Lauren Bacall, the actress whose provocative glamour elevated her to stardom in Hollywood’s golden age and whose lasting mystique put her on a plateau in American culture that few stars reach, died Tuesday in New York. She was 89.
With an insinuating pose and a seductive, throaty voice — her simplest remark sounded like a jungle mating call, one critic said — Ms. Bacall shot to fame in 1944 with her first movie, Howard Hawks’ adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel “To Have and Have Not,” playing opposite Humphrey Bogart, who became her lover on the set and later her husband.
It was a smashing debut sealed with a handful of lines now engraved in Hollywood history.
“You know you don’t have to act with me, Steve,” her character says to Bogart’s in the movie’s most memorable scene. “You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”
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The film was the first of more than 40 for Ms. Bacall, among them “The Big Sleep” and “Key Largo” with Bogart, “How to Marry a Millionaire” with Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable, “Designing Woman” with Gregory Peck, the all-star “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974) and, later in her career, Lars von Trier’s “Dogville” (2003) and “Manderlay” (2005) and Robert Altman’s “Prêt-à-Porter” (1994).
But few if any of her movies had the impact of her first — or of that one scene. Indeed, her film career was a story of ups, downs and long periods of inactivity. Although she received an honorary Academy Award in 2009, “in recognition of her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures,” she was not nominated for an Oscar until 1997.
The theater was kinder to her. She won Tonys for her starring roles in two musicals adapted from classic films: “Applause” (1970), based on “All About Eve,” and “Woman of the Year” (1981), based on the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn movie of the same name.
She also won a National Book Award in 1980 for the first of her two autobiographies, “Lauren Bacall: By Myself.”
Although often called a legend, she did not care for the word.
“Aren’t legends dead?” she wrote in 1994 in “Now,” her second autobiography.
Ms. Bacall was an 18-year-old model in New York when her face on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar caught the eye of Slim Hawks, Howard Hawks’ wife. Brought to Hollywood, she won the role in “To Have and Have Not,” based on the novel of the same name.
She played Marie Browning, known as Slim, an American femme fatale who becomes romantically involved with Bogart’s jaded fishing-boat captain, Harry Morgan, known as Steve, in wartime Martinique. Her deep voice and the seductive way she looked at Bogart in the film attracted attention.
Their on-screen chemistry hadn’t come naturally, however. In one of the first scenes she filmed, she asked if anyone had a match. Bogart threw her a box of matches, she lit her cigarette and then threw the box back to him.
“My hand was shaking, my head was shaking, the cigarette was shaking, I was mortified,” she wrote in “By Myself.” “The harder I tried to stop, the more I shook. … I realized that one way to hold my trembling head still was to keep it down, chin low, almost to my chest, and eyes up at Bogart. It worked and turned out to be the beginning of The Look.”
Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske in Brooklyn on Sept. 16, 1924, the daughter of William and Natalie Perske, Jewish immigrants from Poland and Romania. Her parents were divorced when she was 6 years old, and her mother moved to Manhattan and adopted the second half of her maiden name, Weinstein-Bacal, later adding the extra ‘l’ because, she said, the single “l” caused “too much irregularity of pronunciation.”
During her romance with Bogart, she asked him if it mattered to him that she was Jewish. His answer, she later wrote, was “Hell, no — what mattered to him was me, how I thought, how I felt, what kind of person I was, not my religion, he couldn’t care less — why did I even ask?”
While filming “To Have and Have Not,” Bogart had stopped at her trailer to say good night when he suddenly leaned over, lifted her chin and kissed her. He was 25 years her senior and married at the time to Mayo Methot, his third wife. But to Ms. Bacall, “He was the man who meant everything in the world to me; I couldn’t believe my luck.”
As her fame grew — she attracted wide publicity in February 1945 when she was photographed perched on top of a piano with Vice President Harry S. Truman at the keyboard — so did the romance, particularly as she and Bogart filmed “The Big Sleep,” based on a Raymond Chandler whodunit.
Bogart returned to his wife several times before he and Ms. Bacall were married in 1945. He was 45; She was 20. They had two children, Stephen and Leslie.
Bogart died of cancer in January 1957 at the age of 57. Ms. Bacall moved to New York in 1958 and, three years later, married actor Jason Robards, settling in the Dakota, on Central Park West, where she lived until her death. They had a son, actor Sam Robards, and were divorced in 1969. Robards died in 2000.
The name Lauren was given her by Howard Hawks before the release of her first film, but family and old friends called her Betty throughout her life, and to Bogart she was always Baby.