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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Just Off The Wire ...

Departure Of Lauren Bacall at 89

Lauren Bacall was never a teenager in movies, even though she began in them as a teenager. To me, this was a character woman, almost from a start. With exception of the four with Bogart, was Bacall ever a glamour object? I think of ones where she might have been --- How To Marry A Millionaire comes to mind --- but there she was worldly wise beyond hopes of co-starring Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe, Bacall a most pragmatic of the three, and consequently the most interesting (Grable and Monroe seem silly and 50's plastic beside her). She'd also be good as the wife disillusioned by marriage to Fred MacMurray in Woman's World, a role played when Bacall was not yet thirty. She seemed not to have had an ingénue stage, let alone naïveté in ways of life and love. Did life with Bogie and society with his jaded pals take bloom of youth off Betty? She'd say no to Warner bosses where others in her start-up position wouldn't dream of such insolence, but that was where a strong husband helped. So what if Bacall went on suspension? Bogart's income could more than support the house.

WB struck back in small ways. If she wouldn't do The Girl From Jones Beach or some crummy western, they'd not let her join Bogart at Columbia for Dead Reckoning. To put a cherry on being petty, there came no no even to Bacall joining her husband briefly on stage while he was in New York pumping Tokyo Joe, another not made on Burbank premises. To Warner minds, the only thing worse than one ingrate Bogart was a pair of them. Bacall wanted to work, but only in movies as good as ones she did with her husband, so after all of chaff was weeded out, there was only Bright Leaf and Young Man With A Horn to satisfy both her standards and the Warner pact she'd signed. Bacall started out raw, had to learn on the job, got burned by Confidential Agent, for which critics and some of a public singled her out for ridicule. Maybe that was what made her cautious for time that was left on the contract.

Howard Hawks did two with the Bogarts and then went away piqued because he felt HB had taken away his personal property. What a shame this team didn't jell for a whole series, and at WB where resources were so rich. But then there was John Huston and Key Largo, but unfortunately no more beyond that. Problem was Warner cutting costs as postwar receipts fell. The vehicles as result got more commonplace and the star couple naturally balked. We like Dark Passage for vintage noir, but the team couldn't sustain on many more like it. From late 40's impasse with Warners, it would be Bogie and Bacall paired on planes to far-off location for pictures he was making, the dutiful wife picking up the Fox jobs and free-lance opportunity when both of them were at Holmby Hills address. He'd drive her to work each day on Blood Alley or be sarcastic about Gregory Peck in Designing Woman, one that Bogart might have done with her had his health not already become an issue.

She'd write about all of that, and the whole of a career, in two (or is it three?) outstanding memoirs, which Bacall was said to have penned without assist. They sure read like truth, and hers was a singular voice. Bacall did some good ones during the 50's (Written On The Wind, The Cobweb, aforementioned Woman's World), ran somewhat aground in the 60's (Shock Treatment, Sex and The Single Girl and down a cast list from Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood), but had good sense to get on stage to make a new career with music and comedy. She'd become a diva of sorts, marry again (Jason Robards), try to comprehend and finally embrace the Bogart mythology in her books and a documentary for Turner. To keep up with times, Bacall guest voiced on hep TV cartoons and was knocked about by hoodlums on The Sopranos, so moderns would not lose sight of who she was. There was even an AA nomination for The Mirror With Two Faces, another of Barbra Streisand vanity projects where Bacall stole the show with another expert character turn. She was an actress good enough to go on and on, age merely an enhance to her authority.


Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson recalls Lauren Bacall in her B'way success, "Applause":

Somewhere out there, one hopes, is the television production of "Applause," her Broadway musical of "All About Eve." I think most of the company came straight from the London production; there were some snips and it was taped on studio sets instead of a stage. Larry Hagman was her leading man; not sure if he was in the stage version or added as a name.

Recall her being interviewed by Barbara Walters; must have been the 80s. Walters asked if she felt that as she was getting older, she was getting better. Bacall laughed in her face, tough-gal style.

6:40 AM  
Blogger iarla said...

She was good -twice- when young. After that she was overrated and very, very lucky to have attracted Bogart and to have understood the power and sustained the image created for her by Hawks. No doubt, Bogart taught her this, as he parlayed his screen image into his off screen life - common practice then, rarer today. She had not an ounce of humour in the preservation of that image, and her behaviour in interviews as she got older was cringe inducing and , ultimately, at odds with Hawks original intent.

