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Lauren Bacall

Actress.

Born: September 16, 1924; Died: August 12, 2014.

Lauren Bacall, who has died aged 89, was one of the last and grandest of Hollywood's grandes dames; imperious, insolent and iconic from her first appearance on screen opposite Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not.

Her life and career were to be ­determined by that part. Her exit line to Bogart in the film's best-known scene - "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow" - is generally acknowledged as one of the great moments in cinema.

Her subsequent marriage to Bogart was, by all accounts, a genuine love match until his early death. And, though she protested to Michael Parkinson that "being a widow is not a profession", she never escaped from the public interest in their relationship or, in truth, ever found screen roles that could be measured against that performance, and her other roles alongside him in The Big Sleep, Dark Passage and Key Largo.

The critic James Agee noted ­presciently of her first outing that she had "cinema personality to burn, and she burns both ends against an unusually little middle". But if her subsequent career seemed, with hindsight, anticlimactic, it was principally because of the shattering impact of those early roles.

She had highly successful roles in theatre, winning Tony awards for best actress in the musicals Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year (1981), and was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actress for her role as Barbra Streisand's mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces (1997), for which she won a Golden Globe. Her first volume of memoirs, By Myself (1978, updated 2005) was a remarkable insight into the Golden Age of Hollywood and a candid account of her own life.

Betty Joan Perske was born on September 16 1924 in the Bronx, New York, the daughter of William Perske, a salesman, and his wife Natalie, a secretary. Both sides of the family were Jewish - her father was of Polish descent and her mother had arrived in America from Romania; Shimon Peres, later President of Israel, was her cousin - and her autobiography described a close-knit family on her mother's side.

Her parents split up when she was five and she moved with her mother to Manhattan. Though they struggled with money, an uncle paid for her to attend a private school in Tarrytown and for ballet lessons, after she formed an ambition to become a dancer. She also became fascinated by cinema, and a huge fan of Bette Davis, skipping school to watch her films and smoke ("I'd paid for the package, so I had to smoke them all before I went home.")

After high school, she spent a year at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she briefly dated Kirk Douglas - with whom she later appeared in Young Man With a Horn (1950). She had jobs as a fashion model and theatre usherette, in which capacity she was striking enough to catch the eye of the critic George Nathan.

After appearing as an extra in Johnny 2x4 on Broadway (which ran for eight weeks), in 1942 she met Diana Vreeland, the fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar. After her picture (in front of a blood donor clinic) appeared in the magazine, she received approaches from several film producers, including Howard Hawks, whose wife, Slim, had spotted her as likely starlet material.

She had been known as Betty Bacall for some time (she added an extra 'l' to her mother's maiden name, to help people pronounce it) but Hawks renamed her Lauren. He reshaped her in every other way as well, getting her to lower her voice and capturing what became known as "The Look", where she lowered her chin almost to her chest and gazed up at Bogart. "I would have had a great career had he been in control of it," she later admitted. "But the minute Bogie was around, Hawks knew he couldn't control me, so he sold my contract to Warner Bros. And that was the end."

Her romance with Bogart had a stuttering beginning - he was 44 and married to his third wife, while she was 19 - but they were married in 1945. Bacall's second picture, Confidential Agent, was released that year, and critically panned, but when she appeared opposite Bogart again in The Big Sleep (1946) their smouldering onscreen chemistry was again evident.

She made two more films with her husband, Dark Passage (1947) and the terrific Key Largo (1948) but then concentrated on raising their family. They had two children, Stephen (named after Bogart's nickname in To Have and Have Not) and their daughter Leslie (named after Leslie Howard, who had got Bogart his big break in films). After Young Man With a Horn with Kirk Douglas and Doris Day, an adaptation of Dorothy Baker's novel loosely based on Bix Beiderbecke, her most notable role was in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953).

The fact that she had made her home life a priority, and was not slow to turn down roles she thought weak led to difficulties with the studio and few of the films she made in the 1950s, except the weepie Written on the Wind (1956, with Rock Hudson), the comedy Designing Women (with Gregory Peck, 1957) and the adventure hit North West Frontier (1959) were notable.

She and Bogart also caused friction by making a public stand against the House Un-American Activities Committee. Unlike Bogart who, though he opposed McCarthyism, wrote an article headlined "I'm no Communist", Lauren Bacall was a convinced liberal ("an anti-Republican", as she put it) and friendly with Adlai Stephenson and Robert Kennedy.

After Bogart's death in 1957, she had a fling with Frank Sinatra, which ended when he believed she had told the newspapers they were getting engaged (the agent Swifty Lazar was the culprit). She then married Jason Robards in 1961, with whom she had a son, Sam. But the marriage foundered as a result of Robards' alcoholism, and they were divorced in 1969. She made just three films in the Sixties, of which only Harper, with Paul Newman, is worth watching.

But she had returned to the stage in Cactus Flower (1965) and then had a hit with Applause (1970), which was based on All About Eve and in which she played the Bette Davis character. Also on Broadway, she starred in Wonderful Town (1977), picked up a second Tony for Woman of the Year and appeared in Sweet Bird of Youth (1985).

By now, however, she was indelibly identified as one of the iconic figures from Hollywood's Golden Age, and she began to take cameos in all-star pictures such as Murder on the Orient Express (1974). She appeared in John Wayne's last film, The Shootist (1976) and as the literary agent in Misery (1990), based on Stephen King's novel. But her fame was still rooted in her earliest work and her association with Bogart, and she was most often seen on chat shows. She even popped up, as herself, in an episode of The Sopranos.

She was widely expected to win the Oscar for her role as Hannah in The Mirror Has Two Faces (1997), for which she won a slew of other awards, but she lost out to Juliette Binoche in The English Patient. She won an honorary Oscar in 2009, about which she was none too delighted - "Aren't legends dead?" she asked.

She was impressive, however, in Robert Altman's Prêt-à-porter (1995), then in Lars von Trier's Dogville (2003) and Jonathan Glazer's Birth the following year - in both alongside Nicole Kidman - and in Paul Schrader's under-rated The Walker (2007), with Woody Harrelson.

Anti-climactically, her last roles were voiceovers on the direct-to-video Scooby Doo and the Goblin King and an episode of the twelfth season of Family Guy. But it hardly mattered. Had she never made another film after her first two pictures with Bogart, she would still have been remembered as one of Hollywood's brightest stars; it was a part she continued to play, on and off screen, to the end of her life.

She is survived by her two sons and daughter.

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