Love is an occupational hazard on film sets. Sexy actors spend endless hours, passionately smooching and faux shagging, in take after take. Every word they speak is witty or cool. Their hair and makeup is flawless. Their clothes are stunning. The lighting is flattering. Don’t even get me started on their movie-god bods. No wonder so many of them hook up on the job.
Which brings us to Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. From the moment their characters lock eyes in To Have and Have Not, it’s obvious these two are destined to lock lips in the movie – and in real life. Chemistry, baby. It can’t be manufactured. No more prescient words were ever spoken than when Bogie bumped into Bacall before shooting began and said, “I just saw your test. We’ll have a lot of fun together.”
Bacall was 19, making her screen debut. Bogie was 44, trapped in a marriage riven by boozy benders and brawls. (Reporters didn’t call Bogie and wife Mayo Methot “The Battling Bogarts” for nothing.) Bacall and Bogie’s “reel” fling soon became the real thing, an affair too hot to keep under wraps. Director Howard Hawks resented that Bogie usurped his role as Bacall’s Svengali, which could explain Hawks’ comment that “Bogie fell in love with the character she played, so she had to keep playing it the rest of her life.” Or maybe Hawks was just jealous that Bogie won Bacall’s heart before he could.
Eventually, Mayo and Bogie divorced, and 11 days later, on May 21, 1945, he tied the knot with Bacall. She remembers seeing tears streaming down his face as they exchanged vows: “Bogie said that when he heard the beautiful words of the ceremony and realized what they meant – what they should mean – he cried.”
To cash in on the success of To Have and Have Not, the studio cast the newlyweds in three more dramas: The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and John Huston’s riveting film noir, KeyLargo, featuring Claire Trevor’s Oscar-winning performance. All four flicks are fun to watch, mostly to savor the flying sparks Bogie and Bacall generate.
The couple also collaborated on two co-productions of their own: son Stephen and daughter Leslie. The marriage was by all accounts happy until esophageal cancer claimed Bogie on January 14, 1957. After what Bacall termed a “combustible” romance with Frank Sinatra, she married actor Jason Robards in 1961. They had a son named Sam, but split eight years later.
Bacall shot two hit rom-coms when Bogie was still alive: How to Marry a Millionaire and Designing Woman. She won Tony Awards for the Broadway musicals Woman of the Year and Applause, an All About Eve reboot whose fans included the film’s star Bette Davis, who told Bacall, “No one but you could have played this part.” At John Wayne’s request, she appeared in his last movie, The Shootist.
In 1997, Bacall earned her only Academy Award nomination for The Mirror Has Two Faces, and received an honorary Oscar in 2009. She wrote three best-selling memoirs and made occasional screen appearances before dying of a stroke on August 12, 2014 at age 89. Bacall’s $26 million estate included her longtime apartment in The Dakota, the same building where John Lennon lived and died.