Lauren Bacall: Still Driven

Lauren Bacall in January 2005 AP

It's not saying too much to call Lauren Bacall a living legend of stage and screen. Her love life has included no less than Bogie and Sinatra and Robards, and the loves of her life have left indelible marks on Hollywood and Broadway.

She discusses it all in a newly-updated autobiography, and in this profile by Correspondent Russ Mitchell, on CBS News Sunday Morning."
"You know how to whistle, don't you Steve? Just put your lips together and blow."

When Lauren Bacall spoke those words in her very first film, "To Have and Have Not," to co-star and future husband Humphrey Bogart, she sealed her future as a movie star -- and as half the romantic team of Bogie-and-Bacall -- both on-screen and off.

Bacall and Bogart were together for 13 years, beginning when she was 19 and he was 45. She says he was the love of her life: "He was very apprehensive about the age difference. But it didn't bother me. I thought we suited one another perfectly.

"The man had an incredible personality. …He was a great reader of books…and -- wherever he was, people were laughing, always. …He had every quality that…I never thought of before in any man," Bacall said with a laugh.

She adds that her mother "was not so thrilled with him. Well, he'd had three wives."

In fact, Mitchell points out, he was still married to his third wife when he and Bacall met.

"I was brought up to not have anything to do with married men," Bacall told Mitchell. "Of course, I didn't pay a lot of attention to that, did I?" she chuckled.

He soon divorced, and Bogie and Bacall married in 1945. Audiences fell in love with how in love they were. So much so that even today, at age 80, Bacall is still, at least publicly, defined by the that romance, even though it was some 50 years – and to Bacall -- a lifetime ago.

"Is that the only thing that my life has meant?" she asked, rhetorically. "I don't think so. You know, I just feel that I -- I mean, I adored him and I had a great life with him. And god knows. But I finally have a -- an identity of my own as well."

And that identity is laid bare in her 500-page, newly updated autobiography, "By Myself and Then Some."

According to Mitchell, "It reads like a who's-who in Hollywood, Washington D.C. and on Broadway."

It covers her meteoric rise to stardom, her movie star romances, and her continuing career on the stage and in the movies.

Still, nearly half the book is devoted to her devotion to Humphrey Bogart – who influenced much of her life, starting before they even met.

Recalls Bacall: "For my 16th birthday, I think, I was taken to see "Casablanca" at the Capitol Theater. And we came out, and I liked the movie very much. My aunt was just – 'Oh, Bogart!' Her heart was beating so fast. She thought he was so divine. I said, 'Please! Not at all.' "

Soon, her opinion, her life living with her divorced mother in New York City, and even her name would all change.

Back then, her name was still Betty -- and she was desperate to be an actress: "My ambition was never to be on -- in movies. It was always to be on stage."

In her zeal to be noticed, she began doing odd jobs that put her in proximity to Broadway actors, producers and directors.

But when a $10 modeling gig landed her on the cover of Harpers Bazaar, it was Hollywood director Howard Hawks who called offering a screen test.

"I was a child. I was so young," Bacall reflects. "(I was) 17."

She traveled three days alone by train to California. It's understandable that she was nervous. But, Bacall managed to spin her fear into Hollywood gold -– in part because that very fear played a role in the so-called "Bacall Look."

She says that look was actually "an accident, is how I would describe it, for one thing. …I would always shake. I really was nervous. …And so I found that my head would shake. And I found that the only way I could keep it still would be to just hold my head down and then look up. And that's how it kind of happened."

It became her trademark, playing confident, saucy women in movies such as "The Big Sleep" and "Key Largo."

As far as the world was concerned, Bacall was the sexy, tough-minded love interest of sexy tough-guy Bogart.

She confides those labels were deceptive: "You know, the minute you're in something that clicks, people connect you with that part. And in their minds, you become that person. And there is nothing you can do to dispel that. …Bogie as the tough guy, blah blah blah. He was not a tough guy, at all. It had nothing to do with him."

