It was seventy-two years ago today that Bogie married Bacall.
When I was in college, I took an elective class called the History of American Cinema. Every week we watched a film and heard a lecture on its meaning and historical significance. We started with Charlie Chaplin and Citizen Kane, then moved through How to Marry a Millionaire, The Seven Year Itch, Psycho, Bonnie and Clyde, and finally such modern classics as Do the Right Thing and Thelma and Louise.
I loved the class, if not all the movies. Bonnie and Clyde, especially, blew me away. I hung a poster from the movie on my dorm room wall. I started watching other films outside class, and fell in love with movies made in the 1930s and 40s.
It was the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the stars seemed larger than life—larger even than the stars of today. They had an aura of mystery, class, and glamour. I loved how the men wore fedoras and the women smoked cigarettes in long white holders. The special effects and even the acting wasn’t up to par with today’s movies, but that meant those movies banked on the charisma of the actors and the quality of the writing.
I have my favorite stars, each embodying a different archetype. Bette Davis was a real life Scarlet O’Hara, whose unbending ambition was both a great strength and crippling weakness. She was a woman who conquered Hollywood but paid a steep personal price. Then again, maybe she was just a bitch. Either way, I love her for giving us Jezebel, Dark Victory, and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. And of course, the infinitely re-watchable All About Eve, as true today as it was then, and a better movie about Hollywood than La La Land.
Katharine Hepburn was the queen of witty repartee and spirited independence. She scandalized the world by wearing pants everywhere. She carried on a decades-long affair with Spencer Tracy. She was athletic, intelligent, and fearless. My favorite of her movies is The Philadelphia Story, though Bringing Up Baby is a close second.
Then there was Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock’s muse and the woman who went from Hollywood royalty to actual royalty when she married the Prince of Monaco. Despite her Oscar for the Country Girl, she undoubtedly made her best films with Hitchcock—Dial M for Murder, To Catch A Thief, and of course, Rear Window. She represented an icy, untouchable beauty that covered a hidden fiery center. Or as Hitchcock himself said, she was, “a snow-covered volcano.”
But for me, the queen of the queens will always be Lauren Bacall. At nineteen, she made her first of four movies with Humphrey Bogart. Directed by the legendary Howard Hawks, To Have and Have Not was based on one of Ernest Hemingway’s least-famous novels. It’s a Hemingway story, filled with adventure and romance. In it, Bogie’s Harry falls in love with Bacall’s Slim. In similar fashion, Bogie and Bacall were falling in love on the set. He was married and twenty-five years older. Even so, they had a whirlwind romance and twelve years of blissful marriage until Bogie’s death.
After Bogie, she remarried briefly and badly. She rebooted her career as a successful Broadway actress, and was working nearly until her own death. She titled her autobiography—a spectacular story, one of my favorite books—By Myself.
By the time Bacall died in 2014, she was a legend in her own right, and the last of the Hollywood Queens.