This video is of Bacall’s Oscar speech for her Honorary Award in 2009. it is a wonderful speech, full of humor, very natural and full to the brim with her caustic wit. She was such a superb actress and it is an honor to pay tribute to her greatness in this short piece on her New Yorkness and her career.
Born Betty Perske in the Bronx of European parents, Lauren Bacall as she was to be known professionally, actually grew up in Brooklyn. She started as a model and then studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Art and then had a dream beginning in movies being tested for her first film role at just 19 after she was seen on a magazine cover. Howard Hawks was her Director and tutor in her first film ‘To Have and to Have Not’ with Humphrey Bogart. All of Hawk’s tutoring paid off handsomely, it was a great hit as well as being the beginning of a long romantic relationship with Bogart.
When Bogart died she was just 33 with 2 children and by then had a number of starring roles to her credit. She never lucked out in the romantic stakes again, having a short engagement to Frank Sinatra and later marrying Jason Robards, a marriage which did not last. However her career was unstoppable. She starred on stage and continued to make great films. She won Tonys on Broadway and much later in her career did a famous cameo on the TV series the ‘The Sopranos’. Despite only receiving 1 Oscar nomination, though she won many other awards, her skills as an actress were well known and highly regarded and that reputation resulted in the honorary Oscar of 2009. Some critics described her as mannish, especially because of her deep voice but how anyone could see her in this light given her smoldering sexiness and come hither allure allied to a devil may care attitude to life, is a complete mystery. She ignited the screen whenever she was on it and the same was true of the stage.
She stayed true to her New York roots all her life, returning to NYC whenever she could and always projecting an independence of spirit and a capacity to survive under all circumstances that was pure New Yorkerism. When you see her in this video you can pick up a straight line of descent in her individualism from another great New Yorker Mae West, another tough broad. You are under no illusion that anyone would be in charge of her life except her. At every turn, she was truly and brilliantly herself. We shall so miss her, but thank heavens we can revel in her films still.