In the 1950s, on-screen, Bogie and Bacall went their separate ways -- she to movies such as "How to Marry a Millionaire," co-starring Marilyn Monroe, and "Designing Woman," with co-star Gregory Peck.

Still, off-screen, their marriage and home-life seemed like a fairy-tale romance.

But it wouldn't last. Bogart died in 1957, after a harrowing struggle with throat cancer. His wife, whom he always called "Baby," was a widow at age 32.

"It took me years and years and years to get over it, actually," Bacall reveals. "I never got over it, actually. You don't ever get over those things."

Work and her children helped, though: "I think the work is always therapeutic. …And with the children, of course, you are involved with them in a totally different way. And you know you have to continue because of these children. But work is what makes you pretend that you're somebody else."

In the month's following her husband's death, Bacall became romantically involved with Frank Sinatra, who had been a close friend of Bogie and Bacall. Soon, they were engaged, but in secret -- and not for long.

She says Sinatra broke it off because someone told the press they were engaged and, "There on the sidewalk were the morning papers, were the headlines, Sinatra and Bacall to marry. …So the whole -- that was the end of it."

Bacall says she had to get away from her life in California that now seemed empty without Bogart or Sinatra by her side. So she returned to New York City and Broadway. And in 1961, she fell in love again, and married actor Jason Robards.

"And I remember Rex Harrison, who I knew very well, called me the next day," Bacall told Mitchell. "And he said, 'The last thing I remember was seeing Jason Robards burning a hole in your shoulder with the cigar.' Which of course, I don't quite remember."

The thought prompted a laugh from Bacall. "But Jason was, you know, tippling a little bit, shall we say. Or a lot, shall we say."

Bacall says Robards' drinking was the culprit in the collapse of their eight-year marriage.

During those years, they had a son and now, some 40 years later, Bacall remembers the good: "We really had really a lot in common. And we had a lot of marvelous times together, Jason and I. We had great, great fun. We really cared about one another…except he had this terrible monkey on his back. And he couldn't get it off. …He did try. He tried several times. But it didn't last. And I couldn't -- I couldn't deal with it anymore."

So again, Bacall looked to work, and found comfort and success on Broadway.

"And I love movies," Bacall observes. "I never have -- I have not had a -- a brilliant career, I would say, in many ways. …But the theater has given me an opportunity to do things that I never would have been given the opportunity to do in movies. …I would never have been put in a musical, allowed to be in a musical comedy. And the theater gave me that opportunity. And those were great moments in my life."

Later, those moments would include two Tony awards she won for her work in the musicals "Applause" and "Woman of the Year."

And she found success in movies as well. She was nominated for her first and only Academy Award for "The Mirror Has Two Faces," in 1996: "I was thrilled that I got a nomination. My god, I never thought that would happen to me."

She's been in movies, such as "Dogville" in 2003 and last year's "Birth," both co-starring Nicole Kidman, and has two other movies coming out soon.

Recently, Mitchell caught up with her as she celebrated her new book with friends who included Mike Nichols, Sydney Lumet, Liam Neeson and Diane von Furstenberg.

Bacall may already be a legend but, Mitchell surmises, she's still driven by the same moxie that brought her to Hollywood as a nervous teenager in the first place.

"I work," Bacall remarks. "I have no intension of stopping. All in all, I would say I've been pretty damned lucky. It's hard when you have such great success when you're so young. Because you obviously can never repeat it."
The following excerpt of "By Myself And Then Some" is reproduced with the consent of its publisher. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.

Has it really been twenty-seven years? I can't believe it. Time flies even when you're not having fun. Having come this far – having lasted this long – longer than I expected (I grudgingly have to thank my father's side for the longevity factor) – things of assorted sizes and shapes have happened. Perhaps not as filled with highs as the previous, say, fifty years, but there has been variety – some joy – some sadness inevitably – and lots of laughter. That's because in my cockeyed way I think life is a joke. I write the numbers down – twenty-five – fifty – but the truth is we're only here for a minute. But what a minute!

