Humphrey Bogart was my gateway to classic Hollywood. I started out a fan of his tough-guy gangster films, then moved up to the classics. When Lauren Bacall was introduced in To Have and Have Not, I too fell in love with her. How could you not? Sultry, sexy, elegant, with that smoky voice and eyes you could get lost in, I totally understood why Bogie fell for her so hard.
In 1983, Lauren Bacall was performing onstage in L.A. in Woman of the Year. I got tickets to go with my dad and his wife on July 31st. I remember the date because it also happened to be my sister Shannon’s birthday. For her birthday present, I found a hardcover copy of Lauren Bacall By Myself and brought it with me.
A few days earlier, I had met a woman at a UCLA drama reunion event (I can picture her face but forget her name) who played Helga in the L.A. run. When I mentioned that I was going to the show and bringing the book, she offered to meet me and bring the book to Ms. Bacall.
So there I stood, like a stagedoor Johnnie, when “Helga” came out and found me. I handed her the book with a note inside, explaining that it was my sister’s birthday and asking Ms. Bacall if she would kindly sign it for Shannon. Helga disappeared for several minutes, then came back and beckoned me in.
And a moment later, I was standing in Lauren Bacall’s dressing room.
She was unbelievably gracious, especially considering that she had just spent two hours onstage singing and acting her heart out. She thought it was very sweet that I got this book for my sister. I confessed that, even though it was a present for someone else, I had also read it. She laughed at that, and thanked me. I stammered a few words about what a big fan I was of her and Bogie. I almost regretted it the moment I said that, for he had been gone 25 years at that point and she had since created a great career for herself, but she gave me another, very soft thank you, and I could still see a great deal of tenderness in her eyes.
Our meeting lasted only a minute. She signed the book to my sister, cupped me on the side of my face for just a second, and then I was whisked out of there. It all happened so quickly but it made an indelible impression. It is not everyday that you get to meet a living legend, but especially one so caring and classy.
Lauren Bacall was 89 years old when she passed away today, the last of her kind.