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Legendary Film Star Lauren Bacall Dies At 89


Hollywood has lost one of its leading ladies. Lauren Bacall has died. She was 89. Her death was confirmed today by the Humphrey Bogart estate, but no details have been announced. Lauren Bacall was born Betty Jean Perske in New York City. She was loved by audiences for her smoky voice and alluring gaze from the 1940s through the end of the last century. Joining me now is NPR's Neda Ulaby to talk about her life, her loves and the legendary career of Lauren Bacall. Neda, what made Lauren Bacall so legendary?

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Well, she hated to be called a legend. But it started with her perormance in the 1944 movie "To Have And Have Not" in which she uttered one immortal line.


LAUREN BACALL: 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.

ULABY: Now, Lauren Bacall delivered that line with something that became known as the look which kind of epitomized cool screen acting - this lowered lids, these upward gaze. But she felt anything but cool doing it, as she told NPR in 2005.


BACALL: I just found I was so nervous because I was tense - tense and terrified. I discovered that when I bent my head down - I lowered my chin and then looked up, was a way for me to hold my head steady - to keep it steady. And of course then somebody decided it was the look but, I mean, I didn't decide that. I just did it just to save my skin.

SIEGEL: How did Lauren Bacall get started in the movies to begin with?

ULABY: As a model, actually. She was only 16 years old, a recent high schoool graduate when she attended the Academy of Dramatic Arts. She got through a year, ran out of money, they wanted her to stay, but at that time there were only scholarships available for men. So she dropped out, started modeling, caught the attention of Diana Vreeland and ended up on the cover of Harper's Bazaar in 1943. Then everyone wanted her including Howard Hawks who directed "To Have And Have Not."

SIEGEL: I mentioned the confirmation of her death by the Humphrey Bogart estate. She was, of course, part of that famous film marriage with Bogart. How did that come about?

ULABY: The chemistry you saw on screen in that movie, "To Have And Have Not," was not just acting. She married Bogart when she was 20. He was 25 years older - his fourth marriage. And he died from lung cancer only about 12 or 13 years after their marriage. After that she went on to date Frank Sinatra and Jason Robards, and she married Jason Robards - couple of very hard-living guys. And I mention this partly because it's Hollywood glamour but it also did affect her career. during her 8-year marriage with Jason Robards, Lauren Bacall made only three movies.

SIEGEL: So what did she do after the movies?

ULABY: She did some time on stage. She was on broadway in "Cactus Flower" and the musical "Applause." She made a few other movies. A lot of people might remember "Murder On The Orient Express." But she - it made her so happy to work being directed by a woman, Barbra Streisand, in 1996, "The Mirror Has Two Faces," the movie that finally got her an Oscar nomination. Now, we have a little piece of tape of her acting with Streisand in that movie.


BARBRA STREISAND: (As Rose) Cappuccinos - would you like cappuccinos? How about that, huh? Greg, why don't you come to the kitchen and help...

BACALL: (As Hannah) Rose, why don't you go put the coffee on?

STREISAND: (As Rose) Mother, I made dinner. Why don't you put the coffee on?

BACALL: (As Hannah) I raised two daughters. I buried a husband. I've made my coffee.

ULABY: Lauren Bacall - when you think about it, she was the cinematic equivalent of a cup of coffee - bracing, beautiful - she went straight to your nervous system.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Neda. That's NPR's Neda Ulaby talking about actress Lauren Bacall. Lauren Bacall has died at age 89. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.