Lauren Bacall was masterful at creating and maintaining an iconic image, not just as a screen performer, but also as a public persona. Crafting the visual expression of this persona was key, but she also had a way with words. The Guardian has collected some of her most memorable quotes.
“I’m not a has-been, I’m a will be.”
“I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that.”
“Here is a test to find out whether your mission in life is complete. If you’re alive, it isn’t.”
She was the author of her complete professional self, beginning with the creation of a look: “I used to tremble from nerves so badly that the only way I could hold my head steady was to lower my chin practically to my chest and look up at Bogie. That was the beginning of The Look.” Another major component of her crafted persona was The Voice, created under the tutelage of director Howard Hawks. In his appreciation of her life in Vulture, Bilge Ebiri writes, “Here’s how Bacall tells it in her 1979 memoir By Myself: ‘He wanted me to drive into the hills, find some quiet spot, and read aloud. He felt it most important to keep the voice in a low register. Mine started off low, but what Howard didn’t like and explained to me was, ‘If you notice, Betty, when a woman gets excited or emotional she tends to raise her voice. Now, there is nothing more unattractive than screeching. I want you to train your voice in such a way that even if you have a scene like that your voice will remain low.’ I found a spot on Mulholland Drive and proceeded to read The Robe aloud, keeping my voice lower and louder than normal. If anyone had ever passed by, they would have found me a candidate for the asylum. Who sat on mountaintops in cars reading books aloud to the canyons?’”
“But it was more than the voice. It was the attitude,” Ebiri continues. “In the interview book Hawks on Hawks, the director told Joseph McBride that Bacall would find herself alone at the end of parties at his house. He was puzzled that no man would ever offer to drive her home. ‘I don’t do too well with men,’ she told him. ‘What do you do, are you nice to ’em?’ ‘Nice as I can be.’ So he suggested that she start ‘insulting’ them. The next time, she got a ride home. ‘What happened?’ Hawks asked. ‘Oh, I insulted the man … I asked him where he got his tie. He said, ‘What do you want to know for?’ And I said, ‘So I can tell people not to go there.’ ‘Who’s the man?’ Hawks asked. ‘Clark Gable.’ Later, Hawks asked screenwriter Jules Furthman, ‘Do you suppose we could make a girl who is insolent, as insolent as Bogart, who insults people, who grins when she does it, and people like it?’ It worked. It felt new then, but there was a certain timelessness to it, too; Marlene Dietrich came up to Hawks after one screening of To Have and Have Not and said, ‘You know, that’s me about 20 years ago.’”
But the Bacall persona reaches it’s full expression in combination with Bogie. The chemistry was palpable, on screen and off. Ebiri continues: “Here’s where it gets really interesting: Watching Bogart and Bacall opposite each other, you realize that she’s the harder character. She’s got grace, smarts, and sass, but also a toughness that he can’t quite reach. Bogart’s characters were hard-boiled, edging into crusty cynicism; the world is beyond hope for them. Bacall’s demeanor suggested a happier median, or at least a less hopeless one. Hey, I’ve figured a way through this mess, she seems to say. You can, too, tough guy. That’s why, quite apart from the chemistry, they made such a good team, cutting through the bullshit of most romantic subplots. When they’re onscreen together, all you care about is them.”