Lauren Bacall

Style icon, wife of Humphrey Bogart and the 20th greatest female actress of Old Hollywood

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Lauren Bacall is not only the wife of Humphrey Bogart, but also the 20th greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema. 



Betty Joan Perske was born on September 16, 1924 in the Bronx, New York to Jewish parents of Romanian and Belarus origins. Her parents divorced, when Betty was only five years old and would not see her father again. Through her father though she was related to Shimon Peres, prime minister and president of Israel. He was her cousin. 

Her mother worked as a secretary and changed both her own name as well as that of Betty to Bacal, which is the Romanian version of her maiden name Weinstein. 

Betty was able to attend a private school for girls, the Highland Manor Boarding School for Girls in Tarrytown, as well as Julia Richman High School thanks to a wealthy uncle providing the means to pay for tuition. 

When she was 16, she took up acting lessons at the American Academy of Dramatic Art ins New York, which led to her stage debut in 1942 as a walk-on. But, she also worked as an usher at at New York’s St. James Theatre and as a fashion model in stores. Her modeling career as a teenage model also to Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue covers. She was discovered for Harper’s Bazaar in a club by Nicolas de Gunzburg, editor at Harper’s Bazaar, who then introduced Betty to Diana Vreeland, which resulted in a Louise Dahl-Wolfe photoshoot which resulted in the Harper’s Bazaar cover, which in turn caught the attention of „Slim“ Keith, the wife of Hollywood director Howard Hawks. 

Instant Hollywood Success

At that time, Howard Hawks was working on ‚To Have and Have Not‘ with Humphrey Bogart and was still searching for a female lead. ‚Slim‘ urged him to do a screen-test with Betty. Upon seeing her and screen-testing her, Hawks immediately sign her to a seven-year contract and took on the role of her manager as well. Her name was changed from Betty to Lauren and her last name Bacal became a second ‚L’. One of the training elements was for Bacal to deepen her voice as it was naturally high-pitched and nasal. She had to train for hours daily – finally resulting in her trademark deep voice. Another trademark sign that was formed during the screen-test for Bacal’s solution for keeping her trembling under control was pressing her chin down and looking up. This was what would become known as „The Look“. ‚Slim‘ took on the role of introducing Betty to fashion, style and manners. 

‚To Have and Have Not‘ made Lauren Bacall an instant star and influenced culture, fashion and other actresses. One of the next movies Bacall was cast in was ‚The Big Sleep‘, which made Bacall an icon of film noirs and she would repeatedly play characters like that of Vivian – mysterious, independent, sultry. Her third and fourth pairing with husband Bogart in ‚Dark Passage‘ and ‚Key Largo‘ cemented her on-screen character. 

Her first CinemaScope comedy ‚How to Marry a Millionaire‘ in 1953 co-starring Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable was a critical and commercial hit. As Alton Cook puts it: „(…)she takes complete control of every scene with her acid delivery of viciously witty lines.“

Bacall appeared in numerous films throughout the 1940s and 1950s – co-starring with Charles Boyer, Richard Widmark, Lilian Gish, Rock Hudson and Gregory Peck. 

Later Movies

In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Lauren Bacall did not do many Hollywood movies, but focused on Broadway first. The films that Lauren Bacall did do were star-studded ensembles like ‚Sex and the Single Girl‘, ‚Harper‘ and ‚Murder on the Orient Express‘ with such illustrious costars like Henry Fonda, Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Paul Newman, Shelley Winters, Julie Harris, Robert Wagner, Janet Leigh, Ingrid Bergman, Albert Finney, Vanessa Redgrave and Sean Connery. In the 1970s, Bacall made just one movie, in the 1980s four – The Fan in 1981, Appointment with Death in 1988, Tree of Hands in 1989 and Dinner at Eight in a television adaptation. 

Career Resurgence in the 1990s

In the 1990s, Lauren Bacall got more active in the movies, appearing in ‚Misery‘, ‚A Star for Two, *All I want for Chirstmas*, Robert Altman’s ‚Pret-a-Porter‘ and ‚The Mirror Has Two Faces‘. She was actually nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the latter, but lost to Juliette Binoche for ‚The English Patient‘. 

