Is there another star who defines the idea of an Old Hollywood screen siren better than Lauren Bacall? Doubtful. With her femme fatale looks and iconic low voice, Bacall was a staple of Golden Age cinema. Her life is practically a checklist of Tinsel Town achievements and scandal, including on-set affairs, a tumultuous private life, and 1940s Presidential selfies. During most of her life, Bacall was remarkably private—but secrets never stay buried forever. Dig into these scandalous facts about Hollywood’s sultriest screen legend, Lauren Bacall.
Like many things in her life, Lauren Bacall got her stage name via misadventure. The woman who became Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske to Jewish parents on September 16, 1924. Her mother’s maiden name was actually Weinstein, but she later took the root of that name—“wine glass” and translated it to Romanian, bokal.
The young actress’s mother then changed that to “Bacal,” only for her daughter to eventually add an extra “L” at the end, giving birth to a legendary Hollywood surname.
Lauren Bacall grew up in New Jersey with her parents, but when she was just five years old, something turned her world upside down. In 1932, her parents divorced, and her father completely disappeared from her life. While it brought the young actress and her mother closer together, it was clear from interviews and those who knew Bacall that her feelings toward her absentee father were less-than-loving, if not downright bitter. It wouldn’t be the only heartbreak that she’d face…
As soon as Bacall hit high school, her ambitions were clear—she wanted to be famous. And Bacall’s love for acting wasn’t only borne out of a desire for attention. She was a bonafide fan of both stage and screen, and one of her favorite stars was Bette Davis. When she was 13, she went to see Davis star in Marked Woman. The film introduced her to her new favorite idol, Humphrey Bogart. Watching him, Bacall made an eerily prescient prediction about her future.
She told a friend: “I’m crazy about that man. Just crazy about him. I love Davis, but I should play opposite him.”
As a struggling actress, Lauren Bacall took on modeling jobs and even briefly worked as a theater usher. Then, when she was 18, she became a model for Harper’s Bazaar. Soon after, socialite Slim Keith spotted Bacall on the cover, and found her intriguing. She showed the magazine to her husband, film director Howard Hawks. Keith suggested that Bacall could be his next star. Hawks asked his secretary to reach out to Bacall—but instead, Bacall found herself the victim of a bizarre twist of fate.
Hawks’ secretary misunderstood. Instead of simply calling the girl, she sent Bacall a plane ticket to Hollywood to audition for an upcoming picture he was working on. It was an unlikely and life-changing stroke of luck.
While this fluke worked out in Bacall’s favor, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the young actress. She had the look—but she also had little acting experience, with just a few plays under her belt. Bacall explained her apprehension to Hawks, but he saw it as an advantage. Bacall didn’t have any of the bad habits that other actresses he’d worked with had, and he was going to shape her as an actress from the ground up.
And he enlisted one of his favorite actors to help…
When Lauren Bacall went for her first screen test, for Hawks’ film To Have and Have Not, she was so nervous that she couldn’t help from trembling. In order to steady herself, she lowered her chin and tilted her eyes up to the camera. Not only did it help control her nerves, but the sultry pose became her signature “look”—and, it certainly charmed on Hawks and the bigwigs at Warner Bros.
Hawks decided that not only would he cast Bacall as Marie in To Have and Have Not, that he would focus more on her character, eliminating a love triangle plot and making her the sole romantic interest of the actor he’d chosen to play the main character—none other than Bacall’s childhood crush, Humphrey Bogart. He also spent hours a day on set with her, stepping away from behind the camera and coaching her whenever he could.
If it seems like Hawks was a little too focused on his young protege—well, he was.
When Howard Hawks cast Lauren Bacall at the romantic lead in To Have and Have Not, it was supposed to be her big break in Hollywood. Instead, she wound up on the wrong end of a disturbing love triangle. Despite the fact that his own wife had discovered Bacall, Hawks was a notorious womanizer, and he had his sights set on the young actress. Considering he’d pulled this type of nonsense off before, it was no surprise—but Hawks didn’t know what he was in for with Bacall.
Lauren Bacall was emphatically not interested in her boss—but that doesn’t mean she was above falling for another colleague. The chemistry between Bacall and her co-star Humphrey Bogart was undeniable, and it translated into red-hot passion offscreen. There was just one problem: his notoriously jealous wife, actress Mayo Methot.
