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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Just whistle | Remembering Lauren Bacall

(1924 - 2014)
I watched Written on the Wind on Saturday. I hadn't seen a Lauren Bacall movie in a quite while. These past few days, I was thinking of her.

I felt like Lauren Bacall was going to be immortal. I think we tend to feel that way about the handful of Old Hollywood stars that are left: if they've made it this long, often well into their eighties or maybe nineties, then it seems like they'll live forever. Of course, we all know that it isn't possible, and we try to prepare ourselves for when they'll go, but when the time comes it's startling, sudden, and heartbreaking. Lauren lived a full life - nearly a month short of her ninetieth birthday  - and for that reason, a lot of people might not comprehend this, well, feeling of shock. But it's a collective understanding for classic movie fans; the depth of each loss painfully apparent. It's, slowly, with each death, losing the last remnants of an era long gone. It's like the closing of the final curtain.

Lauren Bacall was the kind of a person that any reasonably intelligent woman would want to emulate. She simply was film noir: sexy, cool, collected. And underneath, she was incredibly real, passionate, and courageous, combining tenacity and sharp wit. When she wrote her bestselling autobiography, By Myself and Then Some, she did away with a ghostwriter and wrote intensely and honestly. When I read it, I was moved to tears, I laughed, I identified with her, and I came away empowered. She lusted for life: "Even at my lowest ebb, I have never contemplated suicide. I value what is here too much. I have a contribution to make. I am not just taking up space in this life. I can add something to the lives I touch." And perhaps even more importantly, she understood life. She came it away from it all wiser than most of us could ever hope to be. She never lost sight of Betty Joan Perske, who as a teenager chain smoked in the movie theater balcony watching Bette Davis, using Sen Sen to hide the stench from her mother. She loved Bogie and remembered him as a human being, not a saint. She clung to memories but lived in the present. She was always unashamedly herself. She knew she was not perfect, and she did not care. She had a sense of humor that was always unfailing. She celebrated the beauty of survival. She cherished honesty. When she grew old, she wore her wrinkles like a badge of honor, explaining, "Your whole life shows in your face, and you should be proud of that."

Here's a corny but comforting thought that has been floating around online. When Humphrey Bogart died, Lauren buried him with a small, gold whistle that had once been a charm on a bracelet that Bogie had given her early in their love affair, an homage to her most famous line ("You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow."). The charm was inscribed with, "If you need anything, just whistle." And yesterday, he whistled for her.


Anonymous said...

So, perfectly written, Miss Bacall will be sadly missed but she has left us a wonderful legacy.

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