Lauren Bacall’s name is iconic, as is her smoldering visage, her dynamic half of the famed Bogie-and-Bacall, her tryst with Frank Sinatra. But her first claim to fame, the windfall that launched her career, was being crowned Miss Greenwich Village of 1942, while she was living in the Village with her mother at 75 Bank Street.
Born on September 16, 1924 in Brooklyn, Betty Joan Perske was the only child of her Jewish parents. Her mother, Natalie, was an immigrant, who came to New York through Ellis Island from Romania. Her father William was a salesman born in New Jersey to Polish-Jewish immigrants. Natalie worked as a secretary who later legally changed her surname to Bacall. Betty was educated with the financial support of her wealthy uncles at a private boarding school founded by philanthropist Eugene Heitler Lehman, named The Highland Manor Boarding School for Girls, in Tarrytown, New York, and at Julia Richman High School in Manhattan.
When she was 17, Betty and her mother moved from Brooklyn into their apartment at 75 Bank Street. Betty was originally interested in pursuing a career in dance. However, when she entered and won the crown as Miss Greenwich Village on May 28, 1942, she was offered a walk-on part in the Broadway play Johnny 2 X 4 in 1943. Those achievements led Betty to pursue a modeling career, and it was a Harper’s Bazaar cover shoot for their March 1943 issue that drew the attention of director Howard Hawks (actually, it was his wife, Slim, who brought the magazine to Howard’s attention), who arranged for her to come to Hollywood to audition for his next film To Have And Have Not. Bacall was offered the role, which just happened to be playing opposite none other than Humphrey Bogart… and the rest, as they say, is history. Bacall was just 19 years old when she played Marie Browning in the film, which launched a long career.
Bacall and Bogart, who was 25 years her senior, fell in love. Bogart was married at the time, but within months divorced his wife, and Bacall and Bogie married on May 21, 1945. The couple acted and were activists together — their political views uniting them at a time in history when actors were being threatened for their political views. Bacall and Bogart were among about 80 oHollywood personalities to send a telegram protesting the House Un-American Activities Committee’s investigations of Americans suspected of adhering to communism. The telegram said that investigating individuals’ political beliefs violated the basic principles of American democracy.
Just 12 years after their wedding, heartbreakingly, Humphrey Bogart died from throat cancer. The young widow moved back to her hometown, New York City, where she returned to Broadway. Of course, she still took roles in film, and shared the screen with the likes of Henry Fonda, Tony Curtis, Paul Newman, and Julie Harris.
While doing that later-in-life work, Bacall lived in The Dakota, on the Upper West Side. It was there where she died on August 12, 2014, one month before her 90th birthday.