You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Lauren Bacall’s Greatest Role: Herself

When Robin Williams died Aug. 11, fans and commentators talked about his best performances, from Mork to Patch Adams. But when Lauren Bacall died the following day, people remembered her for one indelible role: Lauren Bacall.

She was a good actress, but she never disappeared into a character. You couldn’t imagine her playing a mousy suburbanite or a low-IQ bumpkin. And, offscreen, you couldn’t imagine her slipping unnoticed into a party or restaurant. When Variety reviewed her 1944 film debut in “To Have and Have Not,” the critic described her as “a young lady of presence.” And that presence served her well during a 70-year career. Audiences always knew who they were watching, and knew that this was a person who deserved attention.

Some of her best work was in supporting roles, such as the brash American socialite in Sidney Lumet’s 1974 “Murder on the Orient Express,” who could put people in their place just by narrowing her eyes. And her films with Humphrey Bogart offer a lesson in onscreen chemistry. Their age difference raised some eyebrows at the time — she was 20, he was 45. But after all these decades, they both seem timeless. It’s not an older-man/younger-woman relationship; it’s simply Bogie and Bacall.

Her career covered film, TV and stage — and commercials. When TV viewers saw a can of Fancy Feast catfood being opened, they heard a purring, gravelly voice and needed no reminders of who that voice belonged to.

She had such a cool, take-charge persona that it’s endearing to hear rare tales of her vulnerability. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences gave her a Governors Award in 2009, she looked terrific and gave a funny and touching acceptance speech as she clutched her Oscar. But two years later, she told Vanity Fair, “What should have been one of the best days in my life is one of the worst.”

The actress explained that her three children were in the audience, and she was mortified to realize afterwards she had barely talked about two of them and never mentioned second husband Jason Robards or their son, actor Sam Robards: “I only talked about Bogie.”

Presumably her kids have recovered, but it’s interesting to imagine Bacall being flustered. She always seemed the epitome of cool, and showbiz veterans tell tales of her taking charge with a don’t-ask-questions attitude. That attitude was a key part of her persona, as was her sense of style. In the 1978 musical “Evita,” her name is used as a verb as the ambitious Eva Peron orders an image makeover, telling her assistants to “Lauren Bacall me.”

That persona was her greatest invention, and will always remain her greatest role.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Nicolas Cage Hainan International Film Festival

    China's Hainan Film Festival Launches Golden Coconut Competition

    The deep-pocketed, government-run Hainan Island International Film Festival has launched a new competition section for its second iteration, set to take place from December 1-8. This year, ten ‘Golden Coconut Awards’ will be given out across three categories of films: feature-length, feature documentaries, and fictional shorts. Prizes will be presented for best picture, best director, [...]

  • Panda

    France's Troisième Œil Teams With China's CICC on Richard Dale's 'Panda Kingdom' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Troisième Œil Productions is teaming with Chinese partners to make its first international co-production with the premium documentary “Panda Kingdom,” and has brought BAFTA-winning director Richard Dale on board to helm it. The outfits China Aviation Pictures and CICC are co-producing the documentary with Troisième Œil Productions. The docu feature will explore the captive breeding [...]

  • Andhadhun receives AACTA nomination

    Indian and Chinese Titles Dominate AACTA Asian Award Nominations

    Three Indian and three mainland Chinese films are among the nine feature movies shortlisted for the Best Asian Film Award by the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts. The Indian selections are box office hit “Andhadhun,” “Super Deluxe, and “Gully Boy,” which premiered in February at the Berlin festival. The Chinese trio includes “Shadow,” [...]

  • Fernando Meirelles The Two Popes

    Film News Roundup: 'The Two Popes' Wins Audience Award at Miami Festival

    In today’s film news roundup, “The Two Popes” wins an audience award, “A Night with Janis Joplin” and “Fittest in Dubai” get releases, Artists First reorganizes, SAG-AFTRA expands its headquarters and Film Fest 919 announces its winners. AUDIENCE AWARD Fernando Meirelles’ “The Two Popes” has won the audience award at the Miami Gems Film Festival. [...]

  • Scotty Bowers

    Scotty Bowers, Old Hollywood's Sexual Matchmaker, Dies at 96

    Scotty Bowers, a “sexual matchmaker” for dozens of stars during the Golden Age of Hollywood who wrote about his colorful — and sometimes unbelivable — life in his memoir “Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars,” died at his Laurel Canyon home on Sunday. He was 96. The [...]

  • AMC theater

    AMC Entertainment Introducing On-Demand Movie Service

    AMC Entertainment will introduce an online video store in the United States on Tuesday. Adam Aron, AMC’s president and chief executive, said that the AMC Theatres On Demand will offer about 2,000 films for sale or rent after their theatrical runs — much like Amazon or iTunes. Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, Sony and Paramount have [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content