In the Telegraph, Tim Stanley says we’ve lost one of the last of the true Hollywood stars:
Lauren Bacall the actor has died, a sad thing for sure. But Lauren Bacall the star will live on forever. Because that’s what stars do. They burn bright for millennia.
Born Betty Perske, a Jewish girl from the Bronx, she was spotted by Howard Hawks’ wife on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and invited to Hollywood to screen test. Bacall thought Hawks was impressive but scary — it didn’t help that his method of breaking the ice was to make anti-Semitic jokes. Hawks thought Bacall attractive but lumbered with a high-pitched voice that was all wrong for the sophisticated quick-fire dialogue he liked to write. So she drove her car up into the Hollywood hills and practiced speaking low and soft by herself. Next she had to improve her demeanour — and for Hawks this meant turning from a shy girl into a sexually confident one. When she couldn’t get a ride home from a party at Hawks’ house, he told her that men went for women who insulted them. She insulted Clark Gable and, right on cue, he offered to drive her home.
What defined that character? Friedrich calls it “insolence”. Bacall always played the girl who answered back, the one who had the temerity to ask if a man knew how to whistle. That’s Hollywood censor shorthand for if they knew how to make love. Bacall never went out of her way to please no man; men had to please her. Via a series of noir box office hits, Betty Perske ascended into the pantheon and took the slot of the “sophisticated seductress”. For Golden Age Hollywood dealt not in actors or mere parts, but in stars and archetypes. At any one point there had to be a tough guy, a wise guy, a villain, a maverick. Among women there were the betrayed wives, vamps, innocents and party girls. The name of a star on a movie poster told you everything you needed to know about what would happen in that movie — and you went to see it because the last 48 made in that vein were so darn good. This is the nature of star power, the ability to evoke something with just a name in lights.