Lauren Bacall – A Remembrance


The unfortunate passing of screen legend Lauren Bacall on August 12 at age 89 brings back memories of her legendary screen career and her marriage to movie star Humphrey Bogart for most people.  For me, my Bacall recollections were very different.  I, of course, saw her in many of her screen roles and always marveled at her distinctive acting genius and husky voice.  But my fondest Bacall memories are seeing her star dynamically in her two Broadway musicals, “Applause” in 1970 based on my favorite movie “All About Eve” (1950), and “Woman of the Year” in 1981 based on the Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy 1942 movie.  She won Tony Awards for both shows.  I saw “Applause” in San Francisco while it was still playing on Broadway with a replacement star.  I caught “Woman of the Year” after Broadway in Los Angeles.

My movie fanatic parents talked to me about Bacall and when I was young, I saw many of her current movies as well as many of the older films when shown in retrospectives.  If Bacall made a television appearance, we watched it and I knew much of the chatter about Bacall’s personal life.

So when the legendary star was scheduled for a San Francisco appearance in her first Broadway musical “Applause,” we all anxiously awaited the chance to see her in person.  When the night came, we trekked to San Francisco for a special dinner before arriving at the Curran Theatre.  We bought the souvenir program and checked out all of Bacall’s glamorous pictures in her show costumes before “Applause” began.  I knew the musical’s source film by heart so I was anxious to see how it would be changed, if at all.

Curtain time came, the house lights dimmed, and the conductor started the overture that I knew from the show’s original cast recording.  As the brownish and dull Curran Theatre house curtain rose, a big brassy Broadway musical opening, “Welcome to the Theatre,” began.  During this thrilling number, Bacall strode on stage and stopped the show as the audience went wild and quickly rose to their feet.  Bacall opened her mouth and the sultry voice began singing.  But before anyone listened to her crooking crooning (Bacall had spent time with a vocal coach before doing “Applause” but she was never a singer), everyone in the audience knew that there was a bigger-than-life presence on stage.  Bacall dazzled every person in that audience including me and I can’t remember anyone else in “Applause” even though the cast boasted several other musical theater stars.  I will never forget any moment of Bacall’s fabulous performance.

Flash forward to 1981.  Bacall wasn’t being offered many movie roles so she returned to the stage in a musical version of the film “The Woman of the Year.”  The show wasn’t as good as “Applause” but Bacall sold a mediocre vehicle with her dynamic performance.  It was another time when I will never forget any of Bacall’s rich performance.  Again, Bacall did not sing well but, like so many non-singers in musicals, Bacall made the show and the songs her own.

So, the great Bacall is gone never to be seen again in another movie or in another stage vehicle, but twice I had the unforgettable experience of seeing Bacall in person and being dazzled and spell bound by a great star.  They don’t make stars like Lauren Bacall anymore.  Thank goodness I’ve seen many of Bacall’s most famous films, but I will never forget seeing her in “Applause” and “Woman of the Year.”  Bacall was a treasure and even better in person than in her acclaimed film roles.  She dazzled those lucky enough to see her in person.  Yes, she was a great film star but she was an even greater stage personality.  Thank you Lauren Bacall for never forgetting the theater and for being such a luminous stage star.