In the 2000s, Bacall was cast in high-profile projects such as ‚Dogville‘, ‚Birth‘ and ‚The Walker‘ and made a cameo appearance on the Sopranos. Her final movie role was in ‚The Forger‘ co-starring Josh Hutchinson and Hayden Panettiere. Afterwards she only did voice work. 

Honoring her dedication and work, Lauren Bacall received the Katherine Hepburn Medal in 2006 as well as an honorary Academy Award in 2009. 

Humphrey Bogart

Although I am a huge fan of Lauren Bacall, her voice, her roles and her acting, I have to admit that her private life is even more interesting than her movies and her acting career. 

Fun fact: Lauren Bacall dated Kirk Douglas when she attended lessons at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. 

But, obviously, she is mostly known as being the wife of Hollywood star Humphrey Bogart They fell in love during the filming of ‚To Have and Have Not‘ and started an affair some weeks into the shooting despite Bogart being married to Mayo Methot – and married two months after the divorce. If you want to know more about that and haven’t done so already, listen to last week’s podcast on Humphrey Bogart. 

The interesting thing about the Bacall-Bogart pairing is that they had instant chemistry and true love for each other. Although the age difference was gigantic – She was 20 years of age when they go married, he was 25 years her senior. She was hardly experiences and did not have the chance to make all the experiences one is supposed to make in their 20s. Bogart on the other hand had sown his oats and took on the role of the teacher at first – bringing this young starlet into a life of fame. 

I want to quote a very great quote from a 2006 interview with Parade Magazine: „I’ve always wanted a sense of belonging to something, a terrible need for affection, for someone to care about me,” she began. “Bogie did care about me, more than any man I’ve ever known. He was so sweet and funny and original and very intelligent. He was a whole tremendous world to me. Why wouldn’t I have gone crazy over him? Bogie was a real last-century guy, a total prude, so old-fashioned you wouldn’t believe it. He had enormous character. A sense of honor and truth was essential to him.”

They had two adorable children – Stephen Humphrey Bogart, born in 1949 and Lesley Howard Bogart, born in 1952. Fun side fact: Lesley Howard Bogart later married Erich Schiffman, who you probably do not know, but he is called the inventor of the modern Yoga as we practice it in the Western world these days. One of the earlier Westerners that sought more information on the practice and brought it back to the West. He has taught Yoga for more than 40 years and published books. 

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart stayed married until Bogart’s death from esophageal cancer in 1957. Bacall stayed with him all the way trough, lying next to him and caring for him. But that’s not the end of Bacall’s romantic endeavors. 

Adlai Stevenson

During her marriage to Bogart, Bacall was seriously infatuated and at least emotionally unfaithful to Humphrey Bogart with Adlai Stephenson. He was the Democratic candidate in the presidential campaigns of 1952 and 1956 and lost both elections to Dwight D. Eisenhower. How did that infatuation look like?

Well, both Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were rather political and had taken sides when the anti-communism activities took place in Hollywood. They both supported the Democratic candidate and accompanied him on California campaign stops. As 28 year old Bacall was so enthralled by campaigning with Stephenson, she also rejoined him at Madison Square Garden in New York. She got very close him and rather competitive, also wanting to be by his side – which on the one hand was gladly accepted by Stephenson, but on the other hand was met with hostility from his sister Buffie Ives. Because Stephenson was divorced and, of course, the American public was hesitant about a divorced president. So, Buffie tried to keep Lauren Bacall at a distance to quiet the rumors. But she did not manage to keep them apart. 

By the end of the campaign Bacall was basically in love with Stephenson – I quote from the biography „Bogie & Bacall“ by William J. Mann: He „needed a wife, someone to share his life with.“  “I fantasized that I would be a long-distance partner . . . a good friend he could feel free to talk with about anything.“ “Until Adlai Stevenson, I was a perfectly happy woman with a husband whom I loved—a beautiful son and daughter—some success in my work—a beautiful home—money—not a care in the world.“ 

When they were going back to LA, she notes “I was far away from Bogie, my thoughts on the man I had left behind.“

But this was not the end of it. They kept in contact, Bacall going to all soirees that Stephenson was giving, Bacall even crossed the country for a chance to spend an evening with Stephenson. She even accompanied Stevenson to Palm Springs where she was included in all his activities – Bogie on shoot for a movie, her kids with nursemaids. If anything ever happened between the two – it probably was there. 

