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Lauren Bacall, at 89; sultry, simmering star

Ms. Bacall made three movies with her husband, Humphrey Bogart, including “The Big Sleep.’’ THE EVERETT COLLECTION

Lauren Bacall, whose seven-decade-long acting career saw her go from sultry-voiced siren to chic grande dame, and whose marriage to Humphrey Bogart was one of the most celebrated in Hollywood history, died Tuesday at her Manhattan home, her family said. She was 89.

Though best known for her film work, Ms. Bacall twice won a Tony Award for best actress in a musical, for “Applause” (1970) and “Woman of the Year” (1981), and an American Book Award for her best-selling memoir, “By Myself” (1979).

A 1997 Kennedy Center honoree, she was the recipient of a special Academy Award in 2009.

Ms. Bacall made her film debut, in “To Have and Have Not” (1944), with one of the most memorable opening lines in screen history. “Anybody got a match?” she inquired of her costar, Bogart. Ms. Bacall’s knowing manner and throaty delivery could make reciting the multiplication table seem suggestive, and those four words were as much challenge as question.

Bogart responded affirmatively to both, off screen as well as on. Ms. Bacall’s verdict on their work together in “To Have and Have Not” might apply equally well to their relationship: “You can’t beat chemistry.”


She and Bogart starred together in three other films: “The Big Sleep” (1946), “Dark Passage” (1947), and “Key Largo” (1948). But it was in “To Have and Have Not” that Ms. Bacall made her greatest impression. That request for a match had headed her to stardom. She reached it half an hour later when she told Bogart, “If you want anything, all you have to do is whistle. You know how to whistle don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.”

Insinuation has rarely had it so good.

Part of the effect was Ms. Bacall’s youth (she was all of 19). Part of it was her voice (“one of my better features,” she later admitted, though “we won’t go into the number of times I have been called mister on the other end of the telephone”). And part of it was her appearance.


Ms. Bacall’s lynx eyes, emphatic cheekbones, and ample mouth were eye catching. The way she deployed them made her irresistible.

“The girl with ‘the look,’ ’’ the director Billy Wilder said of Ms. Bacall and her trademark gesture, narrowing her eyes and tucking her chin. Yet that come-hither pose owed less to glands than nerves.

As Ms. Bacall later explained, “I realized that one way to hold my trembling head still was to keep it down, chin low, almost to my chest, and eyes up at Bogart.”

Ms. Bacall’s sleepy-eyed sensuality and pantherish grace also helped create one of the most famous photographs in US political history, as she sprawled atop an upright piano with then-Vice President Harry Truman at the keyboard. An ardent Democrat, Ms. Bacall was later close to Adlai Stevenson and the Kennedy family.

Born on Sept. 16, 1924, Betty Joan Perske was the only child of William Perske, a salesman, and Natalie (Weinstein) Perske, a secretary. The couple divorced when she was 6. She was raised by her mother, who resumed using her maiden name, but in its Rumanian form, Bacal.

Her daughter later changed the spelling because, she explained, “There was too much irregularity of pronunciation — ‘Backle’ some would say, ‘Bacahl’ others — with the added ‘l,’ that last syllable was clearly to be pronounced one way and one way only — call.” She always remained “Betty,” though, to friends and family.


Ms. Bacall attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (where she briefly dated fellow student Kirk Douglas). After graduation, she was crowned Miss Greenwich Village, appeared in several small stage roles, and did modeling work.

Spotting Ms. Bacall’s photograph in Harper’s Bazaar, the wife of filmmaker Howard Hawks called it to the attention of her husband. Hawks was known for his fondness for strong female characters. He brought Ms. Bacall to Hollywood to join the line of such previous Hawks heroines as Carole Lombard in “Twentieth Century” and Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday.”

Casting her in “To Have and Have Not,” Hawks got more than he’d bargained for. “Lauren Bacall has cinematic personality to burn and she burns both ends,” wrote the critic James Agee. He hailed Ms. Bacall’s “special sweet-sourness,” calling her “the toughest girl a piously regenerate Hollywood has dreamed of in a long, long while.”

Ms. Bacall and Bogart were married in 1945. They had two children, a son, Stephen, and daughter, Leslie. She made only a handful of films during their marriage.

The two best-known, “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953) and “Designing Woman” (1957), showed her flair for comedy, while the most notable, ‘‘Written on the Wind’’ (1956), capitalized on her iconic beauty.

After Bogart’s death, in 1957, Ms. Bacall was briefly engaged to Frank Sinatra. She married Jason Robards in 1961. They had a son, Sam, before divorcing in 1969.

Ms. Bacall appeared in a string of undistinguished films before reigniting her career in the Broadway comedy “Cactus Flower,” in 1966. Three notable stage roles followed, her award-winning forays into musical comedy, with “Applause” and “Woman of the Year,” and as Alexandra Del Lago in a 1983 English revival of Tennessee Williams’s “Sweet Bird of Youth.”


Later film roles included “Murder on the Orient Express (1974), “The Shootist” (1976), “Misery” (1990), “The Mirror Has Two Faces” (1996), which earned her an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress, and ‘‘Dogville’’ (2004).

Ms. Bacall published another memoir, “Now,” in 1994, and ‘‘By Myself and Then Some,’’ an updated version of ‘‘By Myself,’’ in 2005.

Accepting an honorary Oscar in 2009, Ms. Bacall clutched her statuette and quipped, ‘‘The thought when I get home that I’m going to have a two-legged man in my room is so exciting.’’