"Here is a test to find out whether your mission in life is complete: if you're alive, it isn't."
It was Tuesday night, and I was finally going to watch Murder by Death, a comedy spoof on classic detective mysteries that had an abundance of talent in the cast. I had only gotten a few minutes into the film when my mom called me back to her room and told me: “Lauren Bacall died.”
I was stunned. I quickly went back to the deserted living room and promptly sobbed for 20 minutes. I was at a loss. One of my favorite actresses—hell, one of my favorite people—was gone. She was tough and vibrant and gorgeous and amazing. Despite her age of 89, I honestly thought she’d be around for so many more years. She represented more than that edgy broad who wiggled into Humphrey Bogart’s life and filled the air with the sound of her husky voice. She was one of the last living legends, a true connection to the Golden Age of Hollywood. She made the movies she starred in seem brighter and yet tougher than they were.
It’s never fair to just categorize Betty Bacall as Bogie’s wife. She hated that. There’s more to a person than the person they choose to be with. Sure, Bogie is a legend—as he should be. But Betty deserved the same amount of respect. She loved the hell out of that man, and he loved her back. They had one of the best romances, a true fairytale that any girl of any age would swoon over. But that love wasn’t all that defined Betty. She became a single mother after Bogie’s death, and she admits it was hard. Her marriage to Jason Robards, Jr. was difficult, too. Facing a life without someone to share it with her deeply frustrated her. But she was Betty—she would handle it, because that’s life and what was there to bitch about when it couldn’t be helped? She loved her children, she loved her dogs, she loved acting, and she loved life.
I was still crying when I unpaused Murder by Death. I figured it would do me no good to keep wallowing so I turned to the movie to try and cheer me up a little. The strangest thing happened: Peter Falk’s character appeared, a parody of Sam Spade named Sam Diamond, and Falk clearly emulated Bogie’s mannerisms and speech. I smiled a little, thinking “What a coincidence.” And then the best thing that could’ve happened did. At the end of the film, Falk turns to his secretary/girlfriend and says “I’ll be around if you need me. All you gotta do is whistle, and you know how to whistle, don’t ya, baby?” She responds, “Certainly. What do you mean? I don’t understand you.” He angrily says “Alright, never mind. Forget it. You ruined it.” I genuinely laughed out loud. There she was, Betty Bacall, appearing right when I felt like she was truly gone.
Now I know that there is no possible way that little Betty Joan Perske could ever be gone. Her insecurities and anxieties were hidden beneath a tough exterior—just read about the origin of her signature “Look.” She was so nervous that she could only steady herself by tucking her chin down to her chest and glancing up, creating one of the sexiest and heartstopping looks in cinematic history. To Have and Have Not was only her first film, but could you ever guess that? She could be so perfectly subtle in something like The Cobweb, but then be totally outrageous in Designing Woman, or she could be the noble wife in Written on the Wind while also being the cold, aloof wife in Young Man with a Horn. She filled the air with electricity and excitement, it never mattered what she was doing. I loved her for showing that a woman could be strong yet still have her vulnerabilities, and that that didn’t mean she was any less of a person.
I’ll miss Ms. Bacall immensely. But I’ll have always have her work to look at and remind me that yes, she was that good and yes, she deserved every good thing she got in life and more. I can only imagine that wherever she ended up, Heaven or whatever you want to call it, Bogie was waiting there to say “Where’ve you been, Baby? I was whistling for you.”