The magnetic mystique of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

He was 25 years her senior.

She wielded side-eye the way medieval knights wielded maces.

Together, they were “the most gossiped-about couple of the Forties.”

Before the ungainly portmanteaus that have now become a hallmark of modern celebrity culture — think Kimye, or Brangelina, or Bennifer — there was Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Bogie and Bacall’s love story has some parallels to that of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Bogart was married to another actress, Mayo Methot, when they began filming “To Have and to Have Not.” But he and Bacall’s obvious chemistry practically leapt off the celluloid. It was inescapable, even if you were the sort of person who gave celebrity gossip short shrift.

Sound familiar yet?

They met in 1944. By 1945, Bogart had announced that he was divorcing Methot, a violent alcoholic. To be fair, Bogart was reportedly tortured by his love for Bacall and his desire to save his marriage. He left Methot, then returned to her less than two weeks later in November of that year, but in the end, the “Battling Bogarts,” as they were known, called it quits.

Bacall was his fourth wife, and yet Bogart was so undeniably smitten, Bacall was probably the only woman who had the power to render even Marilyn Monroe about as appealing as a bowl of chopped liver.

In February 1987, Orange Coast magazine ran a quote Bogart gave about stardom decades earlier: “It ruins so many people — particularly actresses,” Bogie said. “Ninety percent of them are the dullest broads in town. They have no appeal for me whatsoever, and that goes for Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, and Gina Lollobrigida. In fact, the only actress in town with any true allure is Lauren Bacall.” Theirs wasn’t any old kind of love affair — it was aspirational.


Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, a.k.a. the Jay and Bey of the 1940s — the crazy in love part, not the affair — in “To Have and Have Not.” (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Bacall was 19 when she and Bogart began work on “To Have and to Have Not,” their first of four movies together. When they fell in love, she fell with the giddy, unencumbered ease of a teenage girl, because she was one. At the time, Bacall was so new to adulthood that she was still keeping her relationship with Bogie a secret from her mother. When he called one night, she flew out of bed to meet him on Rodeo Drive, where he’d been drinking with Jackie Gleason. Her mother, Natalie, who moved in with Bacall, ordered her back into bed. The love-struck Bacall rushed out of the house, a story she related in her memoir “Lauren Bacall By Myself”:

I ran up the street — arms open wide, hair flying — to Bogie’s smiling face and safe embrace. We sat in the car for a while — Gleason didn’t know or care what was going on — it was just that Bogie had to see his Baby. What it felt like to be so wanted, so adored! No one had ever felt like that about me. It was all so dramatic, too. Always in the wee small hours when it seemed to Bogie and me that the world was ours — that we were the world. At those times we were.

It wasn’t an instant connection. Bacall told People “To Have and To Have Not” director Howard Hawks told her that the would star opposite Bogart or Cary Grant. “I thought, ‘Cary Grant — terrific! Humphrey Bogart — yucch,’” she said.

But their chemistry on set after the husky-voiced Bacall shot her “You know how to whistle” scene was magnetic. Walter Surovy, née Molnar, who played Paul De Bursac in “To Have and to Have Not,” told “Bogart” biographers A.M. Sperber and Eric Lax, “it was like an explosion. They looked at one another like — well, did you ever go into a party and across the room there was somebody who was fascinating to you and it was fatal? It happens. So I believed from the beginning that this was going to work.”

The fact that their blissful 12-year union was tragically cut short also helped propel it to the stuff of Hollywood legend. When she was still single, Bacall once joked that 80 was a good age to get married “because you can be sure it will last.” Bogart, 57, died in January 1957 after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

“They really were smitten with each other,” said dancer Joy Barlowe in “Bogart.” “You could tell by the looks. He always had his hand on her shoulder. And he called her Baby. … They were always disappearing. That was when directors told the company, ‘O.K., take a break, be back in 15.’ And the rest of us, we’d be right back there. … But they would disappear into one or another of their dressing rooms, and sometimes 15 minutes ran a little longer. But we just thought, ‘Oh, what the heck. And they’d come out looking very happy, a little mussed up, but nothing that you couldn’t fix. I mean, they weren’t obscene about anything.”

Barlowe continued: “Bogie got a little more giggly because of her.”

Bogart and Bacall’s son, Stephen wasn’t around to witness his parents’ storied courtship, but he knew they had something special. Stephen was actually named after Bogart’s character in “To Have and to Have Not.” According to “Bogart,” Stephen said, “He was the great love of her life, and she his.”

RELATED:

Lauren Bacall dies at 89; iconic film legend known as ‘The Look’

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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