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The Countless Lives Of Lauren Bacall


Hollywood lost another great yesterday. Lauren Bacall died at the age of 89. She was nearly as famous for her marriage to Humphrey Bogart as she was for films like "To Have And Have Not" and "How To Marry A Millionaire." Our critic, Bob Mondello, remembers her from another context entirely.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: I came in the middle with Bacall, after she'd reinvented herself about half-a-dozen times - from 17-year-old Betty from Brooklyn to 18-year-old model to 19-year-old femme fatale opposite Humphrey Bogart to wife and mother to grown-up film comedienne to celebrity widow, going nowhere. And when I first saw her in 1965, rather than being washed-up movie star at 40, she decided to be glamorous Broadway star at 40, mocking her image in a silly comedy called "Cactus Flower." She played a shy spinster. And even I at 15 knew that was ridiculous - this poised, elegant woman with a deep, sexy voice. I'd never seen any of her movies at that point, so I didn't know the back-story - how she'd been so nervous on the set of her first picture, "To Have And Have Not," that her hands were shaking, her cigarette shaking. And the way she held her head still in her scenes with Humphrey Bogart was to keep it down, chin low. That's what lowered the voice. If you watch the film now, you can see at the beginning of her most famous scene how she kept hands clasped tightly together so they wouldn't shake and later how she leans into Bogart, her hair falling over her face as she kisses him.


HUMPHREY BOGART: (As Harry "Steve" Morgan) What did you do that for?

LAUREN BACALL: (As Marie "Slim" Browning) Wondering whether I'd like it.

BOGART: (As Harry "Steve" Morgan) What's the decision?

BACALL: (As Marie "Slim" Browning) I don't know yet.

MONDELLO: And she kisses him again. And then she stands and goes to the door.


BACALL: (As Marie "Slim" Browning) You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything and you don't have to do anything - not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle.

MONDELLO: And she utters the words that made her a star at 19.


BACALL: (As Marie "Slim" Browning) You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.

MONDELLO: Bogie looked at her like who is this astonishing creature. And whatever nerves there had been at first, she got over. They had an affair on the set and then married and then all the rest to that day I first saw her. She had suffered enormous losses by that time before starting over, especially the loss of Bogart, who died of cancer. And this was in the mid-1960s when she still had lots of transformations to go - as best-selling author with an autobiography she actually wrote herself called "By Myself." Then as a star of two Broadway musicals - and you have to figure that took guts, as the first one cast her as a soon-to-be has-been movie star.


BACALL: (As Margo Channing, singing) This eternal second balcony.

MONDELLO: And she was definitely not a singer.


BACALL: (As Margo Channing, singing) Who's that girl with a permanent wave and a dress below her knees?

MONDELLO: When the Broadway thing got old, Bacall still had reinventions to come as a handsome older star, lending glamour and elegance to eccentric film work by Lars von Trier and Robert Altman, as an actress in television whose voice had turned to gravel. So she could now hold her head high. Lauren Bacall never settling, having had and had not and always moving forward. I'm Bob Mondello.


BACALL: (As Marie "Slim" Browning, singing) Maybe it happens this way. Maybe we really do belong together forever - how little we know. Maybe it's just for a day. Love is as changeable as the weather. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.