42 Whistling Facts About Lauren Bacall, Hollywood’s Screen Siren

Christine Tran

Is there a movie star more “Old Hollywood” than Lauren Bacall? With her femme fatale looks and iconic low voice, Bacall was the staple of Golden Age cinema. Her life is practically a checklist of Tinseltown achievements and scandal: on-set affairs, a tumultuous private life, and 1940s Presidential selfies. During her most of life, in fact, Bacall was remarkably private—especially when it came to the matter of her tested faith. Gossip to these 42 scandalous facts about Hollywood screen legend, Lauren Bacall.

Facts About Lauren Bacall

1. Would a Betty By Name Any Other Name Smell Just as Sweet?

Like many things in her life, Lauren Bacall got her stage name via misadventure. The woman who would be known as Lauren Bacall was born Betty Joan Perske to Jewish parents on September 16, 1924. Said parents divorced when she was 5 years old, after which her mother changed her maiden name from Weinstein to Bacal. The future actress added an extra “L” to the end, taking on its Romanian form, and giving birth to a legendary Hollywood surname.

2. A Mother Is a Girl’s Best Friend

As evident from her name change, Bacall had a lifelong close bond with her mother Natalie. After Bacall made it big in Hollywood, her mother moved to California to remain close to her daughter.

3. Uncle Longlegs

Bacall story isn’t a rags-to-riches tale. As a girl, she was educated in the ultra-prestigious Highland Manor Boarding School for Gils in New York with support from her rich uncles.

4. The Red Bloodlines of Fate

Bacall shares blood with Israeli Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres through her paternal line. She even visited the country in the early 1950s to chat with the leader about their families. Unfortunately, they were never sure exactly how they were related…

5. She’s Got the Look

To the surprise of almost no one, Bacall worked as a fashion model before she got into acting. She even appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Obviously, that didn’t pay all the bills. She also worked as an usher at the St. James Theatre in New York to make ends meet.

6. In a Class of Their Own

While taking acting classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, Bacall was classmates with a fellow future acting legend by the name of Kirk Douglas.

7. Off the Page and Into Our Hearts

Bacall’s 1943 cover for Harper’s Bazaar launched her acting career. As an 18-year-old, she met magazine editor and socialite Nicolas de Gunzburg in a club. He got her the cover, which got her the attention of director Howard Hawks’ wife Slim, who insisted that Bacall do a screen test for the movie To Have and Have Not.

8. Thank God for Typos

Does Bacall owe her career to a secretarial mistake? Director Howard Hawks told his assistant to read up more on Bacall before she did a screen test. Somehow, the aide read this as “buy Bacall tickets from New York to Hollywood” for a formal audition.

9. How Low Can She Go?

Bacall’s iconic throaty voice was a learned gesture. Director Howard Hawks signed Bacall to a 7-year contract, where he trained her in the arts of Hollywood magic. This included speaking in a deeper register. Her real voice was actually rather high-pitched and somewhat nasally.

10. To Bacall or Not to Bacall?

Thank the Bard for Bacall’s famous purr. To achieve her growly voice, Bacall shouted Shakespeare verses for hours as part of her vocal training.

11. Move Over, Zoolander

What became known as “The Look” was a coping mechanism for Bacall’s nerves. Incredibly anxious for her first screen test for To Have and Have Not, Bacall couldn’t stop quivering. To keep it under control, she tilted her eyes up and stilled her chin down to steady her chest. Who says anxiety isn’t sexy?

12. The Four Mouseketeers

Bacall is considered one of four real-life inspirations that went into the design for the cartoon character Jessica Rabbit. Bacall shares the honor with Rita Hayworth, Julie London, and Veronica Lake.

13. The Sound of Surprise

For 53 years, Lauren Bacall owned a nine-bedroom apartment in New York’s historic Dakota Building. Yes, that means she was living there when her neighbor John Lennon of The Beatles was shot to death in 1980. In an interview, Bacall recounts how she first took the sound of gunshot to be a car backfiring.

14. Presidential Selfie

After the huge success of To Have and Have Not, Warner Bros. committed itself to making Bacall their star…all the way to the Oval Office. However, it was her own press agent who pushed her to pose for on top of a piano with President Harry S. Truman in what is now an iconic photo moment.

15. Queen of the High Standards

Bacall developed a reputation for being difficult. Turning down scripts in an age where women were expected to be docile, she earned backhanded compliments for her hardboiled attitude both on-and-offscreen. As one critic noted, “Miss Bacall—generates quite a lot of pressure as a sharp-eyed, knows-what-she-wants girl”.”

16. Easy on the Eyes, Hard to Understand

Bacall’s lofty standards got her gag awards. In 1945, the Hollywood Women’s Press Club gave her the runner-up award for “Least Cooperative Actress.”

17. The Never-Ending Role

The spurned Howard Hawks had this to say about “losing” Bacall to Humphrey Bogart: “Bogie fell in love with the character she played, so she had to keep playing it the rest of her life.”

18. Waste No Time to Wife Her

After a yearlong illicit affair with Bacall, Bogart finally divorced his wife in February 1945. He and Bacall were married in the home of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield just three months later.

19. Firstborn Fun Fact

Bacall named her first child with Bogart “Stephen” after a character from To Have and Have Not, the movie where his parents first hooked up.

