Lauren Bacall, a bewitching actress whose husky voice and smoldering onscreen chemistry with her husband, Humphrey Bogart, made her a defining movie star of the 1940s and who decades later won Tony Awards in the Broadway musicals “Applause” and “Woman of the Year,” died Tuesday in New York at 89.
Robbert de Klerk, co-managing partner of the Humphrey Bogart Estate, confirmed the death in an email.
Bacall was one of the last surviving major stars of the studio system, which flourished from the silent movie era to the dawn of the television age. She was a willowy, ash-blond fashion model when veteran film director Howard Hawks plucked her from the pages of Harper's Bazaar in 1943 and molded her seductive persona.
Hawks gave Bacall, then 19, an electrifying film debut: as a sexy and insolent woman of mystery in “To Have and Have Not” (1944), based on an Ernest Hemingway story and set in the Caribbean during World War II. The movie shaped her public identity: a woman as sexually confident as she was formidable, or in Bogart's words, “steel with curves.”
Bogart, more than twice her age and looking it, wore an expression of someone who could not believe his luck. Bogart divorced his third wife and married Bacall after filming.
She went on to act opposite some of the top leading men of her day – Kirk Douglas (“Young Man with a Horn”), Gary Cooper (“Bright Leaf”), John Wayne (“Blood Alley”) and Gregory Peck (“Designing Woman”) – but the films were inconsistent in quality.
If Bacall never again matched the sultry intensity of her early promise, she became a disciplined Broadway performer and bedazzled a series of powerful men in arts and politics.
After Bogart died in 1957, she was engaged to Frank Sinatra and had a turbulent marriage to actor Jason Robards Jr.
Onscreen, Bacall matured into character parts that culminated in her Oscar nomination in a supporting role as Barbra Streisand's hopelessly narcissistic mother in “The Mirror Has Two Faces” (1996).
Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske on Sept. 16, 1924, into a middle-class Jewish family in New York. She had modest training as an actress, but her stunning looks led to a modeling career and the cover of Harper's Bazaar in March 1943.
Bacall said she had little experience with men when she first met Bogart on the set of “To Have and Have Not.” He was married at the time to his third wife, actress Mayo Methot.
“I don't know how it happened – it was almost imperceptible,” Bacall wrote. “Bogie came in to bid me good night. He was standing behind me – we were joking as usual – when suddenly he leaned over, put his hand under my chin, and kissed me. It was impulsive – he was a bit shy, no lunging wolf tactics.”
They married on May 21, 1945, in Lucas, Ohio.
Bacall's career slumped markedly in the 1950s. She said she was more content to be Mrs. Humphrey Bogart instead of a movie star. She accompanied him on his film assignments and raised their two children.
When Bogart was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in 1956, Bacall spent nearly all of her time caring for him. He died a year later.
She grew deeply attached to Sinatra, a close family friend. But when word of their engagement leaked to the media, the singer stopped taking her calls.
Saying she had tired of being seen as “Bogart's widow,” she settled her family in New York. In 1961, she wed Robards.
To view a photo gallery of Lauren Bacall, click here.