Lauren Bacall, Husky-Voiced Star in Films, Plays, Dies at 89

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Lauren Bacall circa 1945. Close

Lauren Bacall circa 1945.

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Photographer: John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Lauren Bacall circa 1945.

Lauren Bacall, who memorably told Humphrey Bogart how to whistle in her 1944 movie debut -- “You just put your lips together and blow” -- and decades later won two Tony Awards in Broadway plays, has died. She was 89.

She died yesterday, according to an e-mailed statement from Robbert de Klerk, a co-managing partner at the Humphrey Bogart Estate with Bacall’s son, Stephen Bogart.

Bacall’s beauty and sultry voice charmed fans and Humphrey Bogart alike in her first film, “To Have and Have Not” (1944). Only 19, she had a torrid off-screen romance with Bogart, then 44. The next year he divorced his third wife to marry her.

They appeared in three more pictures together and became a celebrated Hollywood couple, subjects of a television film and a 1982 pop hit “Key Largo,” named after their movie. As a line from the song put it, “We had it all, just like Bogie and Bacall.”

“When two people are falling in love with each other, they’re not tough to get along with,” said Howard Hawks, who directed their first movie and the second, “The Big Sleep” (1946).

In addition to “Key Largo,” directed by John Huston, she made “Dark Passage” with Bogart in 1947. She was devoted to Bogart, accompanying him to Africa for the six months he spent making “The African Queen” (1951) with Katharine Hepburn.

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Lauren Bacall, seen here at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 13, 2007. Close

Lauren Bacall, seen here at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 13, 2007.

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Photographer: Malcolm Taylor/Getty Images

Lauren Bacall, seen here at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 13, 2007.

“The first time anything happens to you -- your first love, your first success -- the second one is never the same,” Bacall told Time magazine in 2005, discussing her romance with Bogart.

Tony Award

In 1970, Bacall won a Tony Award for best actress in “Applause,” a musical based on the movie “All About Eve” (1950). The play, Bacall’s first musical, ran for two years.

Eleven years later, Bacall won a second Tony in “Woman of the Year.” The musical followed the 1942 movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as newspaper columnists who fall in love, marry and continue battling over their careers.

She continued making movies into her 80s. As she told Time, “What is the point of working all your life and then stopping?”

Bacall was born on Sept. 16, 1924, in New York with the name Betty Joan Perske. After her parents divorced, she adopted her mother Natalie’s family name, Bacal, later adding a second L. She took dancing lessons and studied for a year at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Unable to afford a second year at drama school, she found work as a clothes model and theater usher. As Betty Bacall, she won a role in a Broadway melodrama that ran eight weeks in 1942.

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Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in a still from director Howard Hawks' 1946 film "The Big Sleep." Close

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in a still from director Howard Hawks' 1946 film "The Big Sleep."

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Source: Warner Brothers/Getty Images

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in a still from director Howard Hawks' 1946 film "The Big Sleep."

Her big break came in March 1943 when her face was on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. The picture caught the eye of Nancy “Slim” Hawks, one of America’s best-dressed women, who showed it to her husband Howard.

Bogie’s Mate

Hawks ordered a screen test, then signed her to a personal contract. He molded the ingenue, arranging publicity shots in his sumptuous home. He also changed her first name to Lauren.

In “To Have and Have Not,” Bacall played a sassy young woman -- called Slim -- with a past. Based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel, the movie was altered to echo “Casablanca” (1942) with Bogart reprising his role as a tough expatriate.

Aside from focusing on her youthful beauty, Hawks made Bacall lower her already deep voice in her first role.

“She had to keep practicing for six to eight months to keep that low voice,” he said. “Bogie fell in love with the character she played, so she had to keep playing it the rest of her life.”

It was a part she loved playing for the dozen or so years they had together.

Politically Active

Bacall went sailing on her husband’s boat and became a popular Hollywood hostess. The couple was also politically active. They made headlines in 1947, chartering a plane with 12 other actors and flying to Washington, D.C., to protest the Communist witch hunts led by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Always outspoken, she refused movie roles she found unsuitable and was suspended a dozen times by the Warner Bros. studio after it bought her contract from Hawks.

Even so, she averaged a film a year. Her movies included the comedy “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953), with Marilyn Monroe, and “Designing Woman” (1957), which starred Gregory Peck and won an Oscar for its screenplay.

Bogart’s death from lung cancer left Bacall a widow at 32. Buried with him was a little gold whistle he’d given Bacall. It was inscribed: “If you want anything, just whistle.”

She quit Hollywood in 1959 after an ill-fated romance with Frank Sinatra, taking her two children to London while filming “North West Frontier.” She returned to New York to rekindle her stage career with a three-month run in “Goodbye Charlie.”

Bacall earned good notices in “Cactus Flower,” a comedy by Abe Burrows that opened in 1965 and ran almost three years on Broadway. Ingrid Bergman played Bacall’s role when the show was made into a movie in 1969.

Kept Working

Bacall was still working on Broadway at age 75, when she had a six-month run in “Waiting in the Wings.” After it closed, she appeared in movies including “Dogville” (2003) and “Birth” (2004) with Nicole Kidman.

Bacall worked well into her 80s. She appeared in “Manderlay” with Willem Dafoe and Danny Glover and in “These Foolish Things” with Anjelica Houston in 2005.

Bacall was rarely at a loss for words. She wrote a 377-page autobiography in 1979, “By Myself,” then added 130 pages in 2005 and retitled it “By Myself and Then Some.”

She had two children with Bogart, who died in 1957: a son Stephen, a documentary filmmaker and author, and a daughter, Leslie. She had her son Sam Robards, an actor, from her marriage to Jason Robards.

When asked, at age 80, how it felt to be making a movie with a “legend” like Kidman, Bacall responded by dubbing her co-star “a beginner.” To be called a legend, she said later, “you have to be older.”

Bacall might have felt qualified to judge. She made the cover of Time’s July 1966 issue devoted to “the pleasures and perils of middle age.” Almost 40 years later, Time listed her among those who had aged well. “I intend to keep working until I drop,” she was quoted as saying.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Charles W. Stevens at cstevens@bloomberg.net Felix Kessler, Steven Gittelson

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