20. Ms. Bacall Goes to Washington

Bacall was a staunch opponent of McCarthyism. In 1947, she and a collection of other Hollywood “elites” took to Capitol Hill to represent the Committee for the First Amendment, which they described as a “non-political organization campaigning only for honesty, fairness, and the accepted rights of any American citizen.” Years later, Bacall would be skeptical about the movement’s long-lasting impact…but at least it made for a good photo-op.

21. Fairy Godmother

It goes without saying that Lauren Bacall had powerful friends. The godmother of her youngest son, Sam Robards, was none other than Katherine Hepburn.

22. A Private Singer

Bacall also pursued a relationship with singer and actor Frank Sinatra. According to her autobiography, Sinatra was the one to cut things off. He became upset after details of his marriage proposal to Bacall had made its way to the gossip papers.

23. Who Did the Deed?

The story of Bacall and Frank Sinatra’s break-up is far from definitive. Before her autobiography, Bacall insisted that she ended things. She basically said as much in a Turner Classic Movies interview with Robert Osborne. Why would someone lie about that?

24. Third Time’s the Charm…

It took three tries for 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.

25 …Or Maybe Not

All the running around for a marriage license turned out to be for naught: Lauren Bacall and Jason Robards divorced just 8 years later in 1969. She would blame the break-up on Robards’ alcoholism.

26. Open Minds, Open Ballots

Bacall was an outspoken liberal Democrat.  She even campaigned for John F. Kennedy. In an interview for Larry King in 2005, she said “being a liberal is the best thing on Earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you’re a liberal. You do not have a small mind.”

27. That’s a Lot of Kibble

At the time of her death on August 12, 2014, at the age of 89, Bacall’s estate was valued at a not-bad $26.6 million. With that much money to go around, I guess it’s okay she left an extra $10,000 to her youngest son for the care of her dog, Sophie.

28. Say Goodbye to These, ‘Cus It’s the Last Time!

In her 6 years with Warner Bros., Bacall was the victim of 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.

29. On the High Seas of Holding Out

Running away from home is easy to do when you have a yacht. 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 Stallion Road.

30. Acting in the Face of Intolerance

Unfortunately for Bacall, the director who made her career was a known anti-Semite. Howard Hawks even made an anti-Jewish comment right in front of Bacall early in their relationship. In her autobiography, Bacall recollects her teenaged internal monologue: “Oh, no, don’t let him be anti-Semitic. God, don’t let me come all this way and have it blow up in my face.”

31. Faith is a Public Thing

Bacall personally identified as Jewish her whole life. 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.

32. Better Late Than Never

It took more than 50 years in the business for Lauren Bacall to receive her first Oscar nomination. This was a Best Supporting Actress nomination in 1997 for the movie The Mirror Has Two Faces.

33. An Honor Just to Be There

In 1997, Bacall won the Golden Globe for her role in The Mirror Has Two Faces. This would’ve put her on track to win the Oscar, but she lost to Juliette Binoche for The English Patient in a legendary Academy Award upset.

34. Stolen from the Spotlight

In 2006, Lauren Bacall guest-starred as herself in an episode of HBO’s The Sopranos. Her character (and therefore Bacall herself) is mugged of her expensive gift bag by Michael Imperioli’s Christopher. She fights back and gets her iconic face punched on premium cable.

35. Light, Camera, Kitty Cats!

In her later years, Bacall became the spokesperson for Fancy Feast cat food. After all, she is known for her famous “purr” of a voice.

36. An Animated Conclusion

Lauren Bacall’s final acting role was for a voiceover guest spot in an episode of Family Guy.

37. Kitty Club

In 2006, Bryn Mawr College’s Katherine Houghton Hepburn Center made Lauren Bacall the first recipient of their Katherine Hepburn medal. The award honors “women whose lives, work and contributions embody the intelligence, drive and independence of the four-time-Oscar-winning actress.”

38. Where’s A Mousetrap When You Need It?

According to lore, it was Lauren Bacall who gave the “Rat Pack” their name. Humphrey Bogart and his iconic gang of New York actors apparently came home late one night after a wild Vegas adventure. Bacall allegedly took one look at her husband’s crew and said, “You look like a goddamn rat pack.”

39. A May-December to Remember

Just weeks into shooting To Have and Have Not, Bacall and her co-star Humphrey Bogart indulged in an affair. She was 19 years old; he was 25 years older, at 44. Oh, and he was also still married to Mayo Methot at the time.

40. Three’s a (Petty) Crowd

Director Howard Hawks himself became enamored with Bacall, even as she got closer to Bogart. Hawks’ jealousy got to the point where he threatened to end Bacall’s career if she didn’t break things off with Bogart. The film To Have and Have Not might not have been finished if not for intervention from Bogart and the studio.

41. Living a Private Wife

After 12 years of marriage to Bacall, Bogart passed away in 1957. Bacall would be hard pressed to share details about their marriage to the press. In her words, “being a widow is not a profession.”

42. Give Me a Whistle When You Come Back

As Humphrey Bogart was lowered into the ground one last time, the widowed Bacall placed a whistle on his coffin. This is a reference to the role which first brought them together in To Have and Have Not, where Bacall’s character says to Bogart’s: “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.”

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

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