Lau­ren Ba­call

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - GLO­RIA TESSLER


WITH HER low­ered eyes, curl­ing lip and sculp­tured waves, Lau­ren Ba­call’s in­cend i a r y q u a l i t y sprang oddly from shy­ness rather than in­sou­ciance. Few ac­tors to­day could out­shine her. She was the in­de­fin­able grand­mother of cool.

A star of the golden age of Hol­ly­wood, Ba­call was spir­ited, in­tel­li­gent and edgy, an el­e­gant ac­tor who could play tough love. She was noted for her roles op­po­site the man she would marry, Humphrey Bog­art, a man with a sim­i­lar air of an­i­mal­is­tic en­ergy be­neath the suave so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

Kather­ine Hep­burn and Bette Davis were fel­low trav­ellers, and per­haps Kate Blanchett is moulded from sim­i­lar stuff among younger stars. But Ba­call’s ap­peal had an in­com­pa­ra­ble sen­su­al­ity. She smoul­dered with a sub­ver­sive sex ap­peal

Born Betty Joan Perske, the “nice Jewish girl” was brought up in poverty by her sin­gle par­ent mother, aban­doned early by her fa­ther. She paid her way through the Amer­i­can Academy of Dra­matic Arts work­ing as an ush­erette and dress trade model un­til tal­ent-spot­ted by Diana Vree­land, the fash­ion ed­i­tor of Harper’s Bazaar. A cover shot demon­strat­ing her full po­ten­tial at­tracted both David O Selznick and Columbia Pic­tures. But it was direc­tor Howard Hawks’s wife Nancy who de­cided her look and style re­flected her own, and af­ter a screen test Hawks of­fered a con­tract. He played Sven­gali to Ba­call and be­came the fa­ther-fig­ure she missed.

She made her screen de­but at the age of 19, op­po­site Bog­art in To Have and Have Not in 1944, loosely based on Hem­ing­way’s novel. Two packs of cig­a­rettes a day de­vel­oped the fa­mous husky voice. It was this film that fea­tured her fa­mous sexy ri­poste to Bog­art: “You know how to whis­tle, don’t you? You just put your lips to­gether and blow.” It was Hawks who con­flated their names, Bog­art and Ba­call, in­vent­ing the name Lau­ren to com­plete his con­struct. The in­tense love af­fair between the two stars was in­can­des­cent, but aroused the ire of Hawk who, at a time of Hol­ly­wood pu­ri­tanism, wanted to pre­serve Bog­art’s third mar­riage to Mayo Methot and warned Ba­call not to risk her ca­reer. He cast them next in Ray­mond Chan­dler’s The Big Sleep, and fi­nally Bog­art di­vorced his wife and mar­ried Ba­call in 1945.

The pair had lit up the screen, but in a sense Ba­call’s ca­reer was al­ready done and dusted, as she be­came im­mersed in her hus­band’s life and friend­ships, even tol­er­at­ing Bog­art’s long-last­ing af­fair with his toupee-maker. She made the less than in­spir­ing Con­fi­den­tial Agent in 1945 and starred with Bog­art again in Dark Pas­sage and in John Hus­ton’s Key Largo. She had two chil­dren with Bog­art, Steve and Les­lie, and cam­paigned against McCarthy­ism in the 1950s, which forced her to re­pu­di­ate al­le­ga­tions that she was a com­mu­nist.

She re­jected poorer roles, but com­pe­ti­tion was on its way via the vul­ner­a­ble charm of Marilyn Mon­roe and the pu­rity of Grace Kelly, women moulded by a new era, which cared less for the spirit of a Ba­call. The teenager who played a femme fa­tale, had be­come a grande dame in the wake of this new blood.

Other films fol­lowed in the 50s: How to Marry a Mil­lion­aire, Writ­ten on the Wind, De­sign­ing Woman and North West Fron­tier. Her last film with Bog­art planned by Warner, was never made be­cause by then he was dy­ing of can­cer of the oe­soph­a­gus. She de­scribed his death in her can­did au­toiog­ra­phy, My­self.

An af­fair with Frank Si­na­tra and a sec­ond mar­riage to ac­tor Ja­son Ro­bards with whom she had a son, Sam, failed. Her sub­se­quent films — Harper, 1966, Mis­ery, 1990, The Shoo­tist, Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­presss, 1974 and The Mir­ror Has Two Faces, 1996, in which she played Bar­bra Streisand’s pushy mother (win­ning a Golden Globe as best sup­port­ing ac­tress) — de­picted her in ma­ture roles, lack­ing her fire.

In fact the story of Ba­call’s ca­reer is re­ally one of un­ful­filled prom­ise. But on Broad­way, leg­endary start­ing point for ma­jor Holy­wood stars, she demon­strated her stage gifts: in Ge­orge Ax­el­rod’s 1959 com­edy Good­bye Char­lie, Cac­tus Flower in 1965 and Mar­tini in Ap­plause, a 1970 mu­si­cal based on All About Eve, which won her a Tony. She also played a jour­nal­ist in a mu­si­cal based on the film Woman of the Year in 1981.

In Lon­don Ba­call was di­rected by Harold Pin­ter in Ten­nessee Wil­liams’ Sweet Bird of Youth in 1985 and in Chich­ester she played in Friedrich Dur­ren­matt’s The Visit in 1995. She con­tin­ued work­ing, no­tably in voiceovers, un­til 2012. She re­ceived an hon­orary Os­car in 2009. Lau­ren Ba­call is sur­vived by Steve, Les­lie and Sam.


Lau­ren Ba­call: in­can­des­cent ac­tor who fea­tured in films with future hus­band and co-star Humphrey Bog­art

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