When it comes to strong, confident, assertive women with naturally striking beauty, not many can fairly rival that of the great, late Lauren Bacall. Lauren was an original Hollywood starlet in every sense of the term. With peers such as Katharine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly, Lauren cemented her place among the leading ladies of the Hollywood Golden Age, undoubtedly the most glamorous period of all time.
Her out-of-this-world visage was not the only enviable asset Lauren Bacall possessed. An amazing woman, an extremely talented actress, a philanthropist, a style icon, a confident woman who didn’t take any shit... yet labelled a bitch. We take a look at the elements which defined the unique Lauren Bacall and why, if this is what it means to be a bitch, we’ll gladly take on the moniker.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to comprehend that her face, the result of Romanian and Polish genes, was made to be in front of a lens. At 16, a young and innocent Betty Perske (Bacall’s birth name), graced the pages of magazines such as Vogue and a now iconic Harper’s Bazaar cover (above). Unsurprisingly, she was spotted, snapped up and shoved on a movie set at 19. After a change of name and some work on her voice (with the help of a voice coach, her naturally high, nasally voice developed into that distinctly recognisable sultry, husky tone), Lauren Bacall as the world knows her was born.
As a nervous youngster, new to the world of movies, Lauren accidentally invented an iconic stare, which no one since has been able to accurately emulate. Bacall coined the sultry-eyed low-eyebrow gaze long before the likes of Kristen Stewart. “I used to tremble from nerves so badly that the only way I could hold my head steady was to lower my chin practically to my chest and look up at Bogie,” she famously said. “That was the beginning of The Look.”
Her endearing shyness won the heart of her co-star, Humphrey Bogart, who at that point was a massive star in his own right with women falling at his feet. Although married, he fell for Lauren, giving showbiz reporters and tabloids headlines for months. Lauren stayed with “Bogie” for 12 years up until his death in 1957.
Shortly after, Lauren started a relationship with the hunk of the era, Frank Sinatra. Again, Frank had women flocking around him but it was the gorgeous, sexy and witty Lauren that caught his attention and inspired him to propose to her. Their short-lived affair was quite possibly the inspiration behind a few of her famous quotes about men.
“A woman isn't complete without a man. But where do you find a man — a real man — these days?”
“Generally women are better than men; they have more character. I prefer men for some things, obviously, but women have a greater sense of honor and are more willing to take a chance with their lives.”
“Find me a man who's interesting enough to have dinner with and I'll be happy.”
It was quite likely that Lauren’s two marriages (one ending with her as a widow and the other as a divorcee), her high profile relationship with Sinatra, raising three children whilst being a Hollywood star and suffering countless brutal tabloid headlines that bring us to another one of her famous attributes... that spitfire ‘tude.
Regrettably, in her later years Bacall was notorious to the younger generations as the ratty old broad who laid into celebs such as Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise and Kathleen Turner, instead of the incredible talent that she was.
When a young, fresh-faced and starry-eyed Kathleen Turner approached the superstar Bacall and said, “Hello, I’m a young you," Bacall just stared at her, straight-faced. By that point, Bacall had worked her buns off to build her image, her life, her reputation, her career, her style and even her voice only to have some spring chicken come along and say she was the new Lauren Bacall. Lauren made it clear that she was not willing to let anybody ride on her coat tails.
When a 43-year-old Tom Cruise paraded his personal life on TV and was jumping up and down on sofas, Lauren Bacall had a bit of a bash at him. Quite possibly she felt ashamed for her whole kind, actors and celebrities (although she hated that term; “I have no respect for celebrities, and I object to being called one, so don't try it! I'm an actress, not a celebrity,” she said).
As for voicing her opinion that Nicole Kidman is not a legend, it’s worth noting that she didn’t even view herself as a legend, even though her acting experience surpassed Kidman’s by a whopping 41 years. “She's not a legend. She's a beginner. What is this legend? She can't be a legend at whatever age she is. Legends are all to do with the past and nothing to do with the present,” she said.
Bacall’s shrewd attitude to life was to live in the now and not worry about the future. “You can't start worrying about what's going to happen. You get spastic enough worrying about what's happening now," she said.
Bacall’s elegant, enviable style, was all to do with being able to wear clothes without having them define her like her How to Marry a Millionaire co-star, Marilyn Monroe, whose most recognisable and defining look was THAT dress (in case you only just emerged from under a rock since birth, we mean the white William Travilla dress in the subway grating scene from The Seven Year Itch).
Bacall, on the other hand had a classic, more staid defining look. Not big voluptuous breasts and tan skin like her peer, Sophia Lauren, or big juicy lips and bleached blonde hair like Marilyn. For Bacall, minimalistic chic was the name of the game.
Director Howard Hawks adored her distinctive features, thick eyebrows, slightly crooked teeth... there was something different about her. She would style her thick hair in side-parted waves herself, went easy with the tweezers (think Cara Delevingne, decades before she was even thought of) and preferred the natural look to anything overdone or fake.
Her chic style could sometimes be slightly androgynous like that of her good friend Katharine Hepburn, for example, polo-necks with blazers, but this in no way took away from her femininity. Flannel or tweed suits or knitwear with flat shoes are hardly what you would expect from a sex bomb, but she pulled it off and kept her classic defining look throughout the years, avoiding changing with the fashion.
It seems Bacall had only one rule when it came to fashion. When asked to donate some of her clothes to be displayed in an exhibition about her style, she agreed saying, “Yes, it’s fine, as long as it’s high quality — Diana Vreeland style."
One word to describe Lauren Bacall’s style would have to be effortless. She never tried too hard, the clothes seem to fit impeccably and she was never in something that looked uncomfortable or too revealing.
As the years went by, she kept it classy and managed to avoid looking like mutton dressed as lamb (a mean feat for a glamourpuss in her sixties, seventies and eighties). She believed that you shouldn't have to "do too much to clothes," just wear them.
Bacall focussed on having impeccable minimal make-up and flawless skin (even though she was humble about it — when asked how she managed to look dowdy for a role in the Broadway play, Cactus Flower, she replied, “Quite easily, I assure you”). Her hair and make-up were always immaculate but never over the top when she was wearing anything from haute couture to just plain trousers and a shirt. Always ironed, always neat, always appropriate.
A big fan of Mainbocher, of whom Christian Lacroix once said, "It's glamour, but with a sense of everyday glamour... It's so pure, so new," Lauren said, “If he designs it, how can I not like it?”
Lauren Bacall was the epitome of pure, cool, sophisticated, subtle luxury.
Lauren Bacall has over 70 filmography credits to her name and was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the 1996 film The Mirror Has Two Faces with Barbara Streisand. In 2009, she received an honorary Oscar. She was also known for her philanthropic work helping countless charities including Aid for AIDS and Best Buddies as well as being a doting mother, grandmother and animal lover.
Lauren sadly passed away on August 12, 2014, aged 89, but she is undeniably cemented in our hearts and minds as a true legend. If that, to some, is a bitch, then so be it.
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Kat de Naoum is a freelance writer, who has written for Stella Magazine (Sunday Telegraph UK), has done several pieces for thedebrief.co.uk and is the editor at lotsofyoga.com. She splits her time between London, UK and Greece and apart from reading, writing, travelling, doing yoga and chasing after her pets, she is also (chronically) working on a novel. Follow her on her blog, Twitter, and Instagram.