Remembering Lauren Bacall (September 16, 1924 – August 12, 2014)

Above: Lauren Bacall in 1946 and in 2010

There is a line in the Christopher Buckley book Thank You For Smoking that always stands out to me as the key identifying of Lauren Bacall’s impact for those of us that didn’t come of age during her formative years on screen. While going back and watching some of those key films like The Big Sleep, How to Marry a Millionaire and Key Largo is recommended, Buckley’s reference to her—and the way Aaron Eckhart later delivers the same line in the film—captures the essence of venerable actress who passed away Tuesday at the age of 89.

In a board meeting strategizing how to make smoking cool again (the book is a satire, people, relax), tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor lands on Humphrey Bogart as an icon and immediately makes the connection to his co-star and future wife:

“Do you remember the first line Lauren Bacall says to him in To Have and Have Not, their first picture together? She sort of shimmies in through the doorway, nineteen years old, pure sex, and that voice. She says, `Anybody got a match?’ And Bogie throws the matches at her. And she catches them. The greatest screen romance of the twentieth century, and how does it begin? With a match.”

Bacall shared the screen with the heavyweights of the ’40s and ’50s, acting alongside the likes of Bogart, whom she was married to until his death in 1957, Gary Cooper, Kirk Douglas, and Henry Fonda, as well as having worked with Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable in the aforementioned How to Marry a Millionaire. She co-starred with John Wayne on his final film, The Shootist (1976), and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Barbara Streisand’s mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996), her first nomination after more than 50 years in the business.

She’d lose in an upset to Juliette Binoche (The English Patient), but 13 years later, the Academy would bestow an Honourary Academy Award upon her “in recognition of her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures.”

She was an “It Girl” and sex symbol before their were “It Girls” and being a sex symbol was considered an occupation, captivating audiences from her first appearance on screen in To Have and Have Not. Following her dramatic and memorable entrance, Bacall exited with just as much moxie, creating another lasting memory when she departed, telling Bogart’s character:

“You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”

Bacall blew those early audiences away and her romance with Bogart made them a celebrity couple on the level of Kim and Kanye, minus the tabloid covers, reality show on E! and ridiculously named child. She nearly married Frank Sinatra, and did tie the knot with Jason Robards, making her the only Academy Award recipient to have been married to two other winners.

For the second consecutive day, we mourn the loss of a phenomanl talent and cinematic icon.

Rest in peace, Ms. Bacall—tell Bogie we say hello.

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