Lauren Bacall

2 minute read

At 15, she once recalled, she was “tall, ungainly … with big feet, flat-chested.” A few years made all the difference for Brooklyn-born Betty Perske. At 18 she was a Harper’s Bazaar cover girl. At 19 she starred in her first film, To Have and Have Not. And at 20 she wed her 45-year-old leading man. Bogie and Betty, Humphrey Bogart and (her movie name) Lauren Bacall: a love affair for the ages.

Actually, their marriage lasted less than a dozen years, ending with Bogart’s death from cancer in 1957. But both forged their legends in the ’40s, starring together in The Big Sleep, Dark Passage and Key Largo–taut melodramas that sizzled from the match of his weary machismo and her playful allure. Bacall, who died Aug. 12 in New York City at 89, was Hollywood glamour on ice. She had a sultry voice whose register she lowered by shouting book passages for days in the Hollywood hills, and eyes that lasered through a man’s ego and into his id. No young actress was ever so brash and seductive as Bacall in her screen debut, telling Bogart how to whistle: “You just put your lips together and … blow.”

In her middle years this tough cookie took Broadway (Applause, Woman of the Year) and graced the all-star Murder on the Orient Express. Her most savory late role was as Barbra Streisand’s haughty mother in 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces. Dowdy Barbra asks resplendent Betty, “How did it feel to be beautiful?” And Bacall’s face softens into a glow: “It was wonderful!”


More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at