So, for those keeping track, that’s one jealous director, one jealous wife, and one vulnerable young starlet—definitely a potential recipe for disaster.
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To make things even more disturbing, director Howard Hawks had based much of Bacall’s character on his wife at the time, including her nickname (“Slim”), her enigmatic demeanor, and her low, smoky voice—which he had purposely taught Bacall to mimic. Despite this misguided tribute, Hawks wound up with something of a consolation prize. When he couldn’t catch Bacall’s eye, he had an affair with another actress, Dolores Moran. Sorry, Dolores!
Lauren Bacall was immediately taken with Bogart—and apparently, the feeling was mutual, because one day after filming, he reached over and kissed her, before asking for her phone number. Bacall, then 19, wrote it on a matchbook for Bogart, who was 44 years old at the time. At first, they kept their affair secret, but it wasn’t easy—after all, they were under the scrutiny of a domineering director and jealous wife. It became a race to see who would find out first…
Well, spoiler alert: It was Howard Hawks, and his reaction was absolutely chilling. Hawks had signed Bacall to a contract at the beginning of filming, but now he threatened to send her off to a low-end studio and ruin her career before it even started. Obviously, she turned to Bogart for advice, who grew equally angry at Hawks for his ridiculous behavior. The two got into a blow-out fight, and the consequences were dire.
Things were so bad between Howard Hawks and Humphrey Bogart that production on To Have and Have Not stopped for two whole weeks. Eventually, studio head Jack Warner had to intervene in the situation—and Bogart won out in more ways than one. Not only did he convince Warner to get Hawks off Bacall’s back, but he also got a hefty raise if he promised not to stall production anymore. To the victor go the spoils…
While Hawks was peeved at Bacall, Bogart took over teaching duties and taught his young lover how to steal a scene—literally. When To Have and Have Not came out, it wasn’t an instant hit, but one thing was undeniable. Critics loved Bacall and said that she did, in fact, steal the entire show. And that wasn’t all that she took…
Imagining upstaging a future US president? That’s exactly what happened when Bacall appeared at the National Press Club in February 1945. Then-Vice President Harry S. Truman was there for the afternoon and sat down to play the piano. At that moment, Bacall’s press agent told her to sit on the piano.
She hopped up, and an iconic photo was born. Speaking of stealing, though…
By the time that To Have and Have Not came out, there was no denying that something was happening between Bacall and Bogart. At first, they stayed silent, but a scant eight days after the film came out, Bogart announced that he’d moved out of the home he shared with his wife, Mayo Methot. It couldn’t have been a surprise for Methot, who had suspected their infidelity and stalked the set of To Have and Have Not, hoping to prevent the inevitable—but still, their story didn’t end there.
As you’ll remember, studio head Jack Warner had to step in when Bacall stirred up trouble between Bogart and Hawks on the set of To Have and Have Not—which leads to the question: was what he did next retaliation for her stepping out of line? Warner cast Bacall in the film Confidential Agent, which turned out to be an utter flop.
Considering her level of name recognition now, it may seem like a blip on the radar, but it was apparently so bad that even Bacall thinks it permanently derailed her career. Luckily, the same studio couldn’t resist her onscreen chemistry with Bogart…
After the success of To Have and Have Not, the studios insisted on pairing Bogart and Bacall for another movie, and in the fall of 1944 they began to make The Big Sleep. It looked for a second like Bogart would seamlessly move from his marriage with Methot and onto a relationship with Bacall—but what he did next shattered Bacall’s heart into a million pieces. 11 days after announcing his separation, he made another announcement: that he would stay with Methot.
The news of their reconciliation absolutely devastated Lauren Bacall. She later said that she cried so much that she had to ice her eyes on set to be able to look remotely normal for the cameras. But still, Bogart couldn’t stay away. He once called Bacall at 3 AM, only for Methot to pick up the phone and yell a slur at the young actress. It got worse before it got better.
Bogart’s marriage to Methot was his third, and he was determined to make it last—but finally, he reached his breaking point. Production on The Big Sleep paused for Christmas, leaving Bogart and home with Methot. Drinking had always exacerbated their problems, and the holidays were no exception. Finally, he left her for good—and ran straight back to Bacall.
