Humphrey Bogart--yucch."" That's how Betty Bacall reacted in 1943 when super-director Howard Hawks told her that Bogart...



Humphrey Bogart--yucch."" That's how Betty Bacall reacted in 1943 when super-director Howard Hawks told her that Bogart might be the co-star in her film debut. But what did 19-year-old Betty know? When Hawks picked her to be his protegÉe after seeing her picture in Harper's Bazaar, she was a nice, scared, fatherless N.Y. Jewish girl (with a terrific mother) who had studied, ushered, done a couple of small roles, and modeled for Diana Vreeland; no men, except for platonic romances with Kirk Douglas and Burgess Meredith. That sophisticated, funny-sexy voice was a defensive put-on, Bacall teas us. And ""The Look"" got its start on the set of To Have and Have Not because the only way she could hold her trembling head still was to keep it ""down, chin low, almost to my chest, and eyes up to Bogart."" But then. . . ""I don't know how it happened--it was almost imperceptible."" Bogart, miserably married to alcoholic Mayo Methot, started calling Betty on the phone, night and day, summoning his ""Baby"" to meet him in bars, on street corners. (""Come and get me--I'll be on Highway 101."") And Baby flew to his side every time, despite her mother's admonitions, despite the fact that Bogie was married, so much older, and something of a drinker. ""I wanted to give Bogie so much that he hadn't had""--love, laughter, and children. Their truly perilous, downright gothic romance is mesmerizing and moving, as is the short-lived marriage--not trouble-free but joyful--ended by a terminal cancer that Bacall chronicles in quietly gruesome detail. Since then, she has struggled--in films, on stage, in an attempt at marriage to alcoholic Jason Robards--to be more than Bogie's Baby. But ironically, her book, sincere and good-humored rather than genuinely stylish or thoughtful, fades out of focus when Bogart's not around. Her almost-wedding to Frank Sinatra draws a flicker of anger, at least (""he behaved like a complete shit""). And her attachment to her mother (she writes her letters even after she dies) comes through with true haimische feeling. But writing about her heroes (Bobby Kennedy, flirtatious Adlai Stevenson), her children, and, above all, herself (still looking for the right man), Bacall always seems on the brink of self-awareness or total candor, but only on the brink. Some of this, then, is not much different from the standard show-biz memoir; but when Bogart shares the screen, the duo is still electric--right up there with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as one of the century's few bona fide Great Romances.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 1978


Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1978