In Acting And In Life, Lauren Bacall 'Loved The Idea Of Adventure' Lauren Bacall died Tuesday in New York at the age of 89. In 1994, she talked with Fresh Air about her early career, working with Marilyn Monroe and her intense love affair with Humphrey Bogart.
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In Acting And In Life, Lauren Bacall 'Loved The Idea Of Adventure'

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In Acting And In Life, Lauren Bacall 'Loved The Idea Of Adventure'

In Acting And In Life, Lauren Bacall 'Loved The Idea Of Adventure'

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. Lauren Bacall, the actress whose deep voice and sultry on-screen presence made her an instant star in the '40s, died Tuesday in New York. She was 89. Though she made more than 40 films and won Tony awards in the '70s and '80s she was forever associated with Humphrey Bogart, her husband and costar early in her career. Here they are in her most iconic scene from her very first movie, the 1944 wartime romance, "To Have And Have Not."


LAUREN BACALL: (As Marie Browning) You know Steve you're not very hard to figure. Only at times. Sometimes I know exactly what you're going to say, most of the time. The other times, the other times you're just a stinker.

HUMPHREY BOGART: (As Harry Morgan) What you do that for?

BACALL: (As Marie Browning) I'm wondering whether I'd like it.

BOGART: (As Harry Morgan) What's the decision?

BACALL: (As Marie Browning) I don't know yet. It's even better when you help. Are you sure you won't change your mind about this?

BOGART: (As Harry Morgan) Yes.

BACALL: (As Marie Browning) This belongs to me inside of my lips. I don't see any difference.

BOGART: (As Harry Morgan) Well, I do.

BACALL: (As Marie Browning) OK. You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. 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.

BOGART: (As Harry Morgan) (Whistles).

DAVIES: Bacall began an affair with Bogart then when he was more than twice her age. They married a few months later. She was 19 when they met and 32 when he died of cancer in 1957. Before Bogart's death, they made several more films together - including "The Big Sleep," "Dark Passage," and "Key Largo." And they joined other actors informing the committee to resist the anti-Communist investigations of the House Un-American Activities Committee. After Bogart's death, Bacall had a brief engagement to Frank Sinatra and an eight year marriage to Jason Robards. Her other films include "Young Men With A Horn," "How To Marry A Millionaire," "Blood Alley," "Written On The Wind," "Designing Woman," "Murder On The Orient Express," "The Shootist" and "Misery." She won Tony awards for her performances in "Applause" and "Woman Of The Year." And in 2009 she received an honorary Academy Award. Terry spoke to Lauren Bacall in 1994.



Your voice is one of the kind of special voices from film. And you have a deep voice. I'm wondering if you were ever self-conscious about your voice before realizing what an asset it was. Was your voice deep when you were a teenager?

BACALL: Yes. It always has been deep. I've always had a low voice. My mother had one and my daughter has one.

GROSS: Did you like it before you were?

BACALL: I don't think I ever thought about it, you see. An actual fact I have never been one, even from childhood, to kind of analyze myself very much. My voice has been somewhat of a drawback now because - or over the years - because there are people first of all - we won't discuss why, I pick up the phone they say, yes Sir, you know. I say, I am not a Sir. And they keep saying, yes sir, we know Sir. (Laughter). Nobody listens. And also I think it's one of the reasons that the perception of me has been that I'm so in control and so strong, so tough because I have this deep voice. But I don't want to change it and I can't change it.

GROSS: On the first film that you made, "To Have And Have Not," your voice was really quite outstanding. You used it to great effect. Now when Howard Hawks, the director of that film, first noticed you, he probably had no idea what your voice was like because he first saw you on the cover of Harper's Bazaar. He was attracted by your look and had idea what your voice was like.

