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Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart would never have met if not for director Howard Hawks.
Before her Hollywood debut, Lauren – born Betty – was modeling in New York. In January 1943, she graced the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, and that’s when Hawk’s wife Nancy saw her.
Hawks paid for Bacall to travel to California, and he and his wife helped develop the nineteen-year old’s on-screen persona, including lowering her voice and styling her fashion. It was even Hawk’s idea for her to go by Lauren -- since Hollywood already had Bette Davis, Betty Grable, and Betty Hutton.
One might expect Bacall and Bogie’s first meeting to be something out of a movie. However, it wasn’t love at first sight.
They met on the set of Passage to Marseille, where Hawks took Lauren to meet him, still feeling out if she was right for the part of Slim in To Have and Have Not.
But any hesitation Hawks had immediately went away after he did a screen test using the now classic “Whistle” scene.
Despite his confidence though, Warner Brothers was hesitant about the newcomer and required him to test others. Little did they know that they would soon be dubbing her “The Look”.
When Bogie and Bacall began working together on the set, the pair got along well.
Bacall recalled, “[We would] kid around – he’s always gagging – trying to break me up and is very, very fond of me.”
Beyond being congenial, Bogart was also understanding when the young actress nerves would rise – as they did when she struggled to strike up a match with shaking hands.
“When Bogie was in the scene and saw that I was just standing there, rather blank, he’d change his line or he’d say ‘What?’ That shook me up. I’d say, ‘Why did you do that?’ He’d say, ‘Because you weren’t listening,’” Bacall remembered.
But it wasn’t just Lauren who appreciated her co-star. Humphrey found her energy stimulating. He said, “She gives you back what you send. It’s like a fast game of tennis.”
Eventually, sparks began to fly, and he kissed her in her dressing room at the end of the day.
“It was impulsive – he was a bit shy – no lunging wolf tactics,” Bacall wrote in her memoir By Myself.
When the news broke on the set, Hawks didn’t approve of his stars mixing, especially since Bogart was married at the time. He tried to keep them apart, even threatening to sell her contract to Monogram, a B-picture movie studio.
The two stayed close throughout the shoot, and Bogie even gave her a special Christmas present – a gold whistle inscribed with “If you want anything, just whistle.”
Once To Have and Have Not finished, Bogie called off their romance, in order to give his marriage another chance. But the pair reconnected after his rocky relationship finally ended. On May 21, 1945, they were married.
Bacall said, “I wanted to give Bogie so much that he hadn’t had – all the love that had been stored inside of me, all my life for an inviable father, for a man.”
Bette Davis said, “Up until Betty Bacall, I think Bogart was really embarrassed doing love scenes… With her, he let go, and it was great. She matched his insolence.”
Bogie and Bacall remained married until his death in 1957, and they appeared together in six films during that time.
Howard Hawks said, “Without his help, I couldn’t have done what I did with Bacall. The average leading man would have got sick and tired of the rehearsal and the fussing around. Not very many actors would sit around and wait while a girl steals a scene. But he fell in love with the girl and the girl with him, and that made it easy.”