Lauren Bacall: "Character is the most important thing" (Vanity Fair Interview)

Lauren Bacall holding a plaque in honor of her good looks on 1st November 1944

"Young people, even in Hollywood, ask me, ‘Were you really married to Humphrey Bogart?’ ‘Well, yes, I think I was,’ I reply.
“You can’t imagine how beautiful L.A. was then. Of course, it’s all ruined now,” she says.“Howard had chosen me for my thick eyebrows and crooked teeth, and that’s the way they would stay.”
Bacall’s mother and her aunt Rosalie had taken her to the Capitol Theatre to see Casablanca. “We all loved it,” Bacall wrote in By Myself. “And Rosalie was mad about Humphrey Bogart. I thought he was good in it, but mad about him? Not at all. She thought he was sexy. I thought she was crazy I couldn’t understand Rosalie’s thinking at all.”
Hawks decided to put her in To Have and Have Not, an adaptation of a Hemingway novel, with Bogart. He presented the ingénue to the star one day on the set of the film Passage to Marseille.
Bogart called on Bacall in her trailer to say good night. She was combing her hair. He was standing behind her, she recalled in By Myself, when suddenly he leaned over, put his hand under my chin, and kissed me. It was impulsive—he was a bit shy—no lunging wolf tactics. He took a worn package of matches out of his pocket and asked me to put my phone number on the back.
The romance had to be kept secret from Mayo Methot, the wife—who was given to jealous rages and had once actually stabbed Bogart with a small knife—and from Hawks, who was also totally possessive. For a 19-year-old starter in Hollywood, Bacall was playing a high-stakes game. They met in cars on dark side streets or for quiet lunches at the Lakeside Golf Club, across from the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank.
Howard threatened to send me to Monogram, which was the lowest of the low studios in Hollywood. I said to Bogie, sobbing, ‘He’s going to send me to Monogram!’ Bogie said, ‘No, he’s not. Don’t you worry, no matter what he says.’ Because Howard used to say to Bogie, ‘You don’t have to get serious about this girl. Take her downtown to a hotel and get a room with her—that’s enough.’ That was not Bogie’s scene at all.”
Being Mrs. Bogart: I ask if she felt that her acting career was hurt by being Bogart’s wife. “Oh, yes, because he wanted a wife. He didn’t want an actress,” she says. “He’d been married to three actresses [Helen Menken and Mary Philips, before Methot], and from the beginning he said to me, ‘I love you, and if you want a career, I’ll do everything I can to help you, but I won’t marry you.’ He wanted a wife that would go with him and be there, and he was dead right. And that’s what I wanted, and that’s why I wanted children. He had never had a child. So I was Miss Pushy in that way. But I was happy being his wife. I loved it. Because I really loved him.”
“Do you feel that you might have missed a lot of roles?”, I ask.

“Oh, definitely,” she says. "I think many directors never thought of me except as Bogie’s wife. Billy Wilder only thought of me as his wife. That doesn’t lead to a great career, and I certainly did not fight for a career. So I guess you win some and you lose some. It was by choice".
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in Manhattan, New York, on 5th October 1955

“My obit is going to be full of Bogart, I’m sure,” she says, adding, “I’ll never know if that’s true. If that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is.”

Both of her husbands were actors of exceptional talent. Bogart won an Oscar for The African Queen (1951) and was nominated for two more, for Casablanca (1942) and The Caine Mutiny (1954). Robards won the Oscar for best supporting actor two years in a row, for All the President’s Men (1976) and Julia (1977), as well as a Tony for The Disenchanted (1958). Lauren Bacall and Jason Robards on their wedding day, on 7th July 1961, Hollywood, Los Angeles

“My time with Jason bore no resemblance to my life with Bogie, none,” she says. “Some people said, ‘Oh, because he looks like Bogart.’ He didn’t look anything like Bogie, and he didn’t behave anything like Bogie. He didn’t think anything like Bogie. With Bogie, it’s no surprise that I say those were the best years of my life, because I married a man who adored me and who taught me everything about life and movies and people and exposed me to the best part of living, which was talented, creative people. And all of his absolute devotion to the truth, to honesty, to honor, and to laughter—to everything. How could I not find that the years that changed me completely and that gave me a life were the happiest? I didn’t have to think of anything. I was just being adored by this fantastic man.”
“You’re thinking that somehow Bogart, in the back of my mind, was a father figure. He wasn’t.” Then, almost immediately, she partially recants: “It’s very dramatic and romantic, this idea. Well, Bogie was kind of my father. He showed me the way, because I didn’t know anything about movies and Hollywood.”
“I promised myself I would be, and Bob Gottlieb [formerly of Knopf], who was my editor, made very clear that I had to tell the truth. I was very upset, for example, about having to say something about Frank Sinatra that was not very nice, but [Gottlieb] said, ‘You have to.’ Well, I said he behaved like a shit, which he did.”
Frank Sinatra and Lauren Bacall Cutting a Cake on 15th September 1957, Las Vegas, Nevada

In the wake of Bogart’s death, Sinatra, who had worshipped and emulated him, as well as lusted after his wife, made a play for Bacall. She was receptive. “The fact of my being alone was crucial”, she later wrote. “I hated feeling that my life was over at thirty-two Up to that time there had been either my mother or Bogie to lean on. Now there was no one. If I’d stopped to verbalize that, I’m sure I couldn’t have functioned And there was the weekly nightmare [about Bogart’s death] that would literally have me waking up screaming.” Sinatra wooed her and took over as provost of the exclusive Hollywood society that Bogart had founded with Bacall and a few friends (Spencer Tracy, David Niven, Judy Garland, agent Swifty Lazar, restaurateur Mike Romanoff) called the Holmby Hills Rat Pack. In the 60s this group became totally Sinatra-focused and renamed itself the Clan.
“I was in terrible shape then, and I was in no shape to cope with Sinatra and his incredible behavior”, Bacall tells me. Yet she could not ignore the “insane electric currents running between them all the time.” In 1958, Sinatra proposed. “I questioned nothing. That was my trouble—one of my troubles,” she says.
You might say that my honorary Oscar was a high point in my life, but it actually represents to me the worst thing I’ve ever done. So it’s very weird. But nobody’s perfect, as Joe E. Brown [the actor who has the last word in Some Like It Hot] said. Right?”
Bacall continues, “I don’t think anybody that has a brain can really be happy. What is there really to be happy about? You tell me. If you’re a thinking human being, there’s no way to divorce yourself from the world. Yes, I probably was happy when I was married to Bogie, but I was very young then.
She leans forward and pokes a finger in my chest. “Remember what Bogie and my mother both used to say: ‘Character is the most important thing. All that matters is character!’” Source: