By Myself was the first version of Lauren Bacall’s autobiography, published in 1979, and By Myself and Then Some brought the story up to date in 2006. I’ll admit that I didn’t enjoy the “and then some” part that much, but that also has its highlights and does not take too much of the book. The autobiography is written with honesty, wit and a sense of humour – Lauren did write it herself and she did it well. You can not but admire Bacall’s openness about her insecurities that stayed with her all her life (who would have thought?), her determination and hard work to become an actress on her own forces and nobody else’s, despite constant setbacks, and then, after having her break with To Have and Have Not, her on-going struggle to find professional gratification, finally becoming a first-rate actress, with a brilliant career in theatre.
I especially liked the first half of the book (which I read as slowly as I could because I didn’t want it to end), where Lauren recounts her childhood and early life in modelling and theater in New York City, and then her way to stardom and her life with Bogie. Those were the times which mostly shaped her character, as she herself admits, with the likes of her mother first of all, whom she was so close to and who always supported and encouraged her in pursuing her dream, her uncles, and then Bogie to thank for that. She doesn’t only tell her story, she relives it. You really get a sense of those times, New York in the 30s, Hollywood during its Golden Age. The Hollywood glory days have a way of swaying my imagination, so you can figure how enwrapped I became in the story. She knew everyone in her day and she tells stories, including ones regarding the questionable Hollywood system, without ever seeming to drop names – that’s part of her class. She doesn’t veneer her famous friends either, but draws a line between their on screen image and their real selves, just as in her case, and puts a human face on them, and that’s where the beauty lies.
Only by reading Lauren’s own words about her incredible love story with Humphrey Bogart, you really start to get a grip of the truth in her statement: “No one has ever written a romance better than we lived it.” Bogart stood tall in everything he did and was and their life together educated her in the realities of life (she was 19 when they met, he was 25 years her senior). And together they became their best selves. I love her honesty when she acknowledges that her marriage with Bogie took priority and her acting was left on the second, even third place. But she never lost sight of the fact that she wanted to have something of her own, to prove herself and succeed professionally. The lows in her career were just as much due to her not compromising and settling for lousy roles (which many times led to her being suspended by the studio) just for the sake of being in a movie.
And that says a lot about her own up-bringing, high standards and integrity. A rare quality in her branch, and in general, back then, and an even rarer one today. She declined to place her feet in the cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater (much to Bogie’s delight, who loved to puncture Hollywood’s ego), when she was asked very early on in her career, because she considered she hadn’t yet earned her place with the best in the film industry. She wasn’t asked the second time.
That, and a lot more, was Lauren Bacall. She may have seemed sultry, tough and unattainable from afar, but she defies all these stereotypes about herself in the book. It was her independent spirit, grace, statuesque beauty, strength of character and sharp wit that were so unattainable about her. She was the real deal, one of a kind.
photo by me