Upon reaching your seventieth year, life begins to shift. First comes the shock of it – my God, am I really seventy? I don't feel that different. But I sure as hell am. All my life I've just kept on going, never thinking of years, numbers. Going from one job to another. Suddenly – WHAM! The body still functions pretty well – a few bumps in the road along the way – but the body has gotten a bit larger – horrors! When you face that, can the gym be far away? Okay, I accept the fact of regular exercise entering my life. I still remember my twenty-four-inch waist lasting for my first fifty years. Don't torture yourself, I whisper – forget it – throw away the tape measure – maturing has taken over. I've never been a sedentary person anyway, always on the move, only now with supervision. It's trainer time. Although always active – in the theatre you have to be fit – now I have to set aside time, give up at least half a day for gym and physical therapy. Knee problems from "Applause" days – back acting up intermittently – torn rotator cuff in my shoulder (I'll never pitch again) – and on and on – you name it. My body needs attention. Boring, yes. Necessary, yes. I am always singing that song, 'My Body lies over the ocean, my Body lies over the sea. My Body lies over the ocean, oh bring back my Body to me.' Keep the humor going. The need to work remains – movies, theatre, TV – I don't care really. As long as it's good – interesting – new – I love new – it will take me out of myself and into someone else. Always a pleasure.

Work has continued to be paramount in my life. From time to time one of my sons – Steve or Sam – asks me why I don't take it easy, spend more time in Paris or London or anywhere in Italy, places that I love. There seems to be never enough time to do everything you want to do, go everywhere you want to go. My answer is simple. My goal in life has always been to work. I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I had nothing to do but wander. So I continue to search and hope for the next job – in a way I suppose it enables me to think and to look toward to the future. To think there is a future.

You know, the early part of one's life – family, hopes, dreams, first love, first job, first child, first everything, actually, and the realization of all that – seems the most interesting for the reader. Accomplishment of one's goals, how you got where you wanted to get, is always fascinating. But I realize now, having moved beyond that point, that there is something to be said about what happens after you've reached your goal – both professionally and personally – if indeed you ever do truly reach it.

My change of focus was taken over twenty-seven years ago by the all-consuming book tour – all over the world wherever "By Myself" was published. I was thrilled to go – I am still thrilled to go – particularly if the cities (countries!) are unexplored territory, meaning my first-time exposure. They were all different – requiring focus and concentration on my part – language adjustment – would you believe me speaking Japanese? – even Australia, Ireland, Scotland – the lilts were different, the rhythms not the same. I had to stop at the end of one country, take a step back and try to absorb the sights and sounds of the next, winding down from the heady experience of success and popularity all over – an experience, by the way, that I had never had before. Especially going solo, leaving myself wide open to questions of intense privacy – friendly and un-, some journalistic chips on shoulders, some embracing, some truly interesting – and some making me feel better than others.

After the final emptying of suitcases, shutting off the intense travel of a book tour – the travel for fun goes on, taking some time to be aimless – something wonderful happened. My friend, playwright Peter Stone, asked if I had ever thought of being in another musical, his idea being "Woman of the Year." I had not. He wanted to rewrite the movie for me, so one night we went to his house, he set up the projector, fed the film into it – and away we went into the world of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn – and the world of politics and sports and the conflicts that followed. Peter told me he had mentioned the idea to John Kander and Fred Ebb to do the score – how did I feel about that? Robert Moore possibly to direct – how did I feel about that? Tony Sharmdi to choreograph – again, how did I feel? I felt fantastic about all of that but as we didn't really know one another, we felt a meeting was in order. I really wanted to meet them anyway, particularly Kander and Ebb whose work I had always admired – still do to this day and will forever more. I love those guys. I did, however, find it rather queer that having played the Bette Davis role of Margo Channing in "Applause," I was now going to tackle the role my great friend Katharine Hepburn had played in "Woman of the Year" – my God! How could I dare take this on! Though "Applause" had been a gigantic success with rave reviews and my first Tony Award, I knew in my heart that the fact – the reality – was that audiences would never think of Margo Channing as anyone but Bette Davis, and the same would be true of Kate in "Woman of the Year." Because no matter how good the shows were – and they were terrific – no matter how good I was – the film would always be there for future generations. The theatre is live. You see the show – you love it – you never forget it. But future generations will never see it.

