How Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart's Scandalous Love Story Swept Us All Off Our Feet
Remembering the Life & Legend of Lauren Bacall
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Jennifer Aniston recently went to great pains to keep her remarriage to Justin Theroux a secret — from paparazzi and guests alike. But Hollywood’s proto-power couple known as Bogie and Bacall — perhaps the first A-list love affair that helped to sell magazines as well as movie tickets — basically invited the entire world to attend their 1945 nuptials.
Bacall would describe her 12-year relationship with Bogart as “the headiest romance imaginable” -- one that endured until Bogart died of esophageal cancer in 1957.
But before they even had a chance to get hitched, it featured more drama than all of their four films combined, which means that it is probably only a matter of time before Lifetime reduces their life together to a two-hour made-for-TV movie, a la Liz & Dick.
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After all, Bogart and Bacall were the Old Hollywood version of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (who, in a very Bogie-and-Bacall-ish move, will next costar as a married couple in the November romance By the Sea).
In honor of the one-year mark since Bacall’s death in 2014 at 89, here’s our guide to getting to know – or remembering fondly – one of the greatest love stories in Tinseltown history.
INSIDE THEIR INTIMATE WEDDING!
Paramount Pictures shot and released its own mini-movie of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart’s wedding ceremony (all three minutes of it), which was tellingly titled “Reel” Romance Comes True! The distinctly un-Hollywood location? A farmhouse in Ohio.
Otherwise, the marriage was stereotypical Tinseltown. Breathless narration describes “the famous screen lovers” and, surprisingly, doesn’t shy away from highlighting the fact that “Ms. Bacall is 20. Mr. Bogart — married three times before — is 45.” Footage shows such intimate moments as Bacall tossing her bridal bouquet and cutting into the wedding cake with the help of her husband: “Usually cast as a gunman, this time the groom helps his bride wield a knife … may all of their scenes be love scenes,” concludes the narrator.
In her 1978 memoir, By Myself (which was expanded by 77 pages and republished as By Myself and Then Some in 2005), Bacall painted the same scene in more vivid detail: “As I glanced at Bogie, I saw tears streaming down his face — his ‘I do’ was strong and clear, though,” Bacall wrote.
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“As Judge Shettler said, ‘I now pronounce you man and wife,’ Bogie and I turned toward each other — he leaned to kiss me — I shyly turned my cheek — all those eyes watching made me very self-conscious. He said, ‘Hello, Baby.’ I hugged him and was reported to have said, ‘Oh, goody.’ Hard to believe, but maybe I did. Everyone hugged and kissed everyone else and more tears were shed. Bogie said it was when he heard the beautiful words of the ceremony and realized what they meant — what they should mean — that he cried.”
HOW IT ALL BEGAN…
Just as Jolie and Pitt, who is 12 years her senior, reportedly first hooked up while filming Mr. and Mrs. Smith in 2005 — while Pitt was notably still married to Jennifer Aniston — Bogart and Bacall’s affair began with a kiss in her trailer on the set of her 1944 film debut, To Have and Have Not.
“He was standing behind me — we were joking as usual — when suddenly he leaned over, put his hand under my chin and kissed me,” Bacall wrote in her memoir. “It was impulsive — he was a bit shy — no lunging wolf tactics. He took a worn package of matches out of his pocket and asked me to put my phone number on the back. I did.”
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Her youthful innocence aside, Bacall knew what she was getting into. “He was married to a woman who was a notorious drinker and fighter. A tough lady who would hit you with an ashtray, lamp, anything, as soon as not,” Bacall wrote. (While never hitting Bacall, Bogart’s soon-to-be ex-wife screamed obscenities at her and once called her a “Jewish bitch”; meanwhile, she stabbed Bogart with a knife while he was filming Across the Pacific.)
But Bacall was willing to risk it. She claimed that she just couldn’t keep her hands off the unhappily married man—and vice versa: “There is no way Bogie and I could be in the same room without reaching for one another and it just wasn’t physical. Physical was very strong but it was everything — heads, hearts, bodies, everything going at the same time,” she wrote.
WHAT’S BEHIND THEIR PASSIONATE RELATIONSHIP…
The secret of their happiness is something that they shared both on screen and off: “Chemistry — you can’t beat chemistry,” Bacall told People in 2007. (Even their kid agreed! “Everyone could see their love right there on celluloid,” Stephen Bogart wrote of his parents’ scenes in To Have and Have Not. “He was the great love of her life, and she his.”)
