At just 19 years of age, Lauren Bacall burst onto our screens – and into our lives – with one of the most memorable screen debuts in movie history: To Have and Have Not, the 1944 film noire thriller directed by Howard Hawks. She sidles into the film, sexy and sinuous, fixing that notoriously direct and challenging stare onto her co-star – the incomparable Humphrey Bogart. It is no wonder that both he and the audience fell in love with his ‘Baby’ right then and there.
Spotted by the director’s wife on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, Bacall was the New Jersey born daughter of East European immigrants, and she took to the life of a screen siren with ease. Tall and elegant, her cat-like eyes and husky voice would surely have ensured stardom anyway, but with the added bonus of a romance and subsequent marriage to Bogart (25 years her senior), her legendary status in Hollywood was assured.
To Have and Have Not was followed by The Confidential Agent, and then notably The Big Sleep in 1946, another Bogart-Bacall collaboration which further enhanced her reputation as the woman you didn’t mess with – independent and sassy, she was a match for any of her male co-stars.
Wary of being typecast as the film noir heroine, she also displayed great comic timing in films such as How to Marry a Millionaire, appearing alongside two other screen goddesses: Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable. Bacall proved that she didn’t take herself too seriously, and could certainly hold her own in the company of such renowned beauties – despite her own assertion that she was ‘this flat-chested, big-footed, lanky thing’.
Regardless of this early screen success, Bacall often returned to the stage, where she received a multitude of plaudits and awards, and her frequent appearances on chat shows ensured that the public persona was no less intimidating and entertaining than her dramatic counterparts – grown men visibly quaked when faced with her famous ‘look’ – she did not suffer fools gladly, yet her mischievous humour, honesty and intelligence always shone through.
Her greatest film success in later years came with the star-studded production of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Made in 1974, her role as the garrulous socialite Mrs Hubbard gained admiration for both her scene-stealing performance and her timeless beauty.
Lauren Bacall was the epitome of Hollywood glamour and one of the last remaining icons of its golden period. A light has gone out in the galaxy of dreams.