LAUREN BACALL, 1924-2014

I was supposed to complete writing this immediately after my blog on Robin Williams’ death, but somehow I didn’t have the time, energy, and approach to push through with it–but then I still couldn’t get Lauren out of my mind so let me just post this anyway even if it’s over a month after her death…

A day after Robin Williams passed away, we learned news of the passing of another beloved Hollywood legend–this time under very different circumstances.  While the world reeled in shock over the depressingly tragic circumstances behind Robin Williams’s death, Lauren Bacall died of a stroke at age 89.  Though there were people who were surprised at her passing, for most people it seems she has already lived a full life and has achieved all that she needed to achieve and considering the nature of her death is more of natural causes, it didn’t feel as abrupt as that of comics Robin Williams and Joan Rivers (who passed away more than three weeks later).

Because of the age when Lauren died, the fact that it was of natural causes, and that unlike Joan Rivers she was not really that currently active in the spotlight, it was probably expected why her passing did not garner as much media mileage as the passings of Robin Williams and Joan RIvers.  But her passing marks a major loss–she was our last living link to what was deemed the Golden Age of Hollywood*.  As some people had posted over social media, she was the last living Hollywood legend name-checked by Madonna in her 1990 dance classic “Vogue”.  Her passing may actually have as deep, if not deeper, repercussions as the deaths of Robin Williams and Joan Rivers.

* I am aware that Oscar-winning actresses from the same era like Olivia de Havilland (now aged 98) and Luise Rainer (now age 104!) are still living but neither of those actresses captured the popular imagination the way Bacall did.

I don’t pretend that I have actually seen her film noir classics like To Have and Have Not, Dark Passage, or Key Largo, though I’ve seen snippets of her most famous scenes in her debut film To Have and Have Not (yes, including the “whistle” line).  I first encountered her reading magazine articles from some of my mom’s imported women’s magazines, and also from Time-Life anthology books, where I encountered such indelible images as the photo of her on a piano with then Vice-President Harry Truman, as shown below.  Those images were spellbinding and were indelibly etched in my memory.

Lauren Bacall with then vice-president Harry Truman, February 1945

It dawned on me when I look at her images in the late 1940s and 1950s, Lauren allowed her features to mature and let the lines on her face show–she wasn’t the youthful vixen we encountered in her classic debut, but she still has glamour, class, and style in spades.  In today’s Hollywood, most actresses would be obsessed to have the features they had in their early twenties preserved into their forties–what Lauren allowed herself to do would be considered verboten in this day and age.  I found it rather refreshing.

The first film of hers I actually watched in full was the 1974 all-star film Murder on the Orient Express which I saw on TV on a late night screening when I was a teenager, though I don’t remember much of that film anymore (and I was more focused on finding out why Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for that film).  The film that I can still remember very well was the Barbra Streisand-starred-and-directed 1996 film The Mirror Has Two Faces.  Lauren earned her only Oscar nomination in this film portraying a domineering mother.  I was rooting for her to win for this film, but well, unfortunately there was a backlash against Streisand late in the Academy campaign and Juliette Binoche garnered an upset win for her role as a nurse in The English Patient instead.

I learned that while becoming less active in film since the late 1960s, she has found a bright career in Broadway, earning two Tony awards for musical performances in Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year (1981).  Coincidentally, these two musicals were derived from Hollywood films that were originally starred by other Hollywood legends (All About Eve  starring Bette Davis and Woman of the Year starring Katharine Hepburn respectively).  Knowing her famously low, throaty voice, I’m intrigued to hear how she sounded like singing, and I also wondered if she also dances in her musical roles.  Well, I discovered this 1973 TV recreation of Applause,  and I have to say, she acquitted herself very well in the musical milieu.  The scene I’m showcasing below, “But Alive”, may seem dated and quaint now, but it dawned on me it inspired a scene from  a Season 5 Glee episode  (where Rachel, after her Broadway premiere triumph in Funny Girl, skipped the post-premiere dinner to hang with her high school friends in a gay dance club as Rachel and the gang sang to NONONO’s “Pumpin’ Blood”).

The musical somehow also gave me an idea that this could be a great project for Madonna to pursue–perhaps modernize the songs a bit, and I think Madonna could give a nice, more girlish and poppy twist to the song above (though she’s currently older than when Lauren performed in the musical above).  Ideally, I would love to cast Lady Gaga in the role of Eve, and as much as I do love Lady Gaga’s music, I think the current dynamic between Madonna and Gaga mirrors the plot of this musical (and the classic film inspired from it).

The  above song from Applause, and how Lauren lived her life, somehow also inspired me to move out of my recent funk (after this I’m now ready to blog about the topics I normally write about–I will be writing about Pentatonix in my next post, and then my homestretch review for the Miss Philippines World 2014 candidates) and aspire that I would want to live a life well lived and fulfilled the way Lauren did.  Her kind of life and her relatively peaceful death is something that I would aspire for…



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