In her memoir, Bacall candidly recounted what went down when “Bogie had to see his Baby…what it felt like to be so wanted, so adored! No one had ever felt like that about me,” she wrote. “It was all so dramatic, too. Always in the wee small hours when it seemed to Bogie and me that the world was ours — that we were the world. At those times we were.”
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And it perhaps went deeper than that for this actress with admitted daddy issues. (She did not know her own abusive father until she was 8 years old — and never saw him again.) “Bogie was kind of my father. He showed me the way,” Bacall told Vanity Fair in 2011. “I knew everybody because I was married to Bogie, and that 25-year difference was the most fantastic thing for me to have in my life,” she added.
BUT WHO WEARS THE PANTS?
The pair’s fame transcended mere movie stardom; in their own way, they also came to represent changing post-war gender roles. According to A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax’s 1997 biography of the actor, “Bogart was, by the early 1940s, one of the top movie stars in the world and also a timely symbol of post–Pearl Harbor America: Tough but compassionate, skeptical yet idealistic, betrayed yet ready to believe again…”
Bacall, meanwhile, embodied the strong, independent modern American woman — one audiences had rarely witnessed on the silver screen. Her essence is summed up in Joseph McBride’s book, Hawks on Hawks, in which the legendary director Howard Hawks wonders aloud: “Do you suppose we could make a girl who is insolent, as insolent as Bogart, who insults people, who grins when she does it, and people like it?” The answer proved to be a resounding yes, with success at the box office and public adoration alike.
And so Hawks instructed the Bronx teenager — born Betty Joan Perske — “to sass men,” according to The New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “Bacall, at 19, was already fast and knowing. When her character calls out Bogart’s lines a step ahead of him, it doesn’t seem scripted,” noted Brody.
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“The only cause my husband Humphrey Bogart ever gave me to be jealous was not of a woman but of a boat — a racing yacht called the Santana,” joked Bacall in her memoir. Their jet-setting romance — and Bogart’s Oscar-winning career — took them all over the world: Palm Springs, where they crashed at Frank Sinatra’s house, Venice, Rome, even the Congo, where Bogie filmed The African Queen. “The movie won him an Academy Award, and that night we were so happy,” Bacall recalled. “Bogie had his yacht, me, success, our son... and now our second child was on the way.”
THE TRAGIC ENDING THAT CAME TOO SOON…
Sadly, even The Notebook can’t compare to the tragic end of their marriage, which left Bacall a widow at 32 and the single mother of two children. “The doctors kept telling us how lucky we were to have caught the cancer so early,” wrote Bacall. A nine-hour operation managed to extend his life — but not by much, and certainly not his quality of life.
Bogart weighed only 80 pounds when he died. “When he came home [from the hospital] we were waiting for him — I was standing at the top of the stairs, with our children either side of me,” Bacall wrote. “With that chewing gesture of his, the one that signaled some strong emotion, he said: ‘This is what it’s all about —this is why marriage is worth it.’ I smiled down at him, on the verge of tears, suddenly realizing that he was, too.”
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Bogart passed away at home not long after that night, three weeks following his 57th birthday. Bacall vividly remembered their last moments together: “I dressed to take the children to Sunday school. I kissed him, as I always did, and said I’d be right back,” she wrote. “‘Goodbye, kid,’ he said. When I came back an hour later, he had slipped into a coma.”
None other than John Huston read the eulogy at Bogart’s funeral. “Bogie was lucky at love and he was lucky at dice,” said the veteran director. “He got all that he asked for from life, and more. We have no reason to feel any sorrow for him — only for ourselves, for having lost him.”
“I hated feeling that my life was over at 32,” Bacall admitted. “Up to that time there had been either my mother or Bogie to lean on. Now there was no one.”
A LIFELONG LEGACY OF LOVE…
But ultimately, Bacall maintained an attitude of gratitude until the end. “He taught me his philosophy of life,” she wrote. “He taught me the rules of the Hollywood game. He taught me the usage and abusage of actors, called stars by the press, which couldn’t have cared less what happened to any of us…. We were expendable — he taught me that, too. He taught me about standards and the price one must pay to keep those standards high.”
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Bacall said she was partly inspired to write her memoirs because she hoped Bogart would be remembered as a man with “so many, many layers that, as well as I knew him, I’m sure I never uncovered them all.”
Even now, a year after Bacall’s death at age 89, more than a half-century after Bogart’s, we have only begun to grasp the complexity of her own inimitable and unforgettable character, not to mention her legendary love story.