Day 132 of Colourisation Project – September 16
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
Born ninety years ago this day, September 16, 1924, Betty Joan Perske, better known as Lauren Bacall, was one of Hollywood’s biggest post-war stars. The New York born actress was known for her distinctive husky voice and sultry looks and possibly for making smoking look sexy.
Do not be fooled though. Bacall wasn’t born with that seductive voice. She spent two weeks of intensive training with a voice coach after film director, Howard Hawks insisted she rid herself of her high nasal pitch. As part of her training, she was required to shout verses of Shakespeare for hours every day. That deep husky voice was the result.
Bacall even had a vocal disorder named after her; ‘Bogart-Bacall syndrome,’ (BBS) a form of dysphonia, a muscle tension most common in professional actors, presenters and singers who habitually speak or sing outside of their normal vocal range in an unnaturally low pitch.
When Bacall launched her career in cinema in 1944, she used her mother’s maiden name of Bacal, with an extra ‘L’ to avoid her name rhyming with crackle. Once again it was Howard Hawks who insisted she change her name to Lauren. However she was never comfortable with her stage name and close friends continued to call her by her real name, ‘Betty’.
Studio bosses also wanted to pluck Bacall’s trademark thick eyebrows, get her teeth straightened, and have her hairline shaved back, a standard Hollywood practice that actresses such as Vivien Leigh and Rita Hayworth had to endure. Bacall refused.
In her autobiography, By Myself, Bacall recounts “Howard had chosen me for my thick eyebrows and crooked teeth and that’s the way they would stay.”
It is hard to believe Bacall was barely 19 when Hawks cast her in her first movie, Ernest Hemingway’s To Have And Have Not. So nervous was the young Bacall that she developed a technique to combat her nerves and trembling; chin pointing down to her chest, face to the camera and eyes looking up. The technique proved most effective and resulted in producing a sensual smouldering look that made even the celluloid sizzle. The Look as it became known was Bacall’s trademark.
The film delivers a classic moment that will live in the minds of film-goers forever. The chemistry between Bacall and Bogart is palpable as she utters her famous line, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”
You can relive that moment here.
It was during the making of this film that the two lead actors fell in love, and so began one of Hollywood’s most endearing love stories. 25 years her senior, Bogart divorced his wife to marry Bacall. Their 12 year marriage produced two children but sadly came to an end in 1957 when Bogart died of cancer. At Bogart’s funeral Bacall placed a whistle in his coffin. Off-screen Bacall was forever bound to her role as one half of the greatest love affair Hollywood had ever known. They were known simply as ‘Bogie and Bacall.’
“My obit is going to be full of Bogart, I’m sure,” she once correctly predicted. After Bogart’s early death it is as though Bacall’s persona was frozen in time. We forget that after Bogart’s passing she had a tempestuous relationship with Frank Sinatra who called off their engagement and a second marriage and child to actor, Jason Robards which ended in divorce after eight years.
Bacall made three other films with Bogart, all highly successful; The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), and Key Largo (1948). Whilst I can think of nothing worse than to be defined by the person you hook up with, Lauren Bacall made Humphrey Bogart look good.
As head strong and resolute as she was in her young age so she was later in life. Defying Hollywood’s unrealistic demands of its actresses, Bacall confronted middle age and old age on her own terms. No botox, facelifts or heavy makeup for this legendary actress, just graceful aging.
In 2009, she was selected by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive an Academy Honorary Award ‘in recognition of her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures’.
Bacall published two volumes of memoirs, Lauren Bacall by Myself in 1979 and By Myself and Then Some in 1996.
The lights were dimmed on the golden age of Hollywood when Bacall passed away just last month on August 12, 2014, a month shy of turning 90, after suffering from a stroke.
The New York Times obituary described Lauren Bacall as, ‘the actress whose provocative glamour elevated her to stardom…and whose lasting mystique put her on a plateau in American culture that few stars reach.’
“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 realized that one way to hold my trembling head still was to keep it down, chin low, almost to my chest, and eyes up at Bogart. It worked and turned out to be the beginning of ‘The Look’.”
Lauren Bacall, 1944 [on filming her most famous scene in To Have and Have Not]