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Hollywood, Broadway Icon Lauren Bacall Dies At 89


Let's listen one more time to the unmistakable voice of Lauren Bacall. Years ago on MORNING EDITION, she told us of the start of her acting career.


LAUREN BACALL: I was great at play-acting. When I was 8 years old, 9, 10 years old, I remember making up stories about - you know, I was (speaking in dramatic voice) Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair.

INSKEEP: Not so many years later, she was on camera. Lauren Bacall has died at the age of 89. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: She was born Betty Joan Perske in the Bronx, to working-class Jewish parents. And as Lauren Bacall, she lived in New York City until the end.

In her autobiography, Bacall describes becoming a fashion model as a teenager. She studied acting, begging for parts, even working as an usher, just to get close to the stage, as she told NPR in 2005.


BACALL: Well, I always believed that the theater was the place to learn your craft. I did when I was a kid when I wanted to be an actor. I only wanted to be on the stage.

DEL BARCO: But in 1943, the wife of film director Howard Hawks spotted her modeling on the cover of Harper's Bazaar magazine. The director cast the 19-year-old actress opposite Humphrey Bogart in "To Have And Have Not."

You've undoubtedly heard her most famous line.


BACALL: You know how to whistle don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.

DEL BARCO: Before the film came out, director Hawks renamed her Lauren Bacall, and she credits him with encouraging her to cultivate the low, sultry voice that became her trademark. During filming, Baby and Bogie - as Bacall and Bogart called each other - fell in love. When they married, she was 20 years old and he was 45. They went on to star together in "Dark Passage," "Key Largo" and the film noir classic "The Big Sleep."


BACALL: (As Vivian Rutledge) The only trouble is, we could've had a lot of fun if you weren't a detective.

HUMPHREY BOGART: (As Philip Marlowe) We still can.

DEL BARCO: They had two children and remained a Hollywood storybook couple until he died in 1957. She told WHYY's Fresh Air in 1994 it was the most romantic experience of her life.


BACALL: I mean, when you are young and when it's your first love and you are just carried away by it, and when that's all you can think about - you see, Bogie was the kind of man who believed in taking care of a marriage and taking care of a relationship. He believed you had to work at it and keep it fresh and fun and interesting, and he did.

DEL BARCO: In the 1950s Bogart and Bacall spoke out against the House committee on un-American activities, and they campaigned for Adlai Stevenson's presidential bid. Bacall's politics, her tendency to turn down roles and her commitment to her marriage might have limited her film career. She talked about it all in two candid autobiographies, says Alonso Duralde, the film editor of the Hollywood website "The Wrap."

ALONSO DURALDE: The very frank and forthcoming book solidified her reputation as a straight shooter and somebody who had, you know, made it through the Hollywood system and had seen it all and was very frank about who she was. And as she became an older actress, you know, that came with a sense of gravitas, and she very much, I think, maintained her kind of star status, even as she was playing smaller roles.

DEL BARCO: Bacall was finally nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress in 1996. She lost, but the Academy eventually gave her an honorary Oscar. In the meantime, she'd returned to her first love, Broadway.

Bacall won Tony awards for the 1970 musical "Applause," and "Woman Of The Year" in 1981.


BACALL: (As Tess Harding, singing) One of the girls who's one of the boys.

DEL BARCO: Actress, singer and author Lauren Bacall enthralled audiences for nearly 70 years.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.

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