At 83, Bacall Is Still Bold and Beautiful

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 14, 2007

Twenty-five minutes on the phone with Lauren Bacall leaves you with the overwhelming urge to be a certain sort of woman.

Or to be with a certain sort of woman keeping the company of a certain sort of woman.

The sort who speaks in italics and laughs lustily at her own jokes, who can make a word like "canasta," sound regal. Who could level a flock of world leaders with a good, long stare. Who, at 83, still elicits wishful sighs from men half a century her junior.

Who is brassy and bold and the embodiment of that particular brand of deliberate, vintage femininity now all but obsolete.

Go ahead, say it: They don't make 'em like that anymore.

"Re- tire- ment!" Ms. Bacall -- and it's always Ms. Bacall -- gasps with disdain. "God, no! Why would I retire? As long as I can walk and talk. Hell, no. I'm totally against retirement. I don't believe in it."

"Why would you stop?" she scoffs. "Just to go to lunch? Drink?"

And then that throaty laugh is unleashed. You imagine her head back, eyes closed, and you laugh, too.

The Christmas lights have just gone up, and Humphrey Bogart's widow is on the phone from her Upper West Side abode with current love, Sophie -- "my papillon, most divine creature on Earth" -- curled in her lap. "The Walker," a Washington society thriller and the latest project to spare her the insufferable banality of retirement is the occasion for the conversation.

In it, she plays Natalie Van Miter, one of three D.C. socialites who meet at a private club for a weekly card game with Carter Page III (Woody Harrelson), a cheeky gay man who regularly escorts the women to black-tie events when their husbands are too busy to be bothered. Then a murder disrupts their well-ordered lives and threatens to blow apart the persona Page has so carefully constructed for himself. (See review on Page 33.)

Ms. Bacall, who never lived in Washington but has "known many a senator and congressman," says that after reading the script by Paul Schrader ("American Gigolo"), she "could almost see crowds in private homes in Washington."

"It was, I thought, very subtly done," she concludes. "Also, I just love my character. I love the idea of being in control and observing everyone else, because I knew what the score was and I knew who was doing what to whom or with whom. And she had humor -- which to me is one of the great traits on Earth."

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