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Search tags: R.I.P.-Lauren-Bacall
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review 2016-06-28 03:21
By Myself and Then Some (Lauren Bacall)
By Myself and Then Some - Lauren Bacall

This is a late '70s autobiography, with another quarter of a century ("and then some") tacked on in 2005.  Though the memoir covers pretty much all her projects in movies, theatre and tv, the lasting memory of this book will be of Bacall's recollections of her personal relationships with both husbands, a couple of high-profile boyfriends, and numerous friends. Given that, the title seems a little odd, but there can be little doubt that after her first husband Bogart, died in the 50s, and even before her second marriage to Jason Robards collapsed in the late 60s due to his alcoholism, she does seem to have felt that she was a solitary agent. The wry title to the second part reflects very accurately the rather depressing sequence of death after death amongst her dearest friends, a great many of whom she outlived in the early part of the 21st century.

The style of the two parts is somewhat different; I have a feeling that Bacall's exclamatory style was considerably more edited in the first work. However, there's every evidence throughout that we're getting her words, not those of any sort of ghost-writer; she was clearly an articulate and reasonably well-read woman.

The part of the memoir that I found most compelling, and not just because it involves a relationship that's mythic in Hollywood history, was her romance, marriage and eventual loss of Bogart. The detailed clarity of her recollections of the most important stages in that relationship - their wedding day, the babyhood of their son, and, most affectingly, Bogart's death -shows that this was likely the part of her story she still found most compelling herself. But we also get interesting cameos of people like Frank Sinatra (they dated after Bogie's death; he dumped her rather unceremoniously), or Kate Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (by her account, entirely joined at the hip). Bacall has very little bitterness to vent, though she does seem to feel that her career was sub-optimal after the Bogie years, even though she had an amazing renaissance on the New York stage, for which she received masses of praise and two Tonies, and a strong presence in Britain as well. I strongly suspect there were plenty of ill-feelings, and plenty of secrets, which didn't make it past her own personal filters. She was, after all, of a more gracious generation - and we must also remember that even the first part of this memoir wasn't written until she was well into her 50s.

Recommended for anyone interested in golden age of Hollywood, or the Broadway scene in the 70s, especially when read in tandem with other memoirs/biographies of her contemporaries.

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review 2014-11-22 00:00
By Myself and Then Some
By Myself and Then Some - Lauren Bacall I added this in the week following Bacall's death in August - I finally wanted to learn more about this last actress of the Golden Era, a woman who seemed relatable and fun - judging by the interviews, quotations, snippets from TV shows she seemed to be one strong and humorous lady. The book consists of two parts - the first one, written in late seventies, and the second one, written over a quarter of a century later.

The first part - the majority of the book, luckily - is fast-paced, constructed like a good biopic - never a dull moment, following from one moment of interest of another. I honestly expected a narrative slump after her marriage to Bogart (her description of their courtship and marriage is by far the best part of the book), but the lady still delivered: Hollywood blacklisting, life on the set of The African Queen, etc. The book is written in an authentic voice, with strange, sometimes torn sentences; Bacall has a penchant for one-liners and makes amusing comments on people:
A writer named Truman Capote had been hired to work on the script. Bogie’s observation about him was, ‘At first you can’t believe him, he’s so odd, and then you want to carry him around with you always.

All in all, I really enjoyed the first part. She comes across as fragile and imperfect at times, prone to repeating the same errors, but first of all, a survivor, and a wonderfully commonsensical person:
My friends in the musical world had told me the toughness of what lay ahead. Jerry Robbins had said, ‘You’ll have to stay out of crowded, noisy rooms. Save your energy for the show. Find a nice guy and keep house, with quiet evenings for two.’ Clearly the best way to get through any show – or any life, for that matter.

The second part - ...and Then Some - I largely skimmed. It mostly consists of a string of eulogies for dead friends and coworkers, and a list of plays and movies she worked in. This part, with all due respect, was rather rambling than chatty - with musings on 'the heartstopping beauty of Paris', the excellent quality of the New York's 'fresh and delicious takeout', and, of course, politics. I liked the descriptions of her work relationship with Barbra Streisand (whom she praises for her professionalism, but adds: 'Her best side is her left side. That happens to be my best side as well. Guess who won?', and everything she wrote about John Gielgud.
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review 2014-08-13 13:07
Murder, mystery and the magnetism of Bogart and Bacall
The Big Sleep: A Film Adaptation Directed by Howard Hawks - Leigh Brackett,William Faulkner,Jules Furthman,Howard Hawks,Raymond Chandler