On May 10, 1945, Bogart and Methot were finally divorced. Just 11 days later, Bogart wed Bacall in a small ceremony on a friend’s farm in Ohio. Many thought it wouldn’t last. After all, Bogart already had three marriages under his belt, and she was 20 to his 45. Well, Bacall was determined to prove them wrong—and she would, but not without a few bumps along the way.
As Bogart’s wife, Bacall was immediately thrust into the upper echelons of Hollywood society—and inadvertently coined a phrase that would make the history books. Frank Sinatra’s famous circle of friends, the Rat Pack, actually began as Humphrey Bogart’s drinking buddies. Bogart adopted the name when Lauren Bacall, in a failed attempt to scold the pickled crew, called them a darn “rat pack.”
Frank Sinatra was deemed Pack Leader, Bacall Den Mother, and Bogart was Director of Public Relations. The twist? Sinatra hated the name and hoped it would fall out of use, but no such luck.
The mood on the set of To Have and To Have Not had been fraught, to say the very least. On the set of Bacall’s next movie, The Big Sleep, it was like night and day. Hawks, Bacall, and Bogart had all put aside their differences and were determined to make a film that would completely blow their first collaboration out of the water.
According to Bacall, they were having such a good time that studio boss Jack Warner sent them a memo that read: "Word has reached me that you are having fun on the set. This must stop." Whatever they did, it worked. The Big Sleep was a smash hit, and remains one of the most critically-lauded examples of film noir to this day.
Bacall and Bogart had a winning formula, and they stuck with it, completing a total of four pictures together. However, just because Bogart worked with her didn’t mean that he wanted a career woman. He was old-fashioned—but there was also a darker reason for his apprehension. Each of his three failed marriages had been with an actress, and he was convinced that two career-driven people couldn’t make romance work.
One way around this, of course, was to work together. During the first few years of her marriage, Bacall only appeared with Bogart. But she didn’t drop out of sight altogether…
Howard Hawks had sold his share of Lauren Bacall’s contract to Warner Bros. after The Big Sleep. At the time, Bacall was more interested in her husband than her fledgling career, and unless a script really piqued her interest, she turned it down. Many began to whisper that she was difficult or too picky. In 1945, the Hollywood Women’s Press Club gave her the runner-up award for “Least Cooperative Actress.” Well, she’d make them eat their words.
You know those really annoying couples who only seem to fight over the most trivial-slash-adorable differences? Bacall and Bogart were one of those duos. He liked staying home, but she preferred to mix it up with their extensive group of famous friends. Their main point of contention? He loved sailing, and she was prone to seasickness. Gee, how will they ever get over their differences…
Bacall had the golden touch, and the films that she did deign to appear in were critically acclaimed. But while Warner Bros. had given her her start, they weren’t meant to last long. In her six years with the studio, they gave Bacall six different suspensions, each one given for refusing roles. Finally, after a long dispute, the studio released Bacall from her contract in 1951.
Luckily, she had the clout to jump ship to Fox Studios for a 1-year contract.
Bacall wasn’t the only one getting into trouble with Warner Bros—they also targeted Bogart. In what Variety magazine dubbed “Mutiny on the Santana,” Bacall and her Bogart waited out their suspension from Warner Bros. on the ocean. Both actors had refused to do their studio-mandated roles in a film called Stallion Road.
They were the toast of the town in Los Angeles, and Bacall was admittedly selective with scripts, but there was a dark consequence to being attached to one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Few directors took Bacall seriously, and she said that they only saw her as Mrs. Bogart. However, that wasn’t the only reason that Bacall wasn’t getting a lot of work…
Despite having three marriages under his belt, Bogart had never had any children—but to Bacall, they were an absolute necessity. When she didn’t immediately get pregnant, Bogart began taking hormone shots to hurry the process—but they had an unexpected side effect. The star rapidly began losing his hair, and by the time that he showed up to make his next film, he was completely bald.
Luckily, it wasn’t all for nothing, and Bacall soon became pregnant with her first child.
In 1949, Bacall gave birth to her first child with Bogart. The happy couple decided to name him Stephen Humphrey Bogart, after his father’s character in To Have and Have Not, the film that had brought them together. Soon after, little Leslie Howard Bogart came along. Bacall finally had her happy family—but sadly, nothing good can last forever.