BACALL: Right, that's true. Now Howard was a fascinating man because he used to, you know, I didn't know how to drive a car and he used to pick me up and take me to a studio or wherever he was taking me and we would have lunch and so forth. And he would tell me about scenes with different actresses when he was directing Carole Lombard in "Twentieth Century" or when he was directing Jane Arthur in "Only Angels Have Wings" or Rita Hayworth - or whoever he was directing, whatever woman he was directing, he would always tell me these stories. And he always - his fantasy was always to find an unknown girl and make her a star. His Fengali instincts were very ripe. The only thing that he wanted me to do - keep my voice at a low register in the middle of an emotional scene of any kind because normally in an emotional scene, when you're emotional your voice tends to rise. And he didn't want mine to rise. And so he had this vision. And he told me about it. He wanted me to keep my voice down for all of those scenes that required either anger or excitement or any scene that would normally provoke a rise in your voice - he wanted it to be kept down. So he liked it. And it could be not be low enough to suit him. Something in his head you see, I mean, he had this dream.

GROSS: Well, you say he really wanted to make you into his version of the ideal woman. What was that ideal?

BACALL: Well, that idea was a woman who was - could give as good as she got - who had humor, who was kind of a woman of the world. And somewhat insolent. And actually who behaved rather like a man.

GROSS: What did that mean to behave rather like a man?

BACALL: Well, that you would look, you know, if a man said something to you - you would look at him directly. And he didn't like shy wallflower types and always with humor though. And always somewhat suggestive that something was in the offing - something could happen. And you weren't quite sure what that something was. But you knew that it would be fun and fascinating. And probably different, unusual. I mean, he had this incredible thing going on in his brain and it worked because I was insolent and he wanted someone - he always said, he wanted someone as insolent as Bogart.

GROSS: Did you find that kind of woman appealing?

BACALL: Appealing?

GROSS: Yeah.

BACALL: Oh, yes, kind of fascinating and adventurous and, I mean, when you are playing a part like that where you have traveled - you begin to think, God what a great life. Independent, living alone and how dramatic. You know, I was so stage-struck and star-struck and everything-struck that I just - I loved the idea of adventure and the idea, the drama of everything was so appealing to me. I mean, that was the fun of acting to me that I could lose myself in all of that stuff.

GROSS: You had something that was described as the look. I mean, your eyes were kind of droopy and you'd look at people with your head lowered a little bit.

BACALL: Yes, then I'd look up at them.

GROSS: Yeah. So described the look a little bit more and how you got it.

BACALL: Well, I was terribly nervous. It was quite a terrifying experience for me. And I was this kid and I was scared to death of all these pros around me. And really had had almost no experience on the stage. And certainly none in film. So I was shook when Hawks said, action and there was quiet on the set - I'd start to walk into a scene and then my head would shake and my hands would shake and I discovered that if I kept my head down and looked up my head would not shake. So I started to do that, when I could - when it was appropriate in a scene. And that's how the look came about. But it wasn't that I had planned to have a look it was just that it was a way to keep my head steady. And it was very important.

GROSS: (Laughter).

BACALL: Terrible to look at another actor while your head is shaking.

GROSS: Before you ever really experienced love you were acting out the movie version of romance and then you started having the romance with the person who you were acting it out with on-screen.

BACALL: The only romance was the most romantic experience I have ever had in my life - far surpassing anything that I might've dreamed of or imagined. It was quite amazing. I mean, when you are young and when it's your first love and you are just carried away by it and when that's all you can think about. And, you see, Bogie was a kind of man who believed in taking care of a marriage and taking care of a relationship - he believed you had to work at it and keep it fresh and fun and interesting. And he did.

GROSS: He was already a movie star to you right?

BACALL: Oh, yes, absolutely.

GROSS: So you had a sense of him as an icon as well as as a man?

BACALL: No. Not as an icon. He was not my favorite movie star.

GROSS: Did you tell them that? (Laughter).

BACALL: Yes. He knew it. No, Leslie Howard was my favorite. He knew that. But he had worked with Leslie Howard in "Petrified Forest" which was funny, you know. And no, he wasn't an icon when I met him. I mean, this was after "Casablanca" and he was a big star but certainly not what he is today which is this legend, this incredible icon now. I mean, he is bigger than ever.

