Lauren Bacall, Star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Dies at 89

Lauren Bacall, the sultry blonde siren who became an overnight star via a memorable film debut at age 19 opposite Humphrey Bogart in Howard Hawks’ “To Have and Have Not,” died Tuesday of a suspected stroke at her home in the Dakota in Manhattan. She was 89.

The Bogart estate confirmed the news on Twitter.

Variety’s review of the 1944 film described her as “a young lady of presence,” and audiences immediately embraced her gravel-voiced and sultry persona. The voice was said to have come from a year shouting into a canyon. Regardless, “the Look,” her slinky, pouty-lipped head-lowered stare, influenced a generation of actresses.

After a 50-year career, she received her first Oscar nomination for supporting actress for her role as Barbra Streisand’s mother in 1997’s “The Mirror Has Two Faces.” Though considered a shoo-in, she didn’t win. However, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences gave her a 2009 Governors Award for life achievement. And, Oscar or not, she was often called a Hollywood legend, not only for her career but for her May-December romance with Bogart and her political activism. However, she always resisted terms like “legend,” saying that was a reference to the past, and she was more interested in the present and future.

Born Betty Joan Perske, “a nice Jewish girl from the Bronx,” she stunned audiences in the forever-after-famous “you know how to whistle” scene in “To Have and Have Not,” in which she was as flirtatious as possible within the parameters of the Hays Code.

Audiences were impressed; her co-star, the 44-year-old Bogart, even more so. They were soon married and remained devoted to one another until Bogart’s death in 1957.

SEE ALSO: Lauren Bacall, Her Life and Career in Photos

It wasn’t until almost 20 years later that Bacall would emerge from the shadow of being Bogart’s wife/widow and hit her stride, this time onstage, where she scored successes in the comedy “Cactus Flower” and then won two Tonys in musicals “Applause” (1970) and, later, “Woman of the Year” (1981).

That had less to do with her acting assignments than with her social and political reputation — lying long-legged on Vice President Harry Truman’s piano, bravely protesting with her husband against the House Un-American Activities hearings as early as 1947, campaigning for Adlai Stevenson (twice), or hosting the Rat Pack in Holmby Hills with Bogie and later, in New York, with another famous husband, actor Jason Robards Jr. It has been suggested that her career — she was under contract at Warners for several years — was harmed by her political outspokenness. Bogart did some of his best work in those years, but then, he was Bogart.

Her independent streak caused her to be suspended from Warners no fewer than seven times. Backed by Bogart, she justifiably complained about the poor material she was handed. That independence sometimes crossed over into diva territory and became more pronounced as time passed.

At AMPAS’ first Governors Awards ceremony in November 2009, Bacall was one of four honorees. Anjelica Huston saluted her by quoting Bacall as saying, “Stardom isn’t a career, it’s an accident,” though Huston said Bacall’s ascendance was not accidental.

At the ceremony, Bacall expressed surprise at her own career, saying, “It’s quite amazing the people I worked with — some of the all-time all-time greats.” And she admitted that when Hawks told her he wanted to pair her with either Bogart or Cary Grant, she said she wasn’t impressed with the dese-dem-dose quality of Bogart and said of Grant, “Now you’re talking!”

Bacall’s ambition to achieve stardom began at Julia Richman High School in Manhattan, from which she graduated at 15. By that time she was already doing department store modeling. She studied acting and dancing and enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she remained only one term. She quit modeling on Seventh Avenue to become a theater usher and got herself a walk-on in “Johnny 2 x 4” in 1942 and an ingenue role in George S. Kaufman’s out-of-town failure “Franklin Street.”

Harper’s Bazaar editor Niki de Gunzberg hired her to model for the magazine, and a 1943 cover photo came to the notice of Hawks, who screen-tested Bacall and put her under contract (which he later sold to Warners). The studio coached her for a year, and then she was slipped into “To Have and Have Not,” where Hawks found that “when she became insolent, she became rather attractive.”

Bogart’s marriage to Mayo Methot was on the skids, and Bacall soon became his fourth wife, bearing him two children over the next dozen years. They appeared together in movies three more times, most memorably in “The Big Sleep,” followed by “Dark Passage” and “Key Largo.”

Otherwise, when she wasn’t turning down assignments, she was agreeing to appear in mediocre ones such as “Young Man With a Horn” and “Bright Leaf.” At Bogart’s urging, she bought herself out of her contract shortly before Warners shaved its roster in the wake of the TV boom of the early ’50s.

One of her better assignments, the 1953 “How to Marry a Millionaire,” teamed her with Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable, and “Woman’s World” again utilized her glamorous, stylish persona to dress up the proceedings.

On television she co-starred with Bogart and Henry Fonda in a live production of “The Petrified Forest,” which Bogie had done on film in 1935 with Bette Davis and Leslie Howard. She also starred with Noel Coward and Claudette Colbert in the 1956 TV production of Coward’s “Blithe Spirit.”

When Bogart succumbed to throat cancer, Bacall threw herself into her work, again in A pictures, but with mixed results. There were impressive efforts like “Written on the Wind” and “Designing Woman” and considerably less impressive ones like “Blood Alley” and “Flame Over India.”

