When Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall met on the set of the 1944 film To Have and Have Not, an improbable love affair began between the actor, then 45 and in his contentious third marriage, and his sultry costar, who was only 19 and appearing in her first picture.
They quickly became Old Hollywood’s most celebrated couple, headlining film noir classics such as The Big Sleep, and remaining married until Bogart’s death in 1957 of esophageal cancer (Bacall died in 2014 at 89) — despite the famous rockiness of their relationship.
Author William J. Mann explores the lives of these two unforgettable stars from film’s Golden Age in his new book, Bogie & Bacall: The Surprising True Story of Hollywood's Greatest Love Affair. Mann drew on the couple’s newly opened personal and business files, consulted the papers of their pals Katharine Hepburn and John Huston, and interviewed the couple’s friends, many of whom wouldn’t talk while Bacall was still alive.
The result is a frank portrait, including descriptions of Bogart’s alcoholism and an insecurity that the star masked with his tough-guy persona, according to Mann. “The Humphrey Bogart the world remembers — the hard-boiled antihero of The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and The African Queen — made it all look so easy, but in fact he had spent a long time mastering his craft, first on the stage and then adapting those skills for the movie camera,” he writes.
The author says he’s not aiming to “tear their legend down” but to understand the couple’s story. To that end, he tries to sort out the truth from myth — some of which appears to have been concocted by the principals themselves (particularly Bacall) and Hollywood moneymakers.
Here are 10 things you might not know about the film legends, as depicted in the book.
1. Bacall, who was Jewish, faced antisemitism in Hollywood.
She was born Betty Joan Perske, the much-loved daughter of Natalie Weinstein Bacal, a Romanian immigrant, and William Perske, both of whom were Jewish. After her father left the family when Betty was a small child, she was raised in Brooklyn by her mother and her solicitous extended family. “Being Jewish had always just been a given for her, like being right-handed,” Mann writes. But Bacall lost an early modeling job due to casual antisemitism. Even in the entertainment industry, few actors at the time were openly Jewish. But Mann writes that before they married Bacall asked Bogart if it mattered to him that she was Jewish, and Bogie was stunned that she even felt the need to raise the issue.
2. Lauren was always Betty at heart.
When Bacall got to Hollywood (on the strength of a stunning photo spread in Diana Vreeland’s Harper’s Bazaar), To Have and Have Not director Howard Hawks told her to change her first name to Lauren to fit with the “little minx type” the studio was promoting for her. “He wanted me to tell everyone when the interviews began that it was an old family name, had been my great-grandmother’s,” Betty recalled later, scoffing at the invention. She didn’t like the name and didn’t use it herself; nor did her friends and family or even reporters. She was always “Betty,” except when she signed her 8-by-10 glossies, Mann writes.