They were one of Hollywood's all-time legendary couples, both on screen and off; producing celluloid magic in the four films they made together between 1943 and 1948 as much as by their off-screen romance, which in itself was the stuff that dreams are made of. He was the American Film Insititute's No. 1 star of the 20th century, Hollywood's original noir anti-hero, who in addition to the AFI honors bestowed on his real-life persona also played two of the 20th century's Top 50 film heroes (Casablanca's Rick Blaine and this movie's Philip Marlowe); epitome of the handsome, cynical and oh-so lonesome wolf, looking unbeatably cool in dinner jacket, trenchcoat and fedora alike, a glass of whiskey in his hand and cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth; and endowed with a legendary aura several times larger than his physical stature. She, despite a 25-year age difference his equal in everything from grit and toughness to mysterious appeal; chillier than bourbon on the rocks, possessing more than just a touch of class whatever her role; and long since a bona fide AFI movie legend in her own right.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall met on the set of Howard Hawks's 1944 realization of Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, where an obvious chemistry quickly developed between 45-year-old veteran Bogart, who had just scored two of film history's greatest-ever hits with The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca in the two preceding years, and the sassy, exciting 20-year-old newcomer who possessed the maturity and sex-appeal of a woman good and well 10 years her senior. They were reunited two years later for this adaptation of Raymond Chandler's first Philip Marlowe novel (published 1939), based on a screenplay written, like that of To Have and Have Not, by William Faulkner and Jules Furthman, together with Leigh Brackett (who had not participated in scripting the Hemingway adaptation). By the time the movie was released in 1946, Bogart and Bacall were married.

Reprising Bogart's noir gumshoe role with a character not unlike Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, the movie The Big Sleep is as infamous as Chandler's literary original for its labyrinthine plot, which reportedly even the author himself couldn't completely untangle (nor did he care to). The action is essentially faithful to that of Chandler's novel, from which it also takes much of its dialogue; albeit streamlined and with some changes made to fit Bogart's physical characteristics, and eliminating or softening a few scenes considered unfit for display to a moviegoing audience in the 1940s. The story begins when Marlowe is hired by wealthy old General Sternwood to handle a blackmailing attempt involving gambling debts incurred by Sternwood's younger daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) (whom the detective has already met when she literally threw herself into his arms upon his entry into the house, sucking her thumb and coyly telling him "you're cute"). After his interview with the dying general in the latter's hot and humid orchid house, a disheveled Marlowe is summoned to the rooms of the general's older daughter Vivian (Lauren Bacall), who tries to worm out of him the purpose of his engagement and who, as Marlowe quickly concludes, has more than a minor hidden agenda of her own. Soon the detective is up to his ears in the classical film noir brew of murder, damsels in distress, shady characters and a world where nothing is what it appears to be, and where he'll be able to consider himself lucky if he gets out alive – yet, he is determined to see the case through and will neither be bought off by money nor by sweetness and seduction.

Looking back at the movie and its stars' almost mythical fame, it is difficult to imagine that, produced at the height of the studio system era, it was originally just one of the roughly 50 movies released by Warner Brothers over the course of one year. But mass production didn't equal low quality; on the contrary, the great care given to all production values, from script-writing to camera work, editing, score (Max Steiner) and the stars' presentation in the movie itself and in its trailer was at least partly responsible for its lasting success. Indeed, the release of The Big Sleep was delayed for an entire year – and not only because its first version was completed around the end of WWII and Warner Brothers wanted to get their still-unreleased war movies into theaters first, but also, and significantly, because Lauren Bacall's agent convinced studio boss Jack Warner and director Howard Hawks to reshoot several scenes to better highlight the sassy, mysterious new star Bacall had become after To Have and Have Not. And it certainly paid off: The Big Sleep firmly established then-22-year-old Lauren Bacall as one of Hollywood's new leading ladies, and even more than her first film with Humphrey Bogart laid the foundation for the couple's mythical relationship.

Bogart and Bacall would star together two more times after this movie: In Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948). But of their four collaborations, the first two – and in particular, The Big Sleep – remain unparalleled for their secretive, shadowy aura, tight scripting, snappy dialogue, cynicism and underlying seductiveness; due in equal parts to the story crafted by Raymond Chandler, its adaptation by Faulkner, Furthman and Brackett, Howard Hawks's masterful direction, and its starring couple's irresistible chemistry. After three failed marriages, after having produced on-screen magic with Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon and, even more so, with Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca (and although he would go on to star in such memorable pairings as next to Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen and Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina), Humphrey Bogart had finally met his match – and while his and Bacall's marriage was painfully cut short by the cancer to which he succumbed in 1957, the magnetism they created on screen will live on, and nowhere more brilliantly than in The Big Sleep.

