AFP — ‘The Look.” Her voice. That line. Lauren Bacall, the sultry femme fatale who at 19 entranced Humphrey Bogart and taught him to whistle, hypnotized the world from the moment she burst onto the silver screen in the 1940s.
With her smoldering gaze and deep, husky voice, the legendary American actress, who died Tuesday after a stroke at the age of 89, was a scorching-hot property both in Hollywood and on Broadway.
Searing an indelible mark in the Hollywood fabric through her roles with husband Bogart, the smoky seductress landed on the American Film Institute (AFI) list of the top 25 actress legends and was named by People magazine as one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world.
Bacall spent much of the rest of her life coming to terms with her early superstardom, which grew into a seven-decade screen and stage career beginning in the Golden Age of Hollywood and spanning wartime dramas and Film-Noir with Bogart, action movies with John Wayne, a romance picture with Gregory Peck and comedy with Marilyn Monroe.
She cemented her sultry bombshell status in her 1944 major motion picture debut, “To Have and Have Not,” when she cooed to Harry ‘Steve’ Morgan, played by a smitten Bogart: “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”
The line gave her instant silver-screen immortality, and AFI pronounced it the 34th greatest movie quote of all time. When Bogart died, in 1957, Bacall placed a whistle in his coffin.
Her debut film also launched what became one of Hollywood’s signature styles.
“I used to tremble from nerves so badly that the only way I could hold my head steady was to lower my chin practically to my chest and look up at Bogie,” Bacall wrote. “That was the beginning of The Look.”
Born Betty Joan Perske in New York City on September 16, 1924, Bacall was the only child of a salesman and a secretary, Jewish immigrants from Poland and Romania who divorced when she was five. Raised by her mother, she eventually took her mother’s maiden name, Bacal, and modified it slightly when her acting career took off.
She initially dreamed of being a dancer, but it was her modeling career — through which she appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar magazine — that helped her blossom into a stage and screen legend.
Bacall landed her breakthrough role in “To Have and Have Not” at age 19, starring opposite Bogart and earning just $125 a week, after being spotted by director Howard Hawks’s wife in the popular women’s magazine.
Bacall married her dashing 45-year-old leading man a year later and one of Hollywood’s greatest love stories began.
“She’s a real Joe. You’ll fall in love with her like everybody else,” Bogart once said of his wife.
Bacall — still “Betty” to her friends and family — went on to feature with Bogart in “The Big Sleep” in 1946, “Dark Passage” in 1947 and “Key Largo” in 1948. And she starred opposite Monroe and Betty Grable in 1953’s “How to Marry a Millionaire.”
But the Bogart-Bacall fairytale had an abrupt ending, as Bogart died of throat cancer in January 1957. After her next film flopped a year later, the young widow moved back to New York and tried her hand at Broadway, where she was hailed by critics.
She sizzled on the stage, winning two best actress Tony Awards for her roles in “Applause” in 1970 and “Woman of the Year” in 1981, and The New York Times wrote of Bacall: “Her elegance is no charade. Her class begins where real class must — in her spirit. She is a natural musical-comedy star.”
Bacall embraced roles in some four dozen films, such as 1964’s “Sex and the Single Girl,” “Murder on the Orient Express” in 1974, and 1990’s “Misery.”
She acted well into the 21st century — including a startling 2006 cameo in the HBO series “The Sopranos” in which Bacall, playing herself, gets punched out and robbed.
Bacall, whose unflinching autobiography “By Myself” won the National Book Award in 1980, once said her “great luck in life was being surrounded by people who had goals.”
But singer-actress Barbra Streisand — who directed Bacall in 1996’s “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” for which the veteran actress received an Academy Award nomination — felt that Bacall had more of a hand in her own success than her modesty allowed her to show.
“Lauren’s special beauty is the reflection of her elegance, her intelligence and her invigorating will,” Streisand said.
Bacall never won a movie Oscar, but she was presented with an Academy Honorary Award in 2009.
A cousin of former president Shimon Peres (who was born Szymon Perski), Bacall had three children — Leslie and Stephen, from her marriage to Bogart, and Sam from her eight-year marriage to late actor Jason Robards, whom she divorced in 1969.