Lauren Bacall’s death today at the age of 89 took me back to the spring of 1998, when I got a call pitching an interview with the veteran actress.
Bacall was making a few guest appearances on the CBS medical drama “Chicago Hope.” Would I be interested in a possible interview?
Of course, I said yes.
Bacall was nicknamed “The Look” because she was sultry, whippet-thin and could wrap men around her little finger. I wanted to be her.
And I loved her movies, especially the four classics she made with her husband, Humphrey Bogart, including 1944’s “To Have and Have Not” and 1948’s “Key Largo.” I rooted for her to win the supporting actress Oscar for 1996’s “The Mirror Has Two Faces.” (Juliette Binoche won for “The English Patient.”)
But I was most excited to meet her because of her theater work. I had seen her perform “Welcome to the Theater” from the musical “Applause” on the 1970 Tony Awards telecast. My parents were dumbstruck when I told them I needed to go to New York to see the show. But a year later, we made the trek from Denver and I saw Bacall at the Palace Theatre. It was a magical moment.
Though Bacall had a reputation of being difficult -- her publicist nervously said I had only 20 minutes with her -- the actress was anything but during the interview in her suite at the Hotel Bel-Air. She wasn’t even wearing makeup.
She broke out in a smile when I told her about “Applause” and seemed genuinely touched when I gave her an audio cassette of a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of “To Have and Have Not” she did with Bogey shortly after their marriage in 1945.
Bacall looked at me. “You are the first reporter who has ever given me anything,” she said.
The 20 minutes turned into 90 minutes. Bacall was warm, tough, open. And that husky voice.
She talked about the fact that she hadn’t gotten one movie offer after “The Mirror Has Two Faces. “
“They are not writing wonderful parts for women,” she said. “That is the sad truth. They were certainly not breaking down the doors for me, anyway.”
Bacall confessed she thought that she never had a great movie career. “I was never given the opportunity to have any variety,” she said. “It’s just a fact of life that I don’t think I’ve ever been taken particularly seriously in movies by movie makers. I don’t know why.”
I got to interview her one more time -- the following year, over breakfast at the Hotel Bel-Air for the CBS miniseries “Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris Duke.”
Bacall couldn’t have been more engaging, talking about her new dog and discussing the miniseries.
Bacall looked every bit a star with her dark sunglasses, tailored pants, sweater and a burnt orange wrap.
And that’s how I want to remember her: a star for the ages.