The Show Goes On
Legend Lauren Bacall on Life, Acting, and Bogie
BY Susan Cantrell • PHOTOGRAPHY BY William Rose + Corbis
Lauren Bacall, 84, is as powerful in person as she is on screen. On a February afternoon, her presence fills the suite she occupies, which happens to be at Carmel’s Cypress Inn. She is resting between calls for a movie she is filming, “Carmel.”
It is stunning to be in the presence of this strong woman with the velvety voice. “Sit down, please,” she commands, as her assistants exit. She is draped across the couch like a queen, with an exquisite butterfly-eared Papillion, Sophie, at her feet. “She’s so smart,” she says, showering the pooch with terms of endearment.
Bacall exudes elegance, while wearing a loose black sweater, slacks and socks—no shoes. She is resting the leg she injured in 1970 after falling on stage and tearing her cartilage. “It’s giving me trouble but I never missed a performance anywhere in the world.”
“The show must go on” seems to reflect her life on and off stage. “Oh, the glamour of my profession: a fallen arch from being on stage doing all those musicals all those years. But I loved being on stage. It was the only time in my life I felt appreciated.”
She adds, “I’m grateful for any crumb they throw me now in the movies. I’m dead as far as they’re concerned.”
Au contraire! White blonde waves framing her unblemished face, this iconic beauty is just as astounding as she has ever been. Liberal with her curse words, she launches in on Bogie (former husband, actor Humphrey Bogart), women, the degradation of America, and movies versus theater.
“I always speak my mind,” she says, gesturing with a large gold watch and chain bracelet dangling from her wrist.
Q: You do sexy with dignity so well. How do you pull it off?
A: I have no idea. [Chuckles] I think I’ve forgotten how, it was so long ago.
Q:You have recently lost some very dear friends. How do you cope with loss?
A: I coped from age 18 when I lost my grandmother. I was married to Bogie who was 25 years my senior, so all of our friends were more his age. After losing him, I suddenly became aware of people’s health and losing them. I spent a lot of life being aware of death. It becomes a less cheerful subject the older I get.
Q: Are you religious or spiritual?
A: [Wistfully] No, I’m afraid not. I didn’t grow up that way. Although I’m Jewish and so there’s no way, really, not to be…I wouldn’t turn to church to console me, although I’ve been friendly with the Kennedy family for years and years and with all the tragedies in that family, thank heaven they had that religion. Who cares how you get it?
Q: You say you live alone now. How alone?
A: It’s just Sophie and me. I am fortunate to have children and grandchildren.
Q: And your memories of Bogie?
A: I’m so lucky to have married Bogie and to have had such a fantastic relationship, even if it was so short [14 years]…I was headstrong and he was patient and so loving and funny and witty, my God! A man of honor and integrity and he lived his life by the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. And, by golly, if anyone lied to him, they were out. Most of the time I was in awe of him; he was the most incredible man who walked on earth…
Q: Sounds like you and Bogie did “have it all.”
A:Yes, we did.
Q: Any other memories?
A: I’ll haveTV on and suddenly hear a familiar voice. I watch [ portions of ] “Casablanca” every time it comes on. When I see a certain scene it reminds me of a part of my life…I realize more every day how fortunate I was to have what I had. Bogie didn’t live long enough to know his children or for them to know him…The great thing about our marriage is whenever he wanted to teach me, he said, ‘Long after I’m gone you’ll remember me.’ And he’s become this incredible icon.
Q: Like you.
A: I’m not an icon. I can tell you my obit will only talk about him.
Q: How do you become inspired and unwind?
A: I have a hard time relaxing. There’s so much stress everywhere. The world has changed so much and I find the behavior of people has changed so much. There are no manners, no grace. I guess TV has a lot to do with it: that the standards have lowered and people don’t read books anymore. I wrote three books—all in longhand. I don’t understand the computer scene but I am trying to learn it from my iPhone. It’s fairly hopeless.
Q: So you still need to earn a living?
A: I have to work, absolutely…The motion picture business is depressing for a woman. Once you pass 25 or 28 they don’t care, they’re just hitting the flavor of the month.
Q: When did you finally claim your feminine power?
A: I was brought up with a work ethic. It never occurred to me to go to college—we couldn’t afford it. So I decided to be an actress and my mother supported me every bit of the way. My father was a horrible man who skipped town and couldn’t be found by anyone anyway…Mother was born in Romania. She worked as an executive secretary and I always was aware of the value of women and the power of women. It was the work and drive of my mother…for me to act.
Q: How about men?
A: I began to feel the power of women in the theater. We had great leading roles in big shows. That, I thought, was pretty damn good…I realized women could do anything a man could do. And so I always voiced my opinion…I found men so damned boring…
Q: What female star do you most admire?
A: Bette Davis was my heroine. When I was 12 or 13 I could imitate her. I’d cut school and sneak into the movie theater because I couldn’t afford a ticket. Every waking hour, and in my sleep, I wanted to become like her.
Q: What other actors do you admire?
A: There are very few actresses that I would raise my eyes to…Once you’ve grown up and been exposed to James Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Katie Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, you say, ‘Excuse me? Why would you want to deal with what’s hanging around now?’
Q: So, when you do relax, you like the ocean?
A: I could be a beach bum so easily.
Q: We’ve talked for nearly three hours. Would you like to add anything?
A: [Smiling, eyebrows arched] Well, that’s all there is. That’s all of me.