In spite of the self-imposed obstacles – the memory of Kate, for one, and my own lack of confidence – I jumped in hook, line and sinker! I started my old routine – singing lessons, dancing, stretching, learning lines – all months ahead of casting, much less rehearsing. I was thrilled to be working again, thrilled with the people involved and loving the casting process. Being in on it was always exciting – sitting in a darkened theatre, far enough away from the actors auditioning – so as not to be seen yet able to see. Peter, Kander and Ebb were there, Comden and Green – my close, close friends who were writing the book of the show – were there, Bob Moore, our director, was there. All heads together after each audition, deciding the possibles worthy of a callback, the others quickly dismissed. I always felt a pang when an actor was rejected, having had that painful experience too many times myself.

I've always had qualms about sitting in judgment on my fellow actors. I know only too well how difficult and painful auditions can be. No matter how much faith we have in our abilities, the nerves are ever present and the fear of rejection paramount – rejection being the defining feature in the life of an actor. And it never goes away; no matter how many years have been invested in performing, how much accomplished, an actor's life remains tentative. So why do we choose it? Because we have to do it, we were trained to do it and we love doing it. Yet we stay with it after endless disappointments and heart-breaks. Why? Because there is always the hope that the next time will be different. We will make it! Well, sometimes we do – if we have a lot of luck – and more times we don't. I've never been able to figure it out. Am I a masochist? No. I just have always wanted it badly enough to hang in there and I never stop hoping. Even now, after all these years, the fears, the testing, the failure never goes away. But when it works – WOW! There's nothing like it. All that other negative stuff falls away – it's more than worth it! And after all, it is that childhood dream and prayer come true.

Once the bug bites you, you are a goner. Even at the end of a long tour when you are counting the days, checking them off on your calendar as I did at the end of the "Woman of the Year" tour. Even then, after a short rest, upon buying a ticket for a new play, sitting in a darkened theatre facing the stage instead of being on it – even then I feel a twinge, a twinge of yearning to be up there again, in the play. Because the stage is the actor's – it belongs to him. Movies don't. Movies belong to the director. No matter how good you are – no matter how spectacular your performance might be – it is not up to you – the director decides and with his nippers might cut out your favorite scene. He decides. Of course, if he's a good director he wants a good performance from his actors but he is not out to glorify them, he is out to glorify the whole movie. Nothing personal, you understand. Still, it's fun making movies – if they're good, of course they always have to be good – in spite of the endless waiting. It is very much the 'hurry up and wait' syndrome. You hurry up to do your touch-up for the next scene, then you head for the set – ready, an assistant director by your side – and guess what? The camera is not quite ready for one reason or another; often the director is changing the blocking which means re-adjusting the lights. So the wait is on. But, no matter – with film, you use different parts of yourself and you learn to deal with the waits.

Something new has been added to the daily routine of each day's shoot and I must admit I find it somewhat humiliating. From the moment you arrive on the lot – the car door is usually opened by a waiting second or third assistant director who has a piece of plastic in his ear to which a plastic cord is attached (to be invisible, which it is not) that in turn connects to something he holds in his hand which looks like a telephone but is not – and it starts. 'She's here,' he murmurs into the no telephone – and from there on every step along the way is marked – 'we're on our way to her dressing room' – 'hair and make-up are there for her' – like the FBI–CIA reporting my every move. Then 'How long will it take you to get ready? He [the director] may want to rehearse. So start the hair and make-up and we'll let you know when he's ready on set.' It drives me wild. If there is one thing I am sure of it is that I am a professional. I'm there to work and I'm mostly on time. But I hate to feel spied upon. I don't know who dreamed this idea up but whoever it was, was not fond of actors. Mainly it has nothing to do with work – everything to do with schedules – money. It always boils down to money. Sadly.
  • Brian Dakss

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