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Obituary: Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall

Story by Jack Foley

SCREEN legend Lauren Bacall has died at the age of 89.

The stage and film actress reportedly passed away after suffering a major stroke at her home in New York, according to the BBC.

Her career spanned seven decades and included memorable films such as Key Largo and The Big Sleep (both alongside Humphrey Bogart), as well as – more recently – The Mirror Has Two Faces, for which she received a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1924, she was the only child of Natalie (née Weinstein-Bacal), a secretary who later legally changed her surname to Bacall, and William Perske, who worked in sales.

Her parents divorced when she was five, and she took the Romanian form of her mother’s last name, Bacall, subsequently enjoing a very close relationship with her mum.

She also became involved in the entertainment industry early on, first as a teenage fashion model (appearing on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar among others) and then as an actress, after making her acting debut on Broadway in 1942, at age 17 (as a walk-on in Johnny 2 X 4).

Ironically, though, it was her work as a model that helped bring her to the attention of the film industry, as after seeing her Harper’s Bazaar cover, Howard Hawks’ wife, Nancy, urged Hawks to have her take a screen test for To Have and Have Not.

She was subsequently cast alongside her future husband, Humphrey Bogart, in the film and made her memorable screen debut at the age of 19.

However, despite registering strongly with critics and audiences alike, her next film, Confidential Agent in 1945, was panned and Bacall often said her career never recovered from that point.

She did, however, enjoy a prodigious screen life, with noir classic The Big Sleep (1946) and John Huston’s melodramatic suspense film Key Largo (1948) among early highlights.

In the 50s, she earned further acclaim for Young Man with a Horn alongside Kirk Douglas and Doris Day (a picture widely considered to be the first big-budget jazz film), as well as the runaway hit How to Marry a Millionaire with Marilyn Monroe. There was also the tear-jerking Written on the Wind alongside Rock Hudson.

But in the 60s and 70s her film career became less prolific and she concentrated more on the stage, winning Tony Awards for her performances in Applause in 1970 and Woman of the Year in 1981.

She did, however, appear in films such as Sex and the Single Girl in 1964 alongside Henry Fonda and Tony Curtis as well as Harper in 1966 with Paul Newman.

And she made something of a comeback in the 80s and 90s thanks, in no small part, to her Golden Globe winning performance in The Mirror Has Two Faces, which paved the way for critically acclaimed supporting roles in Dogville, Birth and Paul Schrader’s The Walker.

Despite missing out on an Oscar, her career achievements were recognised by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when she received an Honorary Academy Award in 2009. The accolade recognised “her central place in the golden age of motion pictures”.

Away from the screen, Bacall was married twice, firstly to Bogart in 1945, with whom she had two children and was married until his death in 1957. She then married Jason Robards, with whom she shared another child.

Among those to pay early tribute were her Mirror Has Two Faces co-star and director Barbra Streisand, who said: “What a terrible loss for us all… It was my privilege to have known her, to have acted with her. And, most of all, to have had her as a wise and loving friend. She was an original. Even with all those great films we can visit again and again, she will be missed.”

And actor James Caan, who shared the screen with Bacall in 1990’s Misery, said: “She was a great, uplifting lady who was full of talent and fun. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with her. I will miss her dearly.”