A lady who defined class and knew how to whistle.
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 on Tuesday in New York. She was 89.
Her death was confirmed by her son Stephen Bogart. “Her life speaks for itself,” Mr. Bogart said. “She lived a wonderful life, a magical life.”
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’s 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.”
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.
“I didn’t really have any love in my growing-up life, except for my mother and grandmother,” Ms. Bacall said in the Vanity Fair interview. Her father, she said, “did not treat my mother well.”
From then until her move to Hollywood, Ms. Bacall was known as Betty Bacal; she added an “l” to her name because, she said, the single “l” caused “too much irregularity of pronunciation.” 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.
I never met her, but I sat behind her at a performance of “Richard III” at the Stratford Festival in 1980 when Brian Bedford was playing the lead. Later we saw her at the next table at The Church restaurant. She and I were both born on September 16.