Live Your Life Like Lauren Bacall
Lauren Bacall, who died Tuesday, has immediately been celebrated for her beauty, her voice, her status as a Hollywood legend and, perhaps inevitably, her famous marriage to Humphrey Bogart. Described as having a "cat-like grace," with "tawny blonde hair and blue-green eyes", her reputation rests in part on her seductively low voice and iconic "Look."
Yet Bacall was so much more than her physical presence, or her marriage to another Hollywood star. She was wildly successful over six decades as an actor, winning two Tonys and receiving three Emmy nominations to go along with her eventual honorary Oscar. She was openly liberal in the age of McCarthyism, and she was frustrated by how often her life was summarized as an extension of Bogart's. As we pay tribute to Bacall in the coming days, here are four lessons from her life and career that any leader--in any industry--should take to heart. As Bacall announced in an interview with the New York Times, "I think I've damn well earned the right to be judged on my own."
1. Start at the bottom and work your way up.
In her first autobiography, Bacall remembers: "Nothing came easy, everything was worked for." Born in 1924 to Jewish immigrants, she had very little growing up. Indeed, it was Bacall's (dare we say it) entrepreneurial spirit that led her to pursue a career on the silver screen. When she ultimately landed a leading role opposite Bogart in the 1944 film "To Have and Have Not," she was so nervous that her entire body was shaking. "The harder I tried to stop, the more I shook…I realized that one way to hold my trembling head still was to keep it down, chin low, almost to my chest, and eyes up at Bogart. It worked and it turned out to be the beginning of The Look," she wrote.
2. Never take 'No' for an answer.
Bacall's career was by no means a straight shot from there. Her next film, a 1945 thriller co-starring Charles Boyer, received awful reviews from the critics, and she recalled that it took her "much clawing and scratching to pull [herself] even halfway back up that damn ladder." But pull she did, going on to receive critical acclaim for movies such as "The Big Sleep," "Key Largo" and "How to Marry a Millionaire." Bacall wasn't nominated for an Oscar until 1997, and even then, she lost to Juliette Binoche. Ultimately, however, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2010. She is commonly described today as a Hollywood legend and an iconic leading lady.
3. Experience the ups and downs of your personal life, but don't let it affect your career.
Exasperated with the critics' relentless interest in Bogart even long after his death, Bacall eventually said in an interview that "being a widow is not a profession." She pursued her acting relentlessly, even as she grieved for Bogart, struck up a brief (albeit highly-publicized) romance with Frank Sinatra and eventually married again to Jason Robards Jr. She returned to the theater in the sixties, receiving Tony awards and accolades for performances in "Applause" and "Woman of the Year."
4. Stand up for what you believe in.
Bacall was suspended from Warner Bros. 12 times for refusing scripts that she didn't like, developing a reputation for being a difficult actress to work with. Off screen, she was adamant in her political views. In 1947, she flew to Washington D.C. as part of the "Committee for the First Amendment", protesting the investigations into Hollywood actors and actresses political beliefs. She went on to campaign for Democratic presidential candidate Adlai E. Stevenson in 1952--convincing her husband to switch his allegiance from Republican Dwight Eisenhower--and for Robert Kennedy in his 1964 Senate run. In an interview with Larry King Live, she remarked that "being a liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you're a liberal. You do not have a small mind."
"My obit is going to be full of Bogart I'm sure. I'll never know if that's true. If that's the way, that's the way it is," she told Vanity Fair in a 2011 profile. See for yourself. Yes, Bacall had "The Look." Yes, she was married to Humphrey Bogart. But she was also fiercely determined, passionate, and uniquely successful. As her son Stephen Bogart said to the Times: "She lived a wonderful life, a magical life."