She was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but there was one thing about Bacall’s life that she struggled to keep hidden. Bacall personally identified as Jewish her whole life, but unfortunately, she had to downplay her religion to succeed in Hollywood. Even her husband, Humphrey Bogart convinced her to baptize their two children as Christians for the sake of making life easier for them in a less-than-tolerant (to put it lightly…) American public.
If Jack Warner thought that Bacall would flop after leaving his studio, he had another thing coming. Bacall’s first film after having kids was How to Marry a Millionaire, with a star-studded cast including Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable. Bacall had once been the nervous newcomer on set, but now she was a seasoned pro, and she and Grable were generous and patient with Monroe while making the film.
It paid off, and the film was a smash hit.
There was even a sweet personal touch in How to Marry a Millionaire. At one point, Bacall’s character says "I've always liked older men...Look at that old fellow what's-his-name in The African Queen. Absolutely crazy about him." She was, of course, referring to her real-life husband, Bogart. Pretty cute, right?
Just because Bacall had an A-list marriage and a hit movie, she didn’t let success get to her head. In the early 50s, the owners of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre extended to her the coveted invitation to have her hands and feet mark the cement in front of their iconic building—but to everyone’s surprise, she refused. She said that she didn’t yet think of herself as a “major star.”
Well, she was probably the only one…
With Bacall set to star in a string of films at Fox Studios, Bogart had also made a quick exit from Warner Bros., preferring instead to start his own film company like so many of his colleagues at the time. In 1955, he was planning his next big project when he began to experience throat pain and difficulty eating. Bacall pressed him to go to a doctor, and when he finally gave in, the prognosis was dire. Bogart had esophageal cancer.
With tensions high at home, acting became something of a release valve for Bacall. During Bogart’s illness, she made the critically-acclaimed film Designing Women. At the same time, doctors performed surgery to remove Bogart’s esophagus, two lymph nodes, and a rib. Even with such a dramatic procedure, it wasn’t enough, and he began chemotherapy.
Another surgery followed in November, and then things took a turn for the worse.
After multiple surgeries and months of chemo, Bogart could barely walk up and down the stairs at his home anymore. About one year after his diagnosis, Bacall and Bogart’s close friends Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy came to visit. They said their final goodbyes, and soon after, Bacall and Bogart went to bed together for the very last time. After a fitful sleep, Bogart fell into a coma.
The very next day, the inevitable happened: Bogart passed on at the age of 57. The disease had so ravaged his body that he only weighed 80 pounds. Bacall was devastated—but her nightmare was just beginning. She had spent a year caring for him and hoping he’d recover. Now she was a widow, alone with two children, at the age of 32—and without the only support system she’d ever known.
For Bacall, it seemed like the world had stopped, but outside, everything kept spinning, leaving her in a daze. In this state of vulnerability, someone saw an opportunity and leapt for it—none other than Bogart’s old friend, Frank Sinatra. He stepped in, inviting her to dinners and parties filled with her old group of friends. Bacall, afraid to stop for a second and ponder her loss, reluctantly accepted.
Over time, this sort-of friendship turned into something more. Lauren Bacall later revealed that even though she knew she was going through the motions, that she couldn’t deny the chemistry between herself and Frank Sinatra. They dated for a few months before breaking things off—but more on that later. Sinatra proved to be not much more than a rebound, and after all, there were other things on the horizon for Bacall.
After losing Bogart, Bacall had left Hollywood to return to her hometown of NYC, where she bought an apartment in the infamous Dakota building. It was there that she met actor Jason Robards, who was appearing on Broadway at the time—and who was awaiting a divorce from his second wife. Soon after they began seeing each other, they got engaged. It was all coming together—but not all the puzzle pieces fit.
Soon after Bacall met Robards, he revealed that he had a disturbing dark side. First, he ran his car into an officer’s vehicle just a few blocks from Bacall’s apartment after a night of drinking, for which he got a DUI. Then, two weeks later, he threw a punch at a paparazzo outside of the Dakota. Bacall had been used to a little drinking—after all, she and Bogart were rarely found without a glass of bourbon in hand—but this time, she was in over her head.
Their engagement was a whirlwind, but it took three tries for Lauren Bacall to legally wed her second husband, Jason Robards. In 1961, the Austrian government refused to give them a marriage license for their planned nuptials in Vienna. Shockingly, they were also turned down by Las Vegas! In the end, the couple drove down all the way to Ensenada, Mexico to finally tie the knot…a full month after they had originally planned. Why were they in such a hurry?
