Lauren Bacall: in memory of a Golden Age icon

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Anna Brech
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She was the one-time cinema usherette whose husky voice and electrifying screen presence won the heart of Hollywood - and that of her movie star husband, Humphrey Bogart.

Lauren Bacall, a leading light of cinema's golden age, has died aged 89 in New York.

Bacall was known for her smouldering, sultry film appeal and high calibre performances in a string of classic film noir flicks in the 1940s and 50s.

Lauren Bacall at the cusp of movie stardom, in 1944

Bacall was born in New York City in 1924 and worked as a fashion magazine model before shooting to fame in 1944 comedy adventure To Have and Have Not, opposite Humphrey Bogart.

Bacall's film debut in the wartime adventure flick was a runaway success.

It was here that the movie star developed her signature pose of tipping her head down so that her chin almost touched her chest, then looking upwards at Bogart.

Ironically, the stance was never meant to be sexy - it was developed by Bacall as a means of steadying her nerves and shaking body before shoots began.

But it became her cinematic calling card and one of the key components of her sensual, magnetic appeal.

Locked in a passionate embrace with her future husband, Humphrey Bogart, on-set To Have and Have Not in 1944. The film provided Bacall with a platform for a mesmerizing debut

The film also gave way to one of history's sexiest and most famous one-liners, as sassy Bacall taught Harry "Steve" Morgan, played by an enraptured Bogart, how to whistle:

"You know how to whistle, don't you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow."

It's rumoured that Bacall was slightly disappointed not to have man of the moment Cary Grant as her co-star in her debut film role.

But it turned out fate played a lucky hand in the casting, as it paved the way for a lifelong romance between Bacall and Bogart, who was 25 years her senior.

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart star again together in 1946 thriller The Big Sleep

Bogart divorced his wife of the time and wedded Bacall on May 21, 1945, in the country home of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield in Ohio.

Bogart and Bacall - who was nicknamed "Baby" because of the age gap between her and her husband - went onto forge a powerful working relationship together as "Bogie and Bacall", one of Hollywood's most beloved dream teams.

In the 1940s, they co-starred in three film noir thrillers together; The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948).

Both Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were avid sailing fans. Their boating adventures were so well-known, they were even featured in a cigar commercial in 1948 (inset)

The couple had that rare quality in Hollywood of appearing truly in love,with a relationship that stood the test of time. They were frequently pictured at home with their family, on holiday and sailing together - one of their shared passions that led to a lucrative cigar commercial.

However the relationship was not without a cost to Bacall, who frequently took time out to be with her family after Bogart requested that she put her marriage over her career.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall pictured with their son Stephen, who was born in 1949

"I was so blinded by Bogie I couldn't think of anything else," Bacall said in 1999. "All I thought of was being with him. He didn't ask me not to be an actress. But he said he had been married to three actresses and their careers always came first. If I wanted a career that badly, OK, he would help me as much as he could, but he wouldn't marry me.

"I had to promise to put our life together first. That's what I did."

"I think many directors never thought of me except as Bogie's wife," she added. "That doesn't lead to a great career, and I certainly did not fight for a career. So I guess you win some and you lose some. It was by choice."

The Bogart family gather together for a photocall in the 1950s: parents Humphrey and Lauren with children Stephen and Leslie, born in 1952

Nevertheless, family life in the Bogart-Bacall household appeared idyllic. The couple were frequently photographed with their two young children, Stephen and Leslie, born in 1949 and 1952 respectively.

Bacall continued to flex her acting skills in a number of films in the early 1950s - but she was careful about what roles she accepted, often rejecting parts to spent time with Bogart and the family they had started.

Lauren Bacall pictured alongside Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe in 1953 hit comedy How to Marry a Millionaire

In 1953, Bacall starred alongside Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe in a Hollywood bombshell line-up for comedy How to Marry a Millionaire, where she played the more subdued of the three women.

In 1956, she took on the role of a distraught wife of an alcoholic playboy in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind.

Soon after this, Bacall's husband Bogart fell seriously ill and she was there to nurse him.

"A man's illness is his private territory and, no matter how much he loves you and how close you are, you stay an outsider. You are healthy," she later said.

Bogart died of lung cancer in 1957 aged 57. Bacall was devastated and placed a whistle on his coffin in memory of their first role together.

Lauren Bacall on-set North West Frontier in 1959

The actress had a brief affair with Frank Sinatra before devoting herself to theatre work. She appeared in two comedies on Broadway; Goodbye, Charlie (1959) and Cactus Flower (1965).

"I finally felt that I came into my own when I went on the stage," she said.

Bacall married again in 1961,to actor Jason Robards Jr. The couple soon had a son, Sam, but divorced in 1969.

After an eight-year absence from cinema, Bacall returned to the big screen in 1974 in Murder on the Orient Express. In 1996, she earned her first Oscar nomination as Barbra Streisand's mother in comedy drama The Mirror Has Two Faces.

Lauren Bacall's vivid cinematic appeal is clear for all to see in this photo from 1953

Bacall went onto collect an honorary Oscar in 2009 for "her central place in the golden age of motion pictures".

"What a terrible loss for us all," said Streisand, after news of Bacall's death. "It was my privilege to have known her, to have acted with her. And, most of all, to have had her as a wise and loving friend.

"She was an original. Even with all those great films we can visit again and again, she will be missed."

Lauren Bacall pictured at her home in Beverly Hills in the 1950s

The world according to Lauren Bacall:

"Imagination is the highest kite one can fly."

"I am not a has-been. I am a will be."

"Patience was not my strong point."

"I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that."

"I figure if I have my health, can pay the rent and I have my friends, I call it 'content.'"

"Find me a man who's interesting enough to have dinner with and I'll be happy."

"Stardom isn't a profession, it's an accident."

"I put my career in second place throughout both my marriages and it suffered. I don't regret it. You make choices. If you want a good marriage, you must pay attention to that. If you want to be independent, go ahead. You can't have it all."

Photos: Rex Features, Words: Anna Brech

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.