The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery recognizes the life and accomplishments of legendary American actress Lauren Bacall as part of the exhibition “American Cool.” A 1949 photograph of her taken for Life magazine by Alfred Eisenstaedt can be seen on the second floor through Sept. 7.
Bacall made her screen debut at 19 in a smoldering appearance opposite Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not (1944). Bacall’s smoky contralto, seductive up-from-under look and her penchant for wise cracks and snappy dialogue hallmark a distinguished career that combined intelligence with beauty. She epitomized the down-to-earth glamour of Hollywood at its finest.
In 1944, the critic James Agee hailed Bacall as “the toughest girl Hollywood has dreamed of in a long, long while” and analyzed her style as combining “a dancer’s eloquence of movement, a fierce female shrewdness, and a special sweet-sourness.” Born and raised in Brooklyn, the daughter of Jewish immigrants, Bacall worked as a model before director Howard Hawks brought her to Hollywood. Bacall married Bogart in 1945, and they starred together in four classic film noirs. She also acted on Broadway, earning two Tony Awards, for Applause (1970) and Woman of the Year (1981). At 60, she played a fading star in Sweet Bird of Youth (1986); one critic described her as “slinky as a lynx, hot as pepper, cool as rain, dry as smoke.” Her persona as a woman and an actress who was up for anything was confirmed by one of her last roles: a cameo on The Sopranos in which she got punched in the face. That Bacall only received an Honorary Academy Award in 2009 emphasizes the length and achievement of her career: having grown accustomed to that face, the Academy thought she would be around forever.
National Portrait Gallery
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the history of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story.