The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw may have summed up the late Lauren Bacall best when he called her “the studio product who toughed her way to independence” in his fine obituary. Bacall was famously offered a chance at stardom after Howard Hawks’ wife Nancy discovered her on a magazine cover.
At 19, she made her screen debut opposite future husband Humphrey Bogart in the 1944 film noir To Have and Have Not. In 2005, Bacall told NPR, “The only thing that I am not pleased about is when people only talk about ‘Bogie’ to me as though I had no other life at all…. When I had, unfortunately, many, many more years without him than I did with him.”
The persona she crafted on and off screen in the eary part of her career was that of a worldly, shrewd seductress. Here’s a variation of that opposite Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable in the comedy How to Marry a Millionaire. As always, Bacall’s the smartest person in the room, though in this case that’s easier than usual.
When her film career slowed down after the fifties — she was reportedly unhappy with most of the scripts that came her way — Bacall took the opportunity to prove she wasn’t just a pretty face by becoming a grande dame on the stage. She eventually won two Tony Awards — for Applause in 1970 and Woman of the Year in 1981 — both stage adaptations of popular movies (All About Eve and the Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy classic, respectively). She finally earned her first Academy Award nomination in her seventies by playing Barbra Streisand’s mother in 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces.
Bacall’s contribution to film would finally be recognized via an honorary Oscar in 2009 after six decades in the industry. Her career eventually lasted beyond the star system that changed her a new name and identity and had little to offer once she aged out of fashion plate-dom. But Bacall took her passion and ambition for acting to transform herself from packaged starlet to respected actress and, ultimately, a screen legend.