#ClassicFilmReading: By Myself and Then Some by Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall. What an icon.

So here's the thing. It's so easy to lose Lauren Bacall in the context of her life with Humphrey Bogart, and to realize that she was fully formed, fully independent, fully realized person long before she met him and she continued that way long after he was gone. I'm guilty of it, and I think most people who only know 'Bogie and Bacall' think it, too. 

That's one of the reasons why I wanted to read her autobiographies (By Myself was released in 1978 and Then Some was released in 2006, I believe; this printing combined the two). To learn who she was, what she wanted out of life, if she got it (and then some!). 

I wasn't disappointed with what I learned.


I think we all have that image of Lauren Bacall, eternally cool, framed in black and white, reminding Humphrey Bogart on how to whistle. She exudes a coolness about her that followed her from birth to death. By Myself and Then Some spares, literally, no detail about her life, so I feel confident in making that pronouncement. 

For one thing: Bacall's autobiography is written like one long, long diary entry. There aren't any neat chapter breaks. Any cutesy chapter titles. No breakdown of time periods or eras. It's one long chapter, essentially, with just about every stream of consciousness thought that ever rattled around in Bacall's brain. You have to know the particulars of her life (or filmography, or current events) to figure out the time period, for the most part. 

People come and go in her life, and Bacall lovingly details every last one of them. I was particularly struck by her close relationship with her mother. She was raised by a single mother (her father abandoned her but would pop up every now and again to get his name in the papers once she became famous) and her maternal family, and always took great care of her mother. She raised Bacall to be independent and strong but was always in her corner and willing to help out. The passage where her mother dies brought tears to my eyes, it was so lovely to read what she thought of her mother. 

There's equal care paid to every aspect of her early life in New York City. Growing up in the '30s, being in New York during the war, ushering at the theatres on Broadway, modelling as a way to get into acting, finally scoring break after break on the stage and how she bounced back every time. 

And before she was ever really famous, she was still straddling that world. She knew famous actors like Burgess Meredith before she'd ever 'made it' and once met Bette Davis in a hotel room. Can you imagine just casually strolling into Bette Davis's hotel room because your uncle knows a guy? She was about as starstruck and tongue-tied as I'd have been!

And then there's the way she found herself in Hollywood, thanks to Howard Hawks (who probably later regretted the move), who 'lost' her professional ambitions to her love for her co-star, Humphrey Bogart). 

Another interesting tidbit? She saw Casablanca with a girlfriend, who was swooning over Bogie, and she writes that she couldn't understand the attraction. Give it a few year, Betty! 

Anyways! Their love story! The way they navigated a studio trying to keep them apart, a jealous (soon to be ex-) wife at home making Bogie's life miserable, Howard Hawks's disappointment, her family disapproving of such an older man being so interested in her... I knew that they'd eventually get that slice of happily ever after but there were passages in this book that made me forget that, wondering "How do they overcome this? Can they?" 

(PS. The Hawkses sent her on a date with Clark Gable to try and forget about Bogie. Imagine trying to cancel out one Hollywood legend for another and being like, "Yeah, so Bogie's out of the question but hey, what about Gable?" It obviously, never worked out.)

And ultimately, true love prevailed. 

Bacall devotes much of the book to her life with Bogie, and their children. Her career is mentioned, and though it took a backseat, she never lost sight of the ambitions that led her to Hollywood in the first place. I wish she'd gone into more details about the movies she made outside of the ones with Bogie (she does talk about How to Marry a Millionaire and Designing Woman, though most of the latter is framed around trying to escape the pall of Bogie's fatal bout with cancer), but this autobiography is so rich with details, it's a minor gripe. 

Another favourite tidbit: Bogie and Bacall bought a house that belonged to Hedy Lamarr, who said she'd give them the house if Bogie agreed to make a movie with her. He said he'd rather pay her the cash. 

Bacall and Bogie's life together seemed so idyllic, even though she does note that it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. By the time Bogie's cancer is diagnosed, I could feel my heart in my throat, she wrote so tenderly about him and how she cared for him in those final months. How their friends rallied around him to lift his spirits (particularly Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy). 


One passage that made my jaw drop? When Bogie died, Bacall put out a press release saying that she didn't want public flowers. She got a telegram from the American Floral Association saying, "Do we say don't go see Lauren Bacall movies?" IMAGINE. 

After Bogie's death, there seemed to be a change in her writing. She didn't let up on the diary-style, regurgitate-everything-that-ever-happened, but time passes more quickly. The saga with Frank Sinatra; marrying Jason Robards and having a third child with him; becoming a woman of the world and a respected stage actress... Then Some brings us into the new millennium, with Bacall detailing her final films and how she remembers her friends and family she lost. 

I'd hadn't realized how close she and Katharine Hepburn truly were until I read her tribute to her in Then Some. But she's there throughout the book: a friend, a confidant, one of the truest people in her life. I love how clear their bond was, and how, when Lauren asked her to be godmother to Sam Robards, she said, "Why do you want me? For heaven's sake, I'm no good at paying attention to children." And then agreed because Lauren felt having her around her child was worth more than having any other woman take on the role. 

If there's one thing I learned about Lauren Bacall that will stay with me after reading her autobiographies it's this: she possessed a steel spine and the confidence to be who she was every moment of her life. 

By herself and then some. 

Comments

  1. WOW! That is a life well lived. I've always wanted to listen to her autobiography on audiobook format but it's abridged and I know I'd want the whole story. Thank you for your wonderful review!

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  2. How good to learn how much she valued Katharine Hepburn! This sounds like one of the better "star" biographies. I will have to add it to my list/

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