But shortly after she realized that she was not the only woman he flirted with and caught him with another woman. This ended Bacall’s fantasy and she returned home to Bogie and her two wonderful kids. 

Frank Sinatra

Lauren Bacall had one other serious infatuation – and that was with Humphrey Bogart’s Rat Pack friend Frank Sinatra. Apparently, this infatuation started when Humphrey Bogart was still alive, but became more prominent after his death. As with Stevenson, Bacall started fantasizing that underneath the outer layer, there was a loyal man who needed and wanted a wife, a home, a life. But, actually, that was true neither of Stevenson nor Sinatra. 

And – maybe it was also the glamour and the mystery, the bad boy image of Sinatra with his ties to the mob that fascinated her. She wanted to be with him and it was no secret anymore. The gossip was everywhere. They were an item. They were together and went most everywhere together. 

But whenever there were rumors or magazine headlines bringing up the rumor of marriage, Sinatra would disappear for undefined periods of time and re-appear suddenly without explanation. Apparently, he did not like to be controlled and resented whenever Bacall made any plans and sometimes did not even acknowledge her presence. He did explain it with his bad break-up from Hollywood star Ava Gardner that he was uncomfortable getting too close to someone again. Still, the treatment he gave Bacall was disgusting.

Nevertheless, at one point though, Sinatra proposed marriage to Bacall. They were deliriously happy and called up fellow Rat Pack member and friend Swifty Lazar to celebrate out dining at a Japanese restaurant. But they agreed to not tell anyone of the engagement. So far so good. 

While Sinatra was away performing, Louella Parson’s got wind of the story and published it in the Examiner – a full-page news spread, not a note in the gossip column. So, as Louella Parson never made up stories and always had backing for all her news, it is quite possible that Bacall herself had in one way or another told Parsons. 

The fact though is that Sinatra got news of all the stories and fumed, called Bacall, accused her of trying to nail him down and that he wanted to end the engagement. And so he did. He ditched her then and there on the phone. The story he and his publicists wanted was that Bacall was a man-hungry widow trying to snatch another A-Lister and the story Bacall wants everybody to believe is that she did not do anything wrong and that it was Lazar actually that had blown the secret.

Nevertheless, the damage was done and Bacall was deeply affected by the split-up and sought solace in Europe and then in New York on the stage – avoiding Hollywood, avoiding Sinatra. That was in 1958, when Bacall was only 34 years old.

Second marriage

So, Bacall ran away from Hollywood basically and sought solace in Europe, in New York and on Broadway – where she met stage actor Jason Robards in 1961 and married him. The same year, their son Sam Robards was born, who would also go on to become an actor. The marriage of Bacall and Robards was mostly unhappy because of Robard’s alcoholism and his absence from home. As Bacall puts it in an interview: „We were a mismatch.“ So that’s that. 

After 8 years, the marriage was divorced and they parted ways. 


One of Lauren Bacall’s closest friends was Katherine Hepburn – their friendship lasting more than 50 years. And it actually was Hepburn that advised Bacall to leave Jason Robards for good. This was the friendship more important to Bacall than any other. 

They bonded when Hepburn shot African Queen in the Belgian Congo with Bogart. Bacall accompanied them and the ordeal bonded Hepburn and Bacall for life. 


Lauren Bacall is above all one of the style icons of Old Hollywood – that of effortless glamour. 

After the glamour of the 1920s and 1930s, she came in and was not overly sensual and voluptuous, but more androgynous, with angles and with attitude. Style-wise she was refined and elegant, advocated for clean lines. She would wear tailored suits, high-waisted trousers, turtlenecks and often bold glossy red lipstick. The focus was on the lines, the cuts and on her face – the look that made her so famous. 

With all my love!




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