Actress Lauren Bacall died this past week at the age of 89. Her decades of work on-stage and on- screen won her a loyal following, our critic David Edelstein offers this appreciation:
Whenever we lose a link to lustrous, black-and-white Hollywood, the world gets a little less bright, and it dimmed this past week with the loss of Lauren Bacall - actress, glamour icon and, for a time, devoted wife of Humphrey Bogart.
She was a Jewish girl from New York, born Betty Perske in 1924. Six years later, her father abandoned the family. Thirteen years after that, after appearing on the cover of Harper's Bazaar, she and her mother arrived in Hollywood at the behest of director Howard Hawks.
Bacall later said Hawks had wanted to find "a girl from nowhere" to mold into the ultimate "Hawks woman." A female with male assertiveness, who gives as good as she gets.
He hit pay dirt in 1944 when he cast Betty, whose name he changed to Lauren, opposite Bogart in "To Have and Have Not."
She was tall, feline, insolent and that husky purr made her seem the opposite of what she really was: a scared, 19-year-old virgin who inadvertently created "The Look" -- head down, chin low, eyes up at Bogart, to keep herself from trembling.
Bogie and Bacall had a teasing intimacy.
She was an instant sensation. Playwright Moss Hart told her, half seriously, it would be downhill from there, and he was kind of right.
She never burned a hole in the screen like that again, though she came close with Hawks and Bogart as a sultry rich girl in "The Big Sleep," with dialogue rich in censor-dodging double entendres.
Bacall and Bogart fell for each other hard and married when Bogart divorced his third wife, whereupon Hawks, who probably wanted Bacall for himself, stormed out of the picture.
The sad part is no director quite found her sweet spot again.
She was happy with Bogart, though.
They had two kids, threw great parties, palled around with movie and literary titans.
But acting? Not much.
Few female roles in the '50s could fully tap her wit, though she was cheeky and elegant as the den mother of gold-diggers Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable in "How to Marry A Millionaire," and there were flashes of her marvelous timing in "Designing Woman," where she wore clothes like a dream.
Bogart died in 1957 of esophageal cancer, likely from all those unfiltered cigarettes.
And Bacall rebounded with an unstable Frank Sinatra, then moved to New York and married another hard-drinking actor, Jason Robards. Robards was as great in his way as Bogart but nowhere near as reliable.
The good parts stopped coming.
But the 40-something Bacall stayed in the game by going on stage.
As Margo Channing in the musical "Applause," she won a Tony. She said she hated competing against other actors, but she thirsted for approval.
A quarter-century later she finally got an Oscar nomination as Barbra Streisand's mouthy mom in "The Mirror Has Two Faces." More than a decade after losing, the Academy gave her an honorary Oscar.
Betty Bacall never quite got out from under Bogie's shadow, but she made her peace with that, and with the image of Lauren Bacall that will live forever, in glorious black and white, that slouching kitty with the sideways glance who matched Bogart quip for quip.
Yes, we lost a link last week to the glamour of old Hollywood, but more important, to its soul.