I know I've been away for the past few days -- lack of subjects to blog on, I suppose. But today I have for you, finally, the review for "By Myself and Then Some" by Lauren Bacall, who celebrated her 87th birthday last week. It won a poll I held a while back on which Old Hollywood book to read next. I'm sorry it has taken me so long; it is 500 pages which is thick but not exactly a monster read. I was reading some other fiction books also, and with school I'd been neglecting it. But now it's finished, so let's get on with it!
I must admit, before reading this book I did not know that much about Lauren. I had, of course, seen her in what I would guess would be her two most well known films, "The Big Sleep" and "To Have and Have Not"; but with a few more exceptions I hadn't seen all that many of her movies, either.
The perception I had from Lauren was from what I had derived from her on screen image - somewhat sultry, with that deep husky voice and a cool, mysterious attitude to her, almost the personification of a film noir. If you were to say her name, the first picture or thought that would come to mind would be her role as Slim in "To Have and Have Not."
Lauren totally defies all these stereotypes about herself in this book. She draws a definitive line between the on screen image created for her by Howard Hawks and the real "Betty" Bacall.
The first thing that comes to mind upon reading an autobiography, is can this person write as well as they act? I know most often a ghost writer of sorts is used, or at least to assist the writer. But in this situation that is not the case. Though I would not name her a Bronte sister, but really, her writing was expressive and excellent in producing emotions from the reader. It is fluid, very personal and intimate, and easy to follow. It is distinctive, she has a habit of using "--" quite often, but you will get used to it as you progress through the book.
I loved the way she told her story; as if she was reliving it, instead of a fifty-odd woman (the original "By Myself" was released in 1978) looking back on her life. We can feel her experiences as they are happening, versus a reminisce. It was so wonderful to have it told this way; the book seems so much more fluid and evades becoming dull.
Her love of Humphrey Bogart shines through so brightly, above all. She does not idolize him, admits that he has faults - but does not take the time to list them in honor and respect to his memory. You can feel her love for him pour out.
The most powerful moment in the story is when Bogie begins to die of cancer (she refers to him as pretty much only "Bogie" in the book). You can absolutely feel her pain and the hopelessness she must have felt, only in her late twenties and losing the love of her life with young children. In the pages leading up to Bogie's death, I began to tear up and finally I started to cry. I tell you, I almost never cry when I read a book; but I did in this one. I could feel the pain, the sadness, it was simply awful and her descriptions are vivid (though nothing gory, of course).
She captures your attention from the start. Her adventures in her childhood, growing up in New York, raised by her mother (this may sound strange but I began to really love her mother; who seemed like a lovely person) and extended family. I was amused at how, as a teenager, she'd skip school and go to the theater to watch a Bette Davis or Leslie Howard picture. She would buy a pack of cigarettes and smoke them in the balcony; she had to finish the whole pack because smoking was forbidden at home. Yes, reading about her childhood was entertaining.
The slowest part in the book, the part that made me slack off of reading it, was in between her childhood and going to make her first movie in Hollywood. Her "pounding the pavement" years. If you can get through that period, though, the rest of the book is pretty much a treat.
I think she reflects on people with class and I do not remember her, for the most part, making negative comments about famous figures. It is fun to read her discussions about people from Old Hollywood, and her interactions with them -- did you know it was Greer Garson who was the first person to send Bogie to the doctor because of his coughing, which later resulted as his cancer? Or what good friends she was with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, affectionately called "Katie" and "Spence" by her? (They would visit Bogie every night he was sick). These are just a few among a great roster of friends and we get to read about her experiences with them; nothing to diminish the glossy opinions we have of these people, only to glorify them.
"By Myself" was released in 1980; in 2005, Lauren made a 77 page addition and reprinted the autobiography under the new title, "By Myself and Then Some"; 'and then some' being her 77 pages added in. Upon reading the reviews for this book on Amazon, I found people often criticizing the "And then some" part; saying it is only a reprint of her previous autobiography with just her comments on her friends dying stuck on the end. And a display of her political opinions.
I don't exactly agree. Yes, the 77 page addition is a little choppier than the rest of the book; it had his highlights and downfalls. Yes, it does seem like an obituary for a lot of it but it was touching, for example, to hear her last visit with Katharine Hepburn before Kate died. Had she gone into it more, I fear I would have started to cry just as I had when Bogie died. Also, in the last pages she expresses her disdain of what this country has turned into; yes, she sheds her dislike of the George Bush administration but only dedicates a paragraph or two to it. The reviews I read made it seem like she pushed her political opinions throughout the whole book; not true! Anyway, she wrote a nice piece on how times have changed us and I agree one hundred percent with it. The world is only a busy fish bowl with no one stopping to be polite anymore.
Anyway, even if "And then some" was terrible, I would not let it completely blur my opinion on this book. I learned so much about Lauren and all the things there are to love about her; that she is completely different from her on screen persona. She is so human and she admits that through and through; and that, I believe, would have to be one of my favorite things about her book.
In the end, I will give it a 4 out of 5. If you want to know more about Lauren, if you want to love Lauren, etc., you'll find that in this book. And an immense respect for her. I remember while reading Ginger Rogers's autobiography, "Ginger", I was dissapointed about how Ginger talks shrewdly and negatively about other figures in the world of Hollywood (despite claiming she would not in the beginning of the book). Lauren does not do that - like Lucy in her autobiography, she remains classy and we just cannot help but have great respect for her!
The book also had some wonderful pictures; and hopefully in the near future I'll scan them and share. I would today if for not how lazy I feel; but in my defense, it's Friday, and I need to recuperate from the stress of the school week! ;)
Tomorrow I'll be back with my contribution for the Fashion in Film Blogathon at The Hollywood Revue, and also: here it is the first day of fall and I am so thrilled, of course! So: Happy first day of fall!
You guessed it - I'm cat smiling, just like Vivien!