She hated being called a legend.
And by the standards of performers who began their careers in the golden age of film, Lauren Bacall didn't do that many movies. She married a legend, and her career suffered. She lost her Svengali, Howard Hawks, after the marriage, and he sold her contract. Movies fell on hard times — middle class flight to the suburbs, TV. And movies in the 1950s wanted voluptuous, not-too-bright blondes. So why do we film fans recall her with such deep admiration and affection? It starts with her first movie, To Have and Have Not.
You have to see that movie to understand what a sensation she caused. It was not only because she was gorgeous. It was because of the way she played Marie. Sultry, yet somehow innocent, teasing, playful. And the repartee between her and Bogart is, well, legendary. Finally you’ll understand why film buffs like to say, with a wink-wink to each other, “You know how to whistle, don't you?”
And she was only 19.
But while I thoroughly enjoyed How to Marry a Millionaire and Designing Woman, by my teens, I had moved on to other movies, “younger” movies. British movies.
But I found Bacall again when I was in college, when she starred in Applause on Broadway. I was living in Tennessee. Didn’t matter. I was studying theater, and I was captivated by a musical version of All About Eve.
I wore out that album (although I still own it!). I took it to Saturday set-building sessions at my undergraduate university, and we’d stick it on the hi-fi and turn up the volume so we could hear it onstage. And sing along. Well, at least I did. I thought it would be the best thing in the world to be on stage.
So of course, when it came time to name my heroine, a tall blonde with a snappy attitude, there was only one first name I could give.