GROSS: I'm sure you've been asked this a bazillion times - but do you think that what you and Bogart were feeling off-screen you can see on screen? I mean, that the real relationship registers in the movie?

BACALL: Well, I think sometime it does. Certainly the chemistry registers. Whether it is a consummated relationship or not, I think that if there is chemistry between two people you feel it. I think that Bogie and myself in "Have And Have Not" having fallen in love with one another, first of all, it was great for me because he wanted me to be good in it. So he made it much easier for me to play the scenes. And of course my feeling, you know, the feeling was so strong that, you know, originally in "To Have And Have Not" not his character was supposed to have a little flirtation with the other woman. And once Hawks saw the rushes of the scenes that Bogey and I played, Bogey said to him, nobody is ever going to accept or believe that he would go off with anybody else for a second. And it was true.

GROSS: When you and Bogart decided to get married you write that he said to you that he wanted to marry you but only if you were willing to give up going on location for a film because he didn't want you both going off in different directions.

BACALL: Right.

GROSS: How do you feel about that in retrospect?

BACALL: Well, I recognize the fact completely that separation does not breed a happy marriage. I think you must be together. I mean, the reason you get married is to be together, not to be separated. And I think particularly in my profession, but in any profession. I think if you each go off in opposite directions sooner or later one of you is going to go off and not come back. And I agreed to his terms.

GROSS: But you wanted so much to be an actress.

BACALL: Right.

GROSS: And this cut down on the roles that you could take.

BACALL: Yes, oh, absolutely. And soon I never even got the offers because I was thought of as Bogeys' wife and that I would just go with him on location, which I did. And we were never separated. We were separated once only for a very short time.

GROSS: Well, you know, I was thinking how frustrating it must've been when he was making "African Queen" with Katharine Hepburn you with there in Africa with them kind of suffering through all of the problems that you had to suffer through. But, you know, I mean, you were there as the wife.

BACALL: I was there as the wife. I was in charge of lunch.

GROSS: And not as the star.

BACALL: But, you know, I had a lot of frustrations about my career. A lot of, you know, times where I felt I should've been considered for a part that I wasn't considered for - Bogey had decided early on and told me from the very beginning that he would never interfere with my career, that whatever I did professionally I would do only with myself and my agent. If I wanted his advice I could ask him but that he would never step in. And he never did. And sometimes I thought, well, he ought to step in. I mean, once in a while I should be in a movie with him with one of the parts - but whatever his decision was, he was correct. Because he had enough experience to know what worked and what didn't work. And I was very frustrated at times but I still believe and I even believed then that even throughout my frustration that the choice I made was the right one - obviously in view of what happened - it most certainly was the right one. And I'm really happy I made that choice.

GROSS: Because your life together...

BACALL: Because he had a life. He had a life that he never thought he would have. And it was very short. But imagine if I'd gone off somewhere. Well, I mean, he wouldn't have stood for it anyway, so.

GROSS: After his death how did that change for you the life you wanted for yourself professionally?

BACALL: Well, unfortunately it didn't change very much because, you know, when people get in the habit of not seeing you very much on screen that habit kind of carries over. And I was - I mean, I played in the movie that was very mediocre.

GROSS: Which one?

BACALL: What was it called? I forgot with Robert Stack about the little girl with the horse and the gift of love. It wasn't very good. It was a remake and it wasn't a good remake. And then I went to Europe to be in a movie in England. And India which of course I loved. And that movie was quite a good movie but my career never - you see then I had to leave California. I just, there was no life for me there. And so my career then shifted to the stage. Then of course they don't think about you at all in movies.

GROSS: Right because you're outside...

BACALL: Oh, now she wants to be in the theatre. Who cares? On to the next.

GROSS: So what did you do to make it clear that you wanted back in?

