Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Betty

Lauren Bacall, the Scarlett Johansson of the 1940s*, turns 84 today. She's been widowed for more than 50 years now. She met Humphrey Bogart on the set of To Have and Have Not when she was only 19 (he was 44) and, at five foot eight and a quarter inches tall, just a smidge taller than Bogie. Because of that, she spends most of the movie with her head slightly dipped, looking out at him through the top of her eyes - it's a very seductive pose. Someone once said (I can't remember who, but it was probably Howard Hawks) that Bogart fell in love with Bacall's character in the movie, so she had to be that character for the rest of their married life.

I love the fact that everyone calls Bacall "Betty" (she was born Betty Joan Perske) - Johnny Carson used to call her that every time she was on his show, and Juliette Binoche called her "Betty" at the Oscars a few years ago. These aren't even her close friends, I'm guessing. It's just that everyone recognizes "Lauren Bacall" as nothing but a stage name. She also gave the Rat Pack its name (she was briefly engaged to Sinatra after Bogie's death). That's more than you can say about a lot of people.

* I promise you I thought of this comparison last week while watching To Have and Have Not, and I didn't remember until today that Rich Cohen had called Bill Murray our Humphrey Bogart.


MJN said...

It is surprising to realize that she is only one year older than Johnny Carson. I am used to thinking of her as a movie star from way before my time, while Carson was a TV star very much of my time.

Innocent Bystander said...

In the movie "The Big Sleep", I thought the actress who played her kid sister (Martha Vickers) put her in the shadow, looks-wise.