Lauren Bacall's enduring allure

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by Claudia Puig

WHAS11.com

Posted on August 13, 2014 at 7:56 AM

(USA TODAY) -- One of the most glamorous Hollywood legends to ever light up the silver screen is gone.

Lauren Bacall, of the smoky voice and sultry gaze, suffered a stroke and died Tuesday at her Manhattan home, just a month shy of her 90th birthday.

An iconic and charismatic figure from Hollywood's Golden Age, Bacall retained her trademark elegance throughout her long career on stage and screen.



Betty Joan Perske, a self-described "nice Jewish girl from the Bronx," became one of the world's most famous movie stars, not long after she fell in love with her leading man, Humphrey Bogart. While her romance with Bogart threatened to overshadow her career initially, Bacall's impressive talent endured and wowed audiences for more than six decades.

Unlike many of her peers, she was able to make the leap from gorgeous starlet to widely admired serious actress.

The striking Bacall began her career as a model at 17. She was only 19 when she starred in 1944's To Have and Have Not opposite Bogart, and a career as a film noir siren was born. Who can forget the sexy way she instructed Bogie to whistle: "You just put your lips together and blow."

As Marie "Slim" Browning, a clever petty thief stranded in Martinique, she communicated a world-weary quality blended with a sense of mystery and self-assurance far beyond her years.

Her attraction with Bogart was electric, on screen and off. Despite a 25-year age difference, they married in 1945 and became one of the industry's most famous couples, remaining together until Bogart's death in 1957. She married Jason Robards in 1961, and they divorced in 1969.

Director Howard Hawks gave Bacall her distinctive name after casting her in To Have and Have Not.

Known for her distinctive blend of elegance and sensuality, she also starred with Bogart in The Big Sleep, Dark Passage and Key Largo in the 1940s. She was famous for "the look," because of her seductive expression, but she was so much more than sexy. Independent, tough, smart and able to hold her own against leading men more than twice her age, Bacall became one of the most admired actresses in Hollywood early on.

She made more than 60 films, proving her versatility with key roles in comedies, romances, dramas and adventure sagas. She even lent her voice to animated roles, including Howl's Moving Castle.

Effortlessly charming in the 1957 romantic comedy Designing Woman, Bacall played a fashion designer deftly bantering with Gregory Peck's sportswriter character. She showed off her easy way with wit in the fast-paced romp and exhibited substantial chemistry with Peck. She later said the film was one of her personal favorites, though it was made while Bogart was fighting throat cancer.

It's hard to imagine any co-star who wouldn't have had chemistry with the sizzling, whip-smart Bacall.

On the lighter side, she was a delight in 1953's How to Marry a Millionaire as one of three scheming women (co-starring with Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable) intent on nabbing a rich husband.

She continued to work well into her later years, taking a part in edgy filmmaker Lars Von Trier's complex 2003 film Dogville and co-starring with Nicole Kidman in Birth in 2004. In 2012 she made The Forger, a light drama about art forgery, starring with Hayden Panettiere and Josh Hutcherson.

She won two Tony Awards, for her starring roles in Applause in 1970 and Woman of the Year in 1981. She won an honorary Governor's Award from the Academy in 2009 and wrote a National Book Award-winning memoir, By Myself, in 1978 (later expanded and updated to By Myself and Then Some in 2006).

She was also politically outspoken, protesting the House Un-American Activities hearings as well as campaigning for Adlai Stevenson's 1952 presidential bid.

In 1974's Murder on the Orient Express, a 50-year-old Bacall played a voluble socialite, capitalizing on her sophisticated grace and calling upon the diva quality she became known for.

Still, she never sought the spotlight, famously saying: "Stardom isn't a career, it's an accident."

What a lucky accident Bacall's long and legendary career was for audiences the world over.

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