BACALL: Well I just think if you just keep - hang in there, you know. And just keep working in one medium or another. I've still not gotten my choice of the best roles in the world. There are still friends that don't think of me for parts because we're friends. Well, I mean that's life. And that's the biz.

DAVIES: Lauren Bacall speaking with Terry Gross recorded in 1994. We'll hear more of their conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're listening to Terry's 1994 interview with actress Lauren Bacall who died Tuesday at the age 89.


GROSS: I want to ask you about working with some of the many people you've worked with over the years...

BACALL: Yes, absolutely.

GROSS: ...And see if you can share some of your impressions of them. Faulkner wrote the script - co-wrote the script for your first two movies. Did you work with him directly?

BACALL: Well, not really but I saw him a lot because he was in Hawks' office all the time. And I remember in "the Big Sleep," one day he came on the set with a scene that he had written, and Hawks, of course, brought it over and showed it to Bogie and me. And what he had done was he had written a speech that was two pages long for one character. Now, that's the way he wrote. But you couldn't, on a movie screen, have one person talking for that length of time. Hawks just thought it was great. He thought it was kind of funny. But I got to know Faulkner when we were in Italy. He was there, and we would see him. He was a shy, brilliant and really charming, charming man. And if you ever get a chance to find - to read his Nobel Prize speech - it was a most amazing talk. He was - had quite a mind - quite an exceptional mind, and he was an adorable little man because, you know, he had a big drinking problem. He would say - we saw him in Rome, and we said what are you going to do now? He said, well, I thought that I would drive down to the south, tasting the wine of the country as I go.

GROSS: (Laughter) You worked with Marilyn Monroe - on "How to Marry a Millionaire." How was the experience of working with her?

BACALL: It was fine. I mean, we got along very well. My only complaint about her was that she was late all the time. But she was late out of fear as much as anything else. But it was hard to sit around and wait, you know? She was usually an hour or two late every morning.

GROSS: You strike me as such different types - probably off the screen - certainly on the screen.

BACALL: Oh, yes, we were - we are. I mean, I wish I had been as photogenic as she was. But she was a very kind of sweet kind of faraway - very self-involved but not - I mean, she had no meanness. She was not bitchy. She was not strident in any way. She was just - always seemed a little lost to me - wistful kind of. But just kind of not quite there - do you know what I mean? And you'd be playing a scene with her and she would go over and over the scene - and you'd have to be on your toes because she would do many, many takes. And she always had the coach on the set which was a big annoyance, you know? Constantly - instead of looking at you, she'd be looking at the coach. That kind of thing was difficult. But personally, she really was sweet. I mean, she was - we did get along well.

GROSS: Kirk Douglas - now he was your boyfriend before you even...

BACALL: Oh, I had such a crush on him. He was so dazzling when I was 15 and he was 150 - no. (Laughing) And he was - God, he was attractive. And I just took one look at him and I was sunk.

GROSS: This was when you were in high school - right after high school?

BACALL: Right, I was at the American Academy. I was 15 years old. I was just enamored with him. And he was pretty dashing and dazzling - wonderful, wonderful actor. And, of course, I was involved in his beginning. When Bogie and I were going on the train to New York once, Hal Wallis was on the train with us. And Kirk was in a play in New York with a small part, and I told Hal about him. I said you better go see this guy. He's a wonderful actor. And Hal did and then signed him. And that's how his career started in pictures.

GROSS: No, no - after being boyfriend and girlfriend when you were very young, what was it like to be in a movie with him - in "Young Man with a Horn?"

BACALL: Well, it was great. It was fun because - first of all, each of us had other lives - by then.

GROSS: Right.

BACALL: And very - we were very secure in our lives. But, of course, when you remember those times, it's kind of fun. You know, you have that kind of little flirtation going that doesn't really mean anything, but it just all has to do with the past.