After a serious affair with Frank Sinatra, she moved east and appeared onstage in the comedy “Goodbye, Charlie.” She met and married Robards, whose star was on the rise, and they had a son. His drinking problems contributed to their breakup and divorce in 1969.

In 1967, she was the toast of Broadway in Abe Burrows’ comedy “Cactus Flower” (a role she lost to Ingrid Bergman onscreen). She appeared in the comedy for two years, and then starred in a musical stage version of “All About Eve,” called “Applause,” in the Margo Channing role originated by Bette Davis. For it she won a Tony Award, and she played the role in the London version too.

Later screen roles consisted of cameos and character parts in films including “Harper,” “Health” and “Murder on the Orient Express.” She appeared in John Wayne’s last film, 1976’s “The Shootist.” A rare starring opportunity, the 1981 “The Fan,” was a dismal failure, and Bacall returned to Broadway that year in another musicalization of a classic Hollywood film, “Woman of the Year,” which had starred Katharine Hepburn.

Bacall’s 1978 autobiography “By Myself,” written without the aid of the usual ghostwriter, translated that gravel voice onto the written page and became a bestseller. She also penned “Now,” in which she wrote about her career, family and friends since ’78 but which she declined to call an autobiography. In the book, she wrote, “I’m called a legend by some, a title and category I am less than fond of.”

She continued to work on stage and screen and television, including a TV remake of “Dinner at Eight” and taking a small role in “Misery.”

In 1997, she received the Kennedy Center Honors; in 1999, the American Film Institute voted her one of the 25 most significant female movie stars in history.

Bacall continued to work with edgy filmmakers, including Lars Von Trier in his experimental ensemble films “Dogville” and “Manderlay,” and Jonathan Glazer in the 2005 “Birth.” She made a hilarious cameo as herself on “The Sopranos” in April 2006, getting mugged for her gift bag after an awards show.  Among her last films was a role in the 2012 “The Forger” with Josh Hutcherson and Hayden Panettiere.

She is survived by three children: two by Bogart, Stephen and Leslie, and her son by Robards, actor Sam Robards.

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  1. Alan J says:

    One of Hollywood’s greatest legends has passed. Her and Bogart are finally together again.

  2. pat says:

    R.I.P.Lauren you will be missed

  3. I love watching old black and white movies of hers. Too many greats to decide a favorite. RIP, love. <3<3<3

  4. CrazyForKate says:

    Last night as we were talking about Williams, we started discussing which other celebrities would be sad to lose, and I said something along the lines of “Oh my god, Lauren Bacall would be just the worst.” I need to stop talking about celebrities. RIP, legend.

  5. I always remember thinking how classy, elegant and brave she seemed when I was a young girl. Unafraid to stand up for herself and others, she is an icon.

  6. Lauren Bacall set the standard for tough and beauty.
    Her talent was mesmerizing and we loved her.
    She defined the golden age of Hollywood.
    We will miss her, but always love her.

    George Vreeland Hill

  7. A class act. Here’s looking at you kid.

  8. Justin Burnell says:

    Reblogged this on THB Files and commented:
    RIP Lauren Becall. Greatest legendary actress of all time.

  9. Frank Russo says:

    I hardly consider Young Man With A Horn which also stars Kirk Douglas and Doris Day mediocre. This movie is a feather in her cap. She has nothing to be ashamed of in this film.

  10. Jack Backstreet says:

    Bogart died in 1957 (Jan, 14th to be exact), not ’56.

  11. blackattackcat says:

    “….you know how to whistle….don’t you Steve?…You just put your lips together….. and blow.”

  12. J Joy says:

    Lauren Bacall, was always great alongside of Bogie. So many of these movies mentioned make me want to view them again. Even when she didn’t have the Staring role, she did it well. Not Flashy or trashy, but quietly demure. Later in life she was great in the comedy, My fellow Americans, playing the part of an ex-Presidents wife. I was surprised and pleased at her display of confidence. She starred during an era when Hollywood was scaling the heights in Entertainment, and mirrored successfully a Reflection of the innermost strengths, weaknesses, and what was interestingly attractive about humanity. All the stars mentioned above contributed to the rise of Hollywood in a positive way which allowed us take a break and relax.

  13. Bob says:

    One of my two all time favorites, with Fonda still going strong. Was there ever any more on-screen class than that of Lauren Bacall?

  14. So glad she brightened our world as long as she did............. says:

    A totally class act. “They don’t make ’em like they used to,” sadly.
    I don’t think Ms. Bacall ever stuck her tongue out or flaunted a tattoo………

  15. Kate says:

    Classy lady, have a laugh with Robin for us…..

  16. just whistle..watched it over 100 times..probably another 100 before i die..bacall was 1 of the greatest
    so sexy n extroverted bogie had 12 great years…

  17. Pita822 says:

    Elderly auntie always mentioned that one dies; two follow. Unreal. Still having a hard time coping with Robin William’s death. Life sucks, sometimes. Regardless, both are acknowledging gifted artists. Stars for sure will shine their brightest. We love you, Robin & Lauren…GOD’S SPEED.

