, be sure [acting is] really what you want to do with your life,” Davis said. “It’s hard work and it’s lonely.”
While her autobiography was called “By Myself,” I would hardly describe Bacall’s life as a lonely one. She kept constant company, either from family or from fame, and always had the support of fans and friends alike.
This will always be one of my favorite posters!
On that note, here are a few stories from Bacall’s autobiography I think you’ll enjoy:
-She helped keep Kirk Douglas clothed
While attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1940, Bacall would look forward to the weekly plays put on by the senior class. One handsome figure who caught her eye was Kirk Douglas, attending the school on a scholarship. Douglas didn’t have much money, even telling Bacall he once spent a night in jail because he had no place to sleep. After finding out that Douglas only had one coat in his wardrobe, Bacall convinced her uncle to give him a spare one so he wouldn’t freeze during the winter. She even sewed a loose button back on the coat.
-Got over a career setback with help from Abraham Lincoln
One of Bacall’s first adventures outside of New York City was performing in a production of Franklin Street in Washington, D.C. One night she got a call from Burgess “Buzz” Meredith (whom she had met previously in NYC) asking if she’d ever seen the Lincoln Memorial. She said no and immediately accepted his invitation to give her a tour.
“I hung up, jumped up and down like a child with a great new toy,” Bacall said. “Buzz was there! He must just like me a little bit.”
Meredith had a horse and buggy waiting for Bacall at her hotel and the two visited both the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. The following night, Bacall found out that Franklin Street would end its run in D.C. and not continue back to NYC. Devastated, Bacall went back to the Lincoln Memorial for comfort.
-Was Bogie’s designated driver before marrying him
Before her death, Bacall lamented that too often people think her life revolved around her marriage to Bogart. While I’d like to keep the focus on her, it’s hard not to include at least one Bogart story in this line-up.
After falling in love with Bogart while filming To Have and Have Not, Bacall received a drunk phone call from him at four in the morning. “I’m walking back to town,” Bogart said. “Come and get me – I’ll be on Highway 101.”
Bacall, who had only recently learned to drive, rushed through the rain in the dark and found Bogie just around sunrise, “unshaven, wearing espadrillas, and with a large sunflower in his lapel.”
He could have said please.
-Bacall wasn’t impressed by Clark Gable
Producer/director Howard Hawks tried to dissuade Bacall from seeing Bogart, so much so that he and his wife Slim set her up with Clark Gable.
“He was dazzling to look at, but he stirred me not a bit,” Bacall said. “I tried to flirt a little, tried to be attached to him – but it didn’t work. He was just a pleasant terrific-looking man without an overabundance of humor who had incredible dimples and was named Clark Gable.”
There was more life in Bacall’s relationship with Gable’s Gone with the Wind co-star Vivien Leigh. While Bacall was visiting Paris in the 60s, Leigh, with “manic energy and total inability to sleep” threw a party for her. Expecting only a gathering of friends, Bacall was surprised to hear that Leigh had invited a few hundred people and took over a nightclub to host the get-together.
-She had the best “Looney Tunes” cameos