DAVIES: Lauren Bacall speaking with Terry Gross recorded in 1994. We'll hear more of their conversation in the second half of the show. Bacall died Tuesday at the age of 89. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: We're listening to Terry's interview with actress Lauren Bacall, who died Tuesday at the age of 89. Bacall costarred with and was married to Humphrey Bogart early in her career. She was 32 when he died of cancer. She went on to make more than 40 films and win two Tony awards. She spoke to Terry in 1994.


GROSS: John Wayne - you worked with him in two movies - "Blood Alley" in the '50s and then "The Shootist" in - what was it? - '75, '76.

BACALL: '77.

GROSS: '77 - OK. And "The Shootist" was his last movie.


GROSS: And he had cancer in real life and also in the movie.

BACALL: Right - off- and on-screen. Right absolutely.

GROSS: The character was, you know, an aged gunfighter who was dying of cancer. Oh, I'm wondering what it was like, then, knowing that he was really sick, that it would probably be his last movie. Not wanting to kind of over-dramatize the significance of that, but here he is, playing out the drama on-screen that's happening off-screen. And you know what's happening, but you don't want to get too...

BACALL: Well, you couldn't with him. I learned through Bogie's illness that the person who is ill is the one who dictates your behavior.

GROSS: Right, right. You take your cues from them.

BACALL: Right. And Bogey never discussed it and never talked about it. Once after his surgery - and so I never did. And Duke was the same.

GROSS: You never talked about it together?

BACALL: No, no. And, you know, he'd say some days, you know, I don't feel so good today. Or I have to do this - you know, I have to go have this radiation or, you know, stuff like that. But, I mean, he never talked to me about if something happens or what might - you know, never.

Now, Duke was the same. Duke never talked about it. I mean, mind you I wasn't married to him, but he still - we knew each other fairly well and never talked about it. And he handled himself impeccably. Well, you have to go along with that. You know, he had a - he was very strange contradiction of a man to me because he -'cause, politically, we didn't agree about anything.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

BACALL: We were really on opposite sides and vehemently so, so we never discussed it, obviously. But we worked very well together, and he was sweet with me. And he was really attractive, you know. He had a quality that surprised me. That he did have a kind of real appeal. I mean, there was a reason he was such a big star. He had real - he was a real man, and he had real appeal.

And so, I mean, although I'm sure he realized it would be his last picture, and I certainly did, it was never discussed. It was just - we just went from day to day. And he'd say, oh, I can't drink anymore. I can't smoke anymore. He said, all the fun's gone. You know, he'd say something like that, but other than that - no.

GROSS: Frank Sinatra - now, (laughing)...


GROSS: Well, here's my question. It's not a very personal one. But you almost got married. Or - I mean, a gossip columnist said that he - that you were engaged. You had been having a relationship and then, after this was in print, that you were going to get married...

BACALL: That was the end. Yes.

GROSS: He kind of cut it off - cut off the relationship. So I'm wondering when someone is as, like, extraordinary a singer as Frank Sinatra , but you're really angry with that person because of the way they behaved toward you, how does the singing sound? (Laughing) Could you still appreciate his singing? Or were you so just really angry at the way he behaved that you couldn't even listen to his records anymore and thought he was, in fact, a lousy singer?

BACALL: No. I couldn't think he was a lousy singer because he was never a lousy singer. But I was in such a bad, terrible emotional state that I actually didn't want to listen to very much for that reason. But as for the quality of his work - no. I mean nobody sounded better than Frank did at that time. Nobody did.

GROSS: A lot of actresses complain that when you stop being a young actress, that the roles dry up - that, you know, for men, there's roles when you get older. Like, Clint Eastwood could play the leading man.

BACALL: And how.

GROSS: And there's no such equivalent for women. And is that something you felt through your career?

BACALL: Oh, absolutely. Well, and it's not only age because a lot of younger actresses cannot find work. They cannot find parts to play. First of all, they're not being written now. Second of all, you have men like Clint Eastwood, who I am crazy about, I must say. He plays in pictures with 20-year-old girls, but a woman can't do that. A woman can play in a movie with younger guys and have relationships of any kind. Forget it.

