The upcoming March 2011 issue of Vanity Fair has an excellent interview with the grande dame of old Hollywood, Lauren Bacall. At the age of 86, Bacall remains a sharp, intuitive, and fiercely independent figure whose legendary profile still leaps out of a photograph. In the interview, Bacall reminisces about her relationship with first husband Humphrey Bogart. Surprisingly, one of Hollywood’s most legendary romances began not with a bang, but with a whimper–Bacall confesses that she was not attracted to Bogart from the start, even thinking “Yuck!” to herself when told she would be co-starring with him in her first feature film.
That attitude quickly changed once filming began on that movie, 1944’s To Have and Have Not, and the sparks began to fly between them. And speaking of that film, the actress recalls how utter terror gave rise to one of cinema’s most enduring images:
“[She quickly discovered] that she was so terrified in front of the camera that she could barely function. No matter what [director Howard] Hawks tried, she couldn’t gather her wits to perform her role as the femme fatale Marie, whom Bogart’s character in the film, Steve, nicknames Slim (in homage to Slim Hawks). She recalls being ‘ready for a straitjacket [on the first day of shooting]. Howard had planned to do a single scene that day—my first in the picture. I walked to the door of Bogart’s room, said, “Anybody got a match?,” leaned against the door, and Bogart threw me a small box of matches. I lit my cigarette, looking at him, said “Thanks,” threw the matches back to him, and left. Well—we rehearsed it. My hand was shaking. My head was shaking. The cigarette was shaking. I was mortified. The harder I tried to stop, the more I shook. What must Howard be thinking? What must Bogart be thinking? What must the crew be thinking? Oh God, make it stop! I was in such pain.’
The only way she could ‘hold my trembling head still was to keep it down, chin low, almost to the chest, and eyes up at Bogart.’ That stance accidentally became Bacall’s signature attitude on-screen, known as The Look.”
For the rest of the interview, including Bacall’s candid recollections of Bogart’s 1957 death, her long-running stage and screen career, and her sometimes troubled relationships with Frank Sinatra and Jason Robards, check out the March issue of Vanity Fair. It’s a fascinating read, to say the least.