Lauren Bacall is often considered the leading heroine of the film noir genre with a prolific career that spans over 50 years. Her on-screen beauty, as well as her trademark sultry voice, has made her an icon for several generations.
Bacall was born in 1924 as Betty Joan Perske, the only daughter of Jewish immigrants William Perske and Natalie Weinstein-Bacall, who divorced when Bacall was six years old.
As a teenager, Bacall was a part-time model and a movie usherette. The wife of legendary producer and director Howard Hawks’ noticed Bacall modeling on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, and urged her husband to call her for a screen test. She made her film debut at only 19 years old opposite Humphrey Bogart in “To Have and Have Not.”
Bacall went on to marry Bogart in 1945, and starred with him in a second movie (also directed by Hawks), “The Big Sleep.” Her character, the wealthy Vivian, showed powerful development of Bacall’s skills on screen. Her versatility as an actress was exemplified in her third film opposite Bogart, John Huston’s “Key Largo,” where she played a more vulnerable character.
Bacall often took time off between each film to spend time with her family, even during the peak of her career activity in the 50’s. During this decade, Bacall appeared in such films as “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953) and “Written on the Wind” (1956). Bogart died in 1957, the same year Bacall starred in the sophisticated comedy, “Designing Woman.”
In 1960, she married actor Jason Robard. She seldom appeared on screen in the 1960’s, opting to make a return to the stage (where she had made brief appearances as a teenager) instead. She ended her eight year hiatus in 1974 with her role in the movie, “Murder on the Orient Express.”
Throughout her career, Bacall has been presented with countless awards and honors, from a Tony Award in 1970 to the Bette Davis Medal of Honor in 2008. In 1997, Bacall received a Golden Globe for her role in “The Mirror Has Two Faces.” The Stockholm Film Festival presented her with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, and the American Film Institute named Bacall as one of its 50 Greatest American Screen Legends in 2005.
Bacall has written two autobiographies, best-selling Lauren Bacall: By Myself (1978), which won a National Book Award in 1980, and Now (1994). She continues her career today, starring in award-winning movies such as Lars von Trier’s “Dogville” (2003).
Check out Lauren Bacall's Katharine Hepburn Medal acceptance speech
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