GROSS: When you were young, your hero on-screen was Bette Davis.


GROSS: And you even got to meet her and say, hello, when you were very young.

BACALL: No, but you see, she had adult roles to play...

GROSS: But that's the thing.

BACALL: ...Until she had put an ad in the Hollywood reporter saying that she was out of work, and she was ready and able to go to work.

GROSS: And then, I mean...

BACALL: Shocking, that Bette Davis - the greatest star, I think, ever in motion pictures.

GROSS: OK. And then some of the roles that she got were these kind of perverse, demonic older women roles...

BACALL: Like Baby Jane. Yeah.

GROSS: Like Baby Jane. You know, she was just like a horror. And...

BACALL: This wonderful actress.

GROSS: Well, so I'm wondering, like - here she was, your model when she was younger. What did you think of her as a model for, you know, as an older actress?

BACALL: Well, I must say that I always loved her. And I think that she - for me - was the best actress and the most exciting female star on the screen. I think her work will live forever. I think it's timeless. And as she got older, her talent did not diminish. I mean, "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?" - she - it was a wonderful job of acting that she did. She looked like a fright, but that was the part. But she could convey almost anything. She was quite an extraordinary talent. And unfortunately, she didn't have an opportunity to do as much a she wanted to, but she was a woman who had to work. And I understand that better than most people do - that you have to work.

GROSS: Well, your mother was a woman who had to work, too.

BACALL: Absolutely.

GROSS: So you grew up with that as a model.

BACALL: I grew up with - that was - the work ethic was very high on our list in my - in our household. I mean, my uncle was a lawyer, and my other uncle was a lawyer. Everyone in my family worked. And that's the way we were brought up, and I was brought up, and I'm glad I was.

GROSS: Before I let you go, clear up something for me.



GROSS: In "To Have And Have Not," I'd always heard, oh, but Lauren Bacall's voice is dubbed by Andy Williams.

BACALL: Oh, god. Yeah.

GROSS: And then now in Leonard Maltin's "Movie Guide" book, he says that Andy Williams dubbed the songs, but they never used the tape. What is the story?

BACALL: Yes, well, he's correct. Because the story is they did not dub the songs. Howard Hawks feared that I would not hit the notes - the high notes - of "How Little We Know." And he had Andy Williams come in and record it in case I didn't sound - 'cause I was taking singing lessons at Warner Brothers. And they finally - if you listen to the song, you will know that there is no doubt that it's me...


BACALL: ...Because Andy Williams, with that beautiful voice - I mean, one would have seen the difference immediately. So they did not - he ended up not using it. And that's - I mean, that's the true story. So it's only me with my flat baritone. (Laughing).

GROSS: Would you've been annoyed if the voice were dubbed? Did you try to say to Hawks, don't do it?

BACALL: Well, I couldn't say - I would never say, don't do it, to Howard Hawks. Are you kidding? I was too frightened of him. But I - no, I would certainly have preferred to have done it myself. Yes. See, I'm against all the fake stuff. I'm not into that. I would rather stumble through a song than mouth the words to somebody else's voice.

DAVIES: Lauren Bacall spoke with Terry Gross in 1994. She died Tuesday in New York. She was 89.


HOAGY CARMICHAEL: (As Cricket) Go ahead and go to work.


CARMICHAEL: (As Cricket) You all set, Slim?

BACALL: (As Marie Browning) Sure, but don't make it sad, Cricket. I don't feel that way.

CARMICHAEL: (As Cricket) You don't look that way, either. Let's go. Top note, boys.


BACALL: (Singing) Maybe it happens this way. Maybe we really do learn together. But after all, how little we know. Maybe it's just for a day. Love is as changeable as the weather. And after all, how little we know. Who knows why an April breeze never remains? Why stars in the trees...

DAVIES: Coming up, Jamie Moyer, the big-league pitcher who kept winning ball games into his late forties, tells us how he did it. This is FRESH AIR.

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