(Original version of this review posted on ThemisAthena.info. To mark Lauren Bacall's passing, also cross-posted on Leafmarks.)

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review 2013-03-06 00:00
Lauren Bacall by Myself - Lauren Bacall by Myself - Lauren Bacall smoking and drinking tea

One of my friends made fun of me for a little while yesterday because he saw me walking down the street laughing to myself. Fittingly, I was laughing to myself about the smartass comments I was planning to make to him about how rude it was that he didn’t offer to give me a ride. This book makes me think of that because of how easily I can entertain myself by thinking about a better comeback, a funnier joke, or a snappier ending to a story I already told. Reading this was sort of like reading everything Lauren Bacall wished she’d said to people her entire life.

It is not as entertaining to hear someone else’s would-have-saids as it is to hear my own.

The other issue I have with this book is that it falls into this ditch of crappy storytelling wherein she recounts the overall events that happened throughout entire years, but without any actual story. “Then we went to Paris, then we stayed at a hotel, then a lot of people got malaria, then my mom said something wise, then somebody went to the doctor.” I think every other sentence should have been edited out, and the remaining elaborated into actual stories with dialogue and descriptions. This was maybe the longest short book I've ever read. Mostly a slog.

I am giving this three stars, though, because there were two parts that I thought were really interesting, beautiful, and well told. The first was the courtship between her and Bogart, and the second was his death. I actually really loved the way she talked about Bogie’s death. It was incredibly sad and very beautiful, and at that point it seemed to unfold that the whole book had been leading up to that moment in her life. In a lot of ways, it seemed like her life became somewhat defined by mourning him.

I have had a few friends who strongly identify with Lauren Bacall, or at least her movie persona, and I have never felt that. The same with Audrey Hepburn. It seems nice, to me, for a girl to identify with women who are so elegant and graceful, but still with humor, but I am not one of them. Lena Dunham is definitely my girl. I guess I thought going into this memoir that despite her outward dissimilarity to me, there would be some kind of sympathy of spirit between Lauren Bacall and me. Whether that reflects well or badly on me, that was not the case.

The disconnect for me happened in that Bacall seemed really focused on affirming traditional values of finding a man to take care of her and devoting herself to her children, but also her career was obviously intensely important to her identity. While she was married to Bogie, according to Bacall, he was pretty clear that work should be second and he should be the priority. She was happy to agree to that. And after he died, she talked a lot about still having hope that she would find a man to take care of her. But, then, there were these times when someone would be dying, her kids would be failing at school, and she’d decide to go to Paris for a month to hang out. That kind of freaks me out because I feel like if you are really skilled as a caregiver and want to devote yourself to caring for kids and dudes, fine. But, if you aren’t, and you are skilled as an actress, don’t pretend you’re something else just to try to fit in. That bugs me. Play to your strengths.

I’m not questioning her love for her kids or husbands or lovers at all. I’m just saying I felt like my sense of who she was got all fogged up by this agenda she had to prove that she was somehow a nurturing person. And the fact that she was rarely there when something important happened to her family sort of belied the idea that she was devoted to nurturing. I have zero problem with her being skilled at other things than nurturing, and I think a person’s nurturing skills have very little to do with how much they love their family, but I got the sense that she had a problem with her skills lying elsewhere and wanted to sell herself as a nurturer. That was where I couldn’t identify with her.

It did seem like there were a couple of times where she could have been there for her family, but was at a party or in another country, or something. I couldn’t really get a good sense of it, though, because a lot of that seemed like she might have been too hard on herself and feeling some kind of survivor guilt for not being there every second of every family member’s life. Ultimately, I think it is a flaw in the book that I am distracted by not having a sense of whether she was there for her family or mostly at parties. It made me kind of curious what they would have said. What I mean is that I appreciate it when people are accurate about their own skills. I don't mean complaining, like, "I'm ugly" or "Everybody hates me" because those are not possible, and are only feelings, not accurate descriptions. I mean, like, "I am good at cooking and bad at gardening." I feel like those things build who a character is, even if the character is as complex as a real human, and I didn't get a solid sense of Bacall as a character.

I guess, Bacall's appearance and presentation is harsh and independent, but she describes herself as being soft and dependent. I am the opposite of that. I look like a helpless child, but really more of a jerk.

But, she did fall in love with a lot of married men, and I can identify with that. People are always getting married.
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