Peres: Lauren Bacall was ‘not an easy woman’

Former president says he is distantly related to the iconic actress; describes Humphrey Bogart as ‘more handsome in real life,’ in Haaretz interview

Humphrey Bogart, tough guy of the films, and his equally famous wife, Lauren Bacall, take things easy as they glide through Venice in a gondola during a visit to the Italian city of canals, May 31, 1951. (photo credit: AP Photo)
Humphrey Bogart, tough guy of the films, and his equally famous wife, Lauren Bacall, take things easy as they glide through Venice in a gondola during a visit to the Italian city of canals, May 31, 1951. (photo credit: AP Photo)

Former president Shimon Peres said Thursday actress Lauren Bacall, who died overnight Wednesday at the age of 89, was only a distant relative and they had only a superficial relationship.

“We’re from the same family, but I’m not exactly sure what our relation is,” he said. “It was she who later said that she was my cousin, I didn’t say that.”

In an interview with the Haaretz newspaper, the former president described a meeting in the 1950s with the vibrant Hollywood star, who, he said, was difficult.

“She was at the height of her career then, very beautiful and very strong,” Peres said. “She told me a bit about acting, about love, but she was not an easy woman. She had very strong opinions, was protective of her dignity, and was not easy to converse with. We had a very pleasant talk, but not much more than that. I don’t know much about the world of cinema; we were from different worlds. She was interested in what I was doing, but didn’t speak about it much. I think there was tension between her and her father, though I didn’t want to ask her about it. I didn’t want to go into her business.”

Peres said Bacall had sought a meeting with him, after learning that the two shared the same original last name, Perski.

President Shimon Peres. (photo credit: AP/Mohammad Hannon)
President Shimon Peres. (photo credit: AP/Mohammad Hannon)

“In 1952 or 1953 I came to New York, and people then knew that my original name was Perski,” he said. “Lauren Bacall called me, said that she wanted to meet, and we did. We sat and talked about where our families came from, and discovered that we were from the same family.”

Bacall’s father William Perske was related to Peres’s father, Yitzhak Perski but the nature of the tie is unclear.

Despite Peres’s apparent reservations about his relative, he seemed charmed by her husband, Humphrey Bogart.

“I think at one point I saw her husband, Humphrey Bogart,” Peres said of other brief meetings with Bacall. “He was more handsome in real life than in his films, and he was a very pleasant man.”

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.

The Academy-Award nominated actress received two Tonys, an honorary Oscar and scores of film and TV roles. But, to her occasional frustration, she was remembered for her years with Bogart and treated more as a star by the film industry than as an actress. Bacall would outlive her husband by more than 50 years, but never outlive their iconic status.

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 died Tuesday at the age of 89 in New York, according to the managing partner of the Humphrey Bogart Estate, Robbert J.F. de Klerk. Bacall’s son Stephen Bogart confirmed his mother’s death to de Klerk. She was pronounced dead at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center at 5:21 p.m. Tuesday, according to Kathleen Robinson, the hospital’s media relations director.

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