Well, Bacall was pregnant, and she gave birth to their son, Sam Robards, just a few months after their hurried nuptials. Despite her misgivings about her husband’s drinking, she was ecstatic to once again be surrounded by family. She was in her element on stage in New York, and slowly plotted a return to film—but she couldn’t ignore her problems forever.
By 1968, Bacall could no longer overlook what was happening under her roof. Robards’ drinking was completely out of control. So, the woman who hadn’t been alone since she was 19 years old made a shocking decision. Bacall divorced Robards after just seven years of marriage. It was a liberating decision—and Bacall was ready to soar.
Beyond their son Sam, there was one good thing that Bacall got from her time with Robards. He was an accomplished theater actor, and she rediscovered her love for the stage. It was there that she finally gained a sense of accomplishment and a new confidence. In 1970, she won a Tony for her performance in Applause, playing a character originated by Bette Davis on screen—and it led to an unforgettable encounter.
When Bacall was young, Bette Davis had been her idol, and Bacall had once even tracked her down to the hotel she was staying at in New York. Well, Davis came to see Applause one night, and turned the tables by making her way backstage to meet Bacall, where she congratulated her on her performance, paying her a legendary compliment: "You're the only one who could have played the part."
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Bacall kept the luxe nine-bedroom apartment in the Dakota that she’d bought after Bogart’s passing for 53 years. And yes, that means she was living there when her neighbor John Lennon of The Beatles was assassinated on the steps there in 1980. In an interview, Bacall recounts how she first took the sound of gunshot to be a car backfiring.
Bacall continued to work steadily over the next few decades, being as choosy with her roles in the 80s and 90s as she’d once been in the 50s. And then, after a fifty-year career, Bacall got the surprise of a lifetime. Bacall appeared in a supporting role in the romantic comedy The Mirror Has Two Faces in 1996, which earned her her first and only Academy Award nomination.
Bacall won the Golden Globe, and everyone expected her to win the Oscar—only for her to lose in an upset to Juliette Binoche. While the Academy eventually awarded her an honorary Oscar, she sadly never actually won one for her acting.
Just a month before her 90th birthday, Bacall suffered a stroke and passed on at her long-time Manhattan home, the Dakota. Bacall had been a mysterious figure throughout her life, but in her final years, she had started to spill the secrets that had never come out before—and many were absolutely jaw-dropping.
When Lauren Bacall spurned Howard Hawks, the director who’d discovered her, on the set of her first film, he was furious—and he was even madder when he discovered that she’d been having an affair with Humphrey Bogart. Years later, when asked about the love triangle, his answer was so brutal that it’s impossible to forget. Hawks said: "Bogie fell in love with the character she played, so she had to keep playing it the rest of her life." Harsh.
Lauren Bacall came to Hollywood looking for fame. Instead, she found the love of her life, Humphrey Bogart. They were pretty much the most famous couple in Hollywood—but after Bogart passed on, few knew just how horrible things got for Bacall. Years later, she confessed that she was completely lost without him, and would regularly wake up screaming, tormented by nightmares about him.
During Humphrey Bogart’s funeral, when the coffin was lowered, his widow Lauren Bacall made a final, heartbreaking tribute. Bacall placed a whistle on his coffin. He’d given it to her years earlier, in reference to To Have and Have Not, the film that had brought the pair together. It included an iconic moment where Bacall’s character says to Bogart’s: “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.”
Before giving it to Bacall, Bogart had it engraved with the words: “If you need me, just whistle.”
Of course, after Bogart’s passing, his friend Frank Sinatra swooped in—but their relationship was utterly disastrous. Although Bacall tried to resist, she couldn’t deny the chemistry she had with Sinatra. Finally, he proposed—but within days, he coldly broke things off. The reason why was chilling. They wanted to keep things quiet, but Bacall had told just one friend about the engagement...who then turned around and told notorious gossip columnist Louella Parsons.
The next day, the headlines read “Sinatra to Marry Bacall.” Bacall was humiliated, and Sinatra was furious. He thought she’d been the one to tell the press, and he immediately dumped her. It was so bad that months later, they sat near each other at a party, and Sinatra wouldn’t even look her in the eye. It was only decades later that he learned that she hadn’t been behind the leak.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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