6:42 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer reflects on the life and work of Lauren Bacall:

I appreciate your consideration of Lauren Bacall's career, which is as thoughtful and balanced as any I've read. I was never taken with her, though. There was almost always something calculated about her performances, especially in "To Have and Have Not," which insulated them from anything having to do with her own personality. Perhaps this sense of constantly weighing the advantages she could obtain comes as close to who she was as she would want to reveal. As for anything having to do with love or tenderness, this was something that, I should hope, was at least present in her personal life. That it might have been is suggested by a scene in "Key Largo," in the one after the storm passed, when she and Bogie seem to meld into each other, just with their gaze. Possibly it was the one time she forgot herself as an actress, and allowed the woman to be seen.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

All of my favorite Bacall films are the ones with Bogey. Without him, I wasn't a huge Bacall fan. I always felt the Bogey-Bacall magic worked because of him, not her. My favorite is THE BIG SLEEP, with KEY LARGO a close second.

My mother-in-law had quite a tussle with her in 1944.

May she rest in peace.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are tapes floating around of some vintage 1950s Friars Roasts. They're not fall-down funny, unless your idea of comedy is to hear legends like Jack Benny and Ed Sullivan use language that no longer gets bleeped on Comedy Central. But the one for Humphrey Bogart has a great moment. Women were not yet allowed in the Friars, so Lauren Bacall makes a cameo appearance via audio tape. "Hello, Bogie," she says in a breathy, loving voice, before spitting out "You rat bastard!"

12:49 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Several years ago you wrote a couple of blog entries covering(in no particular order) To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Hawks, Bogart, Bacall, Doris Moran and Martha Vickers. I still remember that post. One of the things I got from it was that Bacalls career was helped from the very beginning by her relationship with Bogie. Even before she appeared on the silver screen, things were happening behind the scenes that would make her a star, and pretty much at the expense of two other equally talented and pretty actresses. It also damaged a really good working relationship between Hawks and Bogart.

I won't say any more on that matter since my original response to that post was (thankfully) never published but I wrote a second one that got through. Posts like that one show how great and unique this blog is. One got a tiny glimpse of how things were done in "Classic Hollywood", and how having the right people (Bogie, Hawks and her agent) in your corner makes all the difference in the world.

Again, those were two great posts and I encourage others who haven't read them to do so. You were really on your A game.

2:45 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks Rae ---

Maybe I should have linked to those old posts. In any case, here they are:

Thanks for your kind words.

3:19 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

The point I am about to make is, I suppose, a pretty trivial one.

But until Bacall's death, was Young Man With A Horn, a 1950 release, the oldest major Hollywood studio production in which all three of its top stars were still alive (the other two, of course, being Kirk Douglas and Doris Day)?

Actually, I wonder if Young Man might still be the oldest, as far as having two of its top stars still with us is concerned.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Interesting the number of negative impressions expressed in the comments here. But since we're speaking ill of the dead, is it worth mentioning that her nickname in NY theater circles was "The Beast of Broadway?"

I remember my surprise at the near universal dislike of the woman I discovered when I first joined that community decades ago. Kind to the (faces of) the famous and the powerful, and a total bitch to the underlings.

I was personally acquainted with a B'way costume designer whose head was bloodied when (as a lowly assistant to Theoni V. Aldredge) he was on the receiving end of a pair of shoes intentionally hurled at him by "Baby."

I also worked with a voice-over agent who fired her despite the cash she was bringing in, because when she came into the office "the entire staff would be upset for hours afterward."

The stories are as unsettling as they are ubiquitous. Ultimately in the theater (perhaps in all show business), all one has is one's reputation, and once it's shot, it's shot.

Her Oscar loss in '96 was no surprise to me. A sentimental audience favorite thought to be a shoe-in, she was nixed by voters, one too many of whom, perhaps, had witnessed (or been the beneficiary of) a pair of flying pumps.

And I don't buy that she was merely "tough" -- Stanwyck was tough, but kind and courteous to (and much beloved by) the crews who worked with her.

And to Donald Benson, I caught the TV version of Applause (in multiple chunks) on YouTube not long ago -- it may still be there...

11:30 AM  
Blogger Brother Herbert said...

About two months ago I took a voiceover class that was all about celebrity soundalikes. The instructor played a clip from the animated film ERNEST & CELESTINE, in which Bacall played a role, and pointed out where Bacall and a soundalike actor were seamlessly edited together. The instructor only noted that Bacall wasn't in the best of health at the time and the soundalike was brought in to do a lot of the screaming and grunting and alternate takes. I don't recall him saying anything negative about Bacall, but reading these comments and others like it now make me wonder if there was more to his story.

12:41 PM  

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