That sultry voice, that steady gaze and that confidence. These are photos of Betty Perske, a just-out-of-her-teens cover girl who had been plucked from Brooklyn just a few months earlier and brought to Hollywood to star alongside Humphrey Bogart in her first film, To Have and Have Not (1944).
I have seen all of her early films, and can see why she was such a revelation when she hit the theaters. Lauren Bacall was nearly always shot in close up, and you never get tired to that face. Those saucy, wide-set eyes and downturned mouth set against a voluminous head of hair, with just a touch of wave cascading down those cheekbones.
Of her famous voice, well it didn’t start out that way. Howard Hawks, who discovered her and cast her in To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, was initially nonplussed by her ‘natural’ voice, which was high-pitched and nasally and very New York. Bette went to work on it and within a short time transformed it, substantially lowering it in pitch and stripping out any regional twang. I always liked how she seemed to melodically stretch out each word of dialogue she spoke in her films, and never came off as stagey or affected. Side note: Here are some tips for optimizing your speaking voice.
Of her famed look Lauren Bacall once said: “I mean, that was what started the look — was nerves — just trying to keep my head steady.”
Here she is on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in 1943, the photo that brought her to the attention of director Howard Hawks,
RIP, Lauren Bacall, who passed away on August 12, 2014 at age 89.