  18. Two days of sadness…..Lauren Bacall was a gem of a “dame” and a damn good actor. I had the pleasure of interviewing Ms Bacall in the early 1990’s in Boston where I was a columnist for an entertainment publication. She was as gracious and beautiful as she was on screen. I’m not usually tongue tied, but I was forgetting what I wanted to ask her. I unabashedly asked her to autograph her first book for me which she did with a smile and some small talk. Humphrey Bogart was the man for me when I was eleven years old. As the years went on I loved Lauren Bacall almost as much. May she be greeted by her Bogie as she arrives at the pearly gates…..RIP

  19. Larry Hester says:

    We have lost a very great actress. The world will not be the same with her. I loved watching her in movies, and her many commercials. Her and Bogey were the Hollywood It couple. She will be missed by very many people. RIP Lauen, tell Bogey he is still missed here on Earth.

  20. Dar says:

    She was part of a rare breed of actors – one of the few remaining leading ladies of the era when you really acted and not just rely on your body or face. I always loved her smolder exotic looks and personal. Rest well Lauren

  21. Sherron says:

    What style and glamor, she was wonderful to look at. She and I shard the same birthday, Sept 16 and I always thought of her that day. RIP sweet lady and thanks for the lovely memories!!!

  22. facts! says:

    May-December romance with Bogart? Wasn’t she married to the guy, and didn’t she have two kids with ihim? Come on, you guys.

  23. That’s a shame ! Who is next ? Maureen Ohar is about 89. The last of the greats ! I wanna cry !

  24. J says:

    This is so crazy. I had a dream about her this morning. Totally random because I haven’t really followed her work. Makes me wonder if we are all connected somehow. Beautiful, talented and graceful woman, rip.

  25. Fanny Rice says:

    She was a beautiful woman. Rest in peace.

  26. Mona Lichtsinn says:

    So today we lost an all time favorite. She not only was the best partner with Bogie, but a super star by herself!!! I love watching the old Bogie/Bacall movies!!!! They are the best!

  27. Billie says:

    As Bogie would say: “She was a classy dame.”

  28. CHUCK ROAST says:


  29. Sandra T says:

    Blood Alley was AWESOME!!

  30. PMB says:

    What a beauty. What a great actress. Haunting looks. Another star from earth falls into the heavens.

  31. Wow this is too much. I met Ms. Bacall about 5 years old when she was sitting next to me in an Italian restaurant in the Village in New York City. She was so amazing and nice. God Bless my sweets! I will miss you.

  32. One of the few class acts to ever come out of hollyweird. She had class beyond any. Rest in peace Ms. Bacall. You will be missed. Tell Robin Williams we will miss him too.

  33. Jo-An Pace says:

    It seemed she would go on forever. I saw every movie, and television part she worked in. I am sorry for
    her family, may she rest in peace. She was a great actress.

  34. Sherri Rosen says:

    Rest in peace Miss Bacall. You were always true to yourself and I always admired that about you. You made New York a lot classier with your presence. My deepest condolences to your family.

  35. Leland Petty says:

    Wow, she is such an icon of The Golden Age. One of the last few remaining celebrities of that era. I hope you find peace Ms. Lauren. I loved you in “How To Marry A Millionaire” with Marilyn and “Misery” with James Caan. You will be missed!!

  36. Betty Engel says:

    The end of an era! RIP Betty!

  37. Fanny Rice says:

    Rest in peace Robin Williams.

  38. PC Martin says:

    The original, unchallenged, reigning queen of the “Big Shouldered Broads!’ Class, Strength, Style, Talent and Looks! NO ONE can ever touch that perfect combo! RIP in Peace.

  39. Cooper says:

    Another great talent is gone. She was more than an actress, she was a star with class. Very few of them left anymore…Olivia De Havilland, Maureen O’Hara are still here. Can’t think of others right now.

    It has been a rough week so far….

  40. Death comes in threes. Wonder who’s next.

  41. Douglas Weiss says:

    Loved her so much that I named my daughter Lauren. Rest in peace, you brought joy to many people.

  42. Tom Davis says:

    God Bless You, Miss Bacall.

  43. frankie342 says:

    Lauren brought character and strength to every role she played through out
    her career and an general all round entertainer she was an joy to watch
    as an child growing up in the 80’s by seeing her in sunday matinees and
    she was with the best of the silver screen and always be a joy to watch her
    in some of the classics that will be vintage gold and she is an icon next
    to Elizabeth Taylor Rita Hayworth and Judy Garland that embraced
    Hollywood and Lauren will leave a lasting memory forever.



  44. Jim says:

    Wow…Bogie’s been waiting a long time…”Here’s lookin at you, kid”….

  45. jennifer harris says:

    rest in peace!! you were a true gem. you will be missed in the neighborhood!!

  46. cynthia maue says:

    awesome lady and actress-hope she and Bogie are together again-forever. RIP beauty and thanks for the memories

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