The Old Hollywood set is brimming with style icons. One of the stand out faces and personalities from the Forties, which still continues to fascinate us today, is Lauren Bacall. Alison Rowley looks at Bacall’s acting career, sharp wit and elegant style.

Born Betty Joan Perske in New York in 1924, Bacall soon developed a love of acting and studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York after leaving high school. She began modelling at the age of seventeen and at the same time managed to land a job as a theatre usher and as a hostess at the Stage Door Canteen. Its close proximity to Broadway appealed to her, and she managed to land parts in some small scale off-Broadway productions, but her big break came through modelling when she featured on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in 1943.

Her striking photo caught the eye of film director Howard Hawks’ wife, who arranged for her to have a screen test. Having already adopted a stage surname, Betty Bacall was renamed Lauren (under Hawks’ instruction) and subsequently cast as Marie Browning in the thriller To Have and Have Not (1944) opposite Humphrey Bogart. She was just 19 years old.

The film was a huge success and a star was born, as Bacall’s angular beauty and knack for playing serious, pragmatic yet seductive screen sirens was seared into the minds of the movie-going public. What went on to become her trademark mannerism (‘The Look’) also caused a stir amongst audiences who were witnessing her first venture into cinema.

During the filming of To Have and Have Not, Bacall learnt to lower her chin to minimise the chance that her nerves would show on camera (as she was prone to physically shaking). This, in combination with the resulting piercing, sultry upward looks and husky voice, emphasised the underlying sexuality of her ice-cool yet internally vulnerable characters.

3Bacall and Bogart fell in love on set and went on to marry in 1945, becoming the golden couple of the film industry. They also starred opposite one another in numerous other films, including The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948), before Lauren starred in her first smash-hit comedy, How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) alongside Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable.

Her next film with her husband was to be their last, as Bogart died of throat cancer shortly after Designing Women (1957) was completed. Bacall was understandably devastated and after her 1958 film The Gift of Love  fared badly at the box office, she moved back to New York. She returned to Broadway, craving the instant adulation of live audiences, but failed to emulate her earlier success on stage or screen until 1970, when she starred in the Broadway musical Applause.

Bacall won a Tony Award for her performance, being named as ‘Best Actress’, and began to take on leading roles in silver screen productions, including Murder on The Orient Express (1976). A return to Broadway followed in 1981, which earned her a second Tony Award: ‘Woman of the Year’.

Since the Eighties, Bacall has received critical acclaim for many of her film and theatre roles and was nominated for a ‘Best Supporting Actress’ Oscar in 1996. Her strength of character and sometimes brash frankness has marked her later parts and she continues to be a respected, straight-talking, successful actress.

Bacall’s sharp wit was reflected in the clean, elegant lines of her clothes. The straight tailoring of Forties fashions suddenly became more alluring when coupled with her poise and knowing looks. Never one for flamboyant displays of style, Bacall perfected the art of effortless co-ordination. Commanding, yet ultimately feminine, she favoured outfits with simple tailoring and neat, carefully groomed touches (a look reflected in her loose waves that never had a hair out of place).

To emulate this mature Forties chic, pick classic looking pieces in demure colours. Accessorise well, paying attention to details and aiming to tie the outfit together rather than making a statement with a single item. Corsages, bows and dainty frills can soften the lines of suits and fitted blouses, and by dressing to complement your own shape, confidence in self and clothing will shine through.

Practical, in control and with sexy feminine undertones, your Bacall look should embody and echo her immortal lines from her breakthrough role:

“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”

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