Lauren Bacall, 89, Hollywood legend with smoky voice

DAVID SWANSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Bacall , with her dog Sophie, actress pal Blythe Danner and two Bryn Mawr students, was in Philadelphia to receive the college's Katharine Hepburn Medal, along with Danner, in 2006.
DAVID SWANSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Bacall , with her dog Sophie, actress pal Blythe Danner and two Bryn Mawr students, was in Philadelphia to receive the college's Katharine Hepburn Medal, along with Danner, in 2006.
Posted: August 14, 2014

HOLLYWOOD LOST one of its last links to cinema's Golden Age yesterday with the passing of Lauren Bacall, a name that might leave film-deprived millennials scratching their heads.

She died of a stroke at her New York home at age 89, and when the news reached my house, a teenager who lives there said, "Who?"

Well, young'uns, go on YouTube and search for Bacall in "To Have and Have Not," her debut role back in 1945.

See if you can find a scene of the actress asking Humphrey Bogart if he knows how to whistle.

It's rated G, and it's sexier than anything Katy Perry has ever done, by about a mile.

Bacall is fully clothed, yet when she explains that all you need to do is "put lips together and . . . blow," in that great, smoky voice of hers, through those great, shaded eyes of hers, she utters one of the great lines in movie history and commits to film one of its most seductive moments.

The fact that she was a teenager at the time and ended up in a relationship with Bogart, then in his mid-40s, is a bit of a scandal, but let's write it off to a different era - they got hitched the next year, and theirs became one of the most celebrated marriages of the era, ending with Bogart's death a decade later.

Back to Bacall's voice, which may have taken the edge off the age difference in the film. She had a rich, deep, expressive and knowing vocal instrument (later well-suited to the stage), 18 going on 35. She played a worldly saloon singer in the movie, every bit as tough and cynical as Bogart's character, and gave as good as she got. Bacall instantly held her own in an era known for assertive actresses and strong female characters.

Bogart famously described her as "steel with curves." (She apparently wasn't much of a crooner, however, and when it came time to find a voice to convincingly dub her natural baritone, they chose . . . Andy Williams.)

She played versions of the same character in a string of film-noir titles opposite Bogart: "The Big Sleep" (1946); "Dark Passage" (1947), based on the novel by Philly crime novelist David Goodis; "Key Largo" (1948). She didn't like being typecast, and began to turn down roles. She got one she wanted in 1953's "How to Marry a Millionaire," alongside Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe, showing a gift for comedy and contributing to one of the biggest commercial hits of her career. A few years later, she scored again in "Designing Women" opposite Gregory Peck.

In the years after Bogart's death, she turned away from movies and found work on the stage, earning Tony awards for her performances in "Applause" (1970) and "Woman of the Year" (1981).

She never gave up on film, took small roles from time to time, and earned an Oscar nomination in 1996 for "The Mirror Has Two Faces."

Three years later, the American Film Institute listed her as among the Top 20 actresses in Hollywood history.

In Philly, Bacall was one of the first recipients of Bryn Mawr College's Katharine Hepburn Medal, presented in 2006 during a ceremony at the Kimmel Center.

- Staff writer Vinny Vella contributed to this column

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