Bogie and Bacall

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From The Wall Street Journal:

Hollywood is famous for successfully pairing acting couples, some “married” on screen (Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon), some musical (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers), and some who became involved both off-screen and on (Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy). The gold standard of the on-screen romance that becomes an off-screen love affair is the one that contains a good lesson on how to whistle: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who first starred together in 1944’s “To Have and Have Not.” Their relationship was unexpected and unlikely but ultimately enduring and finally legendary, which is why nearly 80 years later William J. Mann has published “Bogie and Bacall: The Surprising Story of Hollywood’s Greatest Love Affair.”

The author of several books on film, including a well-researched biography of gay silent film star William Haines, Mr. Mann clearly states his purpose regarding Bogart and Bacall: “to trace myths back to their origins and to draw connections between what was said at the start of their careers and what was said later.” He puts the famous couple under an informed scrutiny, giving the full background of both stars before they met and questioning everything they did after. He pins down every rumor or error connected to their histories: Bogart’s naval service (he saw no action), the origin of his famous lip scar, the legend of Bacall’s discovery and arrival in Hollywood, their encounters with the House Un-American Activities Committee, his part in the original Rat Pack, her infatuation with presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, and so on. He was a child of wealth, a heavy drinker, “a drifter and idler” who bungled into acting. She was the only child of an impoverished single mother, and she knew from the beginning that she wanted to be a star.

Humphrey DeForest Bogart (original nickname: Hump) was born on Christmas Day in 1899. “I got cheated out of a birthday,” he always crabbed. His father was a New York society doctor and his mother a successful commercial artist who used him as a baby model. Bogart claimed, “There was no affection in my family, ever.” In his youth, he made a mess of everything, including boarding school, early jobs and his World War I service. After Bogart’s discharge in 1919, the Broadway producer William A. Brady (father of his best friend) took pity on the hapless 20-year-old and gave Bogart a nonacting job. From that day forward, Bogart never left show business. Mr. Mann calls Brady “the most influential figure of Humphrey’s early life.”

. . . .

Bogart’s stardom was hard-earned, but never deserted him after it arrived, having been born from such films as “High Sierra” and “Maltese Falcon” in 1941 and “Casablanca” in 1942. Today Bogart ranks as the American Film Institute’s No. 1 most popular actor in film history. (Bacall is No. 20 on the women’s list.)

Her road to fame was smoother. Born in the Bronx in 1924 as Betty Joan Perske, she was determined to become successful and moved quickly. Mr. Mann shrewdly points out that “she wondered when . . . not if ” success would arrive, already impatient by age 13. In 1941, at 17, she started modeling. Mr. Mann describes her as “savvy, confident, and resourceful,” adding she was also “a fawning young woman who was drawn to older men and had already proven her ability to charm them.”

After Bacall posed for an issue of Harper’s Bazaar, director Howard Hawks invited her to Hollywood to take a screen test. He was not impressed: “She had a high nasal voice and no training whatsoever.” In October 1943 he took her to the set of “Passage to Marseille” and introduced Bogart. He was 44, 5-foot-8, a big star and married. She was 19, 5-foot-9, a nobody and single. They said hello and shook hands. Bacall said: “There was no clap of thunder, no lightning bolt.” Not yet.

. . . .

“To Have and Have Not” began filming in March 1944. Nobody expected much from it, but the atmosphere on the set began to crackle. What happened can be seen on the screen. Bacall’s lack of experience and minimum of talent is overcome by her casual confidence, unusual looks and an insolent, slightly sullen manner. She’s fresh and different, and what Bogart sees in her is in his eyes and his amused little smile.

It became a short story: They met in 1943, filmed in 1944, married in 1945 (after Bogart’s divorce) and remained together until Bogart’s death of esophageal cancer on Jan. 14, 1957. (“Goodbye kid,” he said to her.) He died with one Oscar (for 1951’s “The African Queen”), 75 films, two children with Bacall and a marriage that had lasted nearly 13 years. (In terms of Hollywood unions, that’s a lifetime.)

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

3 thoughts on “Bogie and Bacall”

  1. Don’t forget Roy Rogers and Dale Evans!

    Their marriage lasted more than 50 years until Rogers died in 1998. Evans passed away in 2001.

  2. Lasting till “death do us part” is a miracle in Hollywood. Although a very few have been reasonably close in age, and one partner died from age. (I can’t recall any off-hand, but I’m sure I’ve seen it.)

    • A few acting couples have lasted together a long time, mostly by moving out of Hollywood.

      One example that comes to mind is Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick. They’ve been together since 1988. 35 years and counting. He’s 61, she’s 57. They might make it all the way.

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