Did you know that Lauren Bacall was Jewish?
Her mother was from Romania, and her father’s family was from an area that was in what is now Belarus.
She was born in the Bronx in 1924.
Her parents divorced when she was 6 years old, and her mother raised her as a single mother.
She spent a lot of time with her very warm extended family, her mom’s family the Weinsteins, in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
The name Bacal is a form of Weinstein in Romanian, apparently, though it’s not clear to me how. Her mother changed their name to Bacal after her divorce. The name Lauren was given to her by the director of her first movie, Howard Hawks.
Lauren Bacall’s name was originally Betty Joan Perske,.
Two interesting things about her name are:
She always preferred to be called Betty, rather than Lauren, even well into her stardome
She liked to say that she and Shimon Peres, the Prime Minister and President of Israel, were cousins, because her maiden name was Perske, and Peres is a form of Perski, and their families were both from the same area, then, part of the Russian Empire.
So Betty Bacal studied acting and was a fashion model, 5’ 81/2” tall and gorgeous, in Greenwich Village. She was on the cover of Bazaar Magazine when she was discovered and asked to audition for a part in Hollywood.
When she was only 19 years old she was in her first movie “To Have and Have Not” which was a huge success, she became a star right from the start.
There she met, acted with, and fell in love with Humphrey Bogart, who she married, and had two children with.
Here is a clip from that movie, To Have and Have Not, and she is speaking to Bogart. This could very well be her most famous line:
Bogart died of cancer, sadly. She would eventually get remarried to actor Jason Robards, and have a third child, then divorce.
Her deep voice was cultivated, so that she would always leave you knowing that she was in control, never flustered.
Her famous look, with her head and eyes turned was originally used because she was nervous and her chin shook, so she held her head that way to prevent it. That became her signature look.
Lauren Bacall was always cast in roles that were of women whose strong will complemented, rather than detracted from, their sexual attraction.
She showed how female confidence is extremely attractive.
She and Bogart became one of the most famous couples in Hollywood.
After Bogart died, she said that she didn’t want to become a professional widow in Hollywood, so she moved back to New York, and starred in many theater productions.
She won two Tony Awards.
She became socially and politically aware, famous for and proud of her liberal views.
Although she did not bring her children up as Jewish, she was proud of being Jewish. She mentioned in an interview that she was sorry that she did not speak up about it early in her career, but she was very young, dealing with instant success, and it was not a priority for her at the time.
Let’s hear another clip from Lauren Betty Bacall, from an interview in 1995 for the BBC program, the Late Show: Face to Face.
Lauren Bacall died of a stroke in New York when she was almost 90 years old.
Thank you, Lauren, for choosing roles which portray strong, confident women.
Jewish Women’s Archives