Betty Bacal is an only child, abandoned by her father, raised by her Rumanian Jewish mother in New York. Stagestruck from an early age, she takes acting classes for years but gets little stage work. Modeling work is a fallback. A cover shot for Harper’s Bazaar leads Howard Hawks to bring her out to Hollywood. Within months, Hawks’ protogée, now Lauren Bacall, is the lead in “To Have or Have Not” and falling in love with her costar, Humphrey Bogart. Bogie is 45 to her 20, but it doesn’t matter. He’s married too; that doesn’t matter either. They marry, of course, and have a dozen great years together until Bogie’s death of cancer in ’57. She’s devastated but she has two young children. On the rebound, she takes up with Frank Sinatra. It’s not right for either of them and Sinatra dumps her. She spends the Sixties married to Jason Robards. Like Bogie, he’s a drinker and that marriage falls apart, leaving her with a son. Her movie and theatre career has been hit or miss for years, but revives in the Seventies with a long-running stage hit in Applause (the musical version of All About Eve).
Bacall writes frankly about her life and shortcomings, looking back with hard-earned wisdom from middle age. She spends half of her girlhood at a high emotional pitch. When she plunges into something, it’s total commitment; no holding back, for better or worse. Her early screen persona was as a knowing sexpot; in reality, she was unsure and inexperienced. The “Look”, her trademark upward tilting look with her chin pressed against her chest, was born of the need to still her nervous shaking.
She tells a good story, pulling the reader along. She drops many big names, having moved in high-powered circles all her adult life. The Hollywood elite of the 40s and 50s are there. Katie Hepburn becomes a close friend after The African Queen. She was close to Adlai Stevenson when he ran for President in 1952. Bobby Kennedy was a friend. The book becomes most affecting when she writes of the death of Bogie and of her beloved mother in 1969, of those last, lingering months of denial and her wrenching pain afterwards.