She arrived in Britain this week as capricious as ever with legs and an attitude which sneer at the calendar. Pushing a Heathrow trolley rather than a zimmer frame Lauren Bacall,71 this year, had the airport flashbulb crowd pop, pop popping along. She prefers coffee first thing in the morning.
It was not a time for deep discussion about whether or not she was returning to the London stage for the first time in a decade. (Contract talks are going on. )Nevertheless, some hapless hack had been assigned to press her on just that matter.
Now, Bacall is not quizzed. She's also not intimidated. And so far she had only had the airline coffee. Her hair brushed wildly back she dismissed her eager, earnest inquisitor with:' Be a good boy now.'
He was. We all would be. She has that confidence of the successful and the assured. She will always get a taxi or attention first. She was a legend when models illustrated knitting patterns and we didn't know their names. The world has changed but not New York born Betty Joan Perske who the movies called Lauren Bacall and her first husband Humphrey Bogart said was ‘steel with curves.'
All these years on you still can't get away talking about Bacall without Bogie who died in 1957 after a long, painful fight with cancer. He was 57. The couple had been married a little short of a dozen years. She was 33. A lifetime loomed but so did a legend. Bacall has accepted it but can still be irritated that the man she fell in love with when she was 19 still dominates her life today. She'll say:' There's no getting away from Bogie -- damn it, let's deal with what I've done for years without him.'
More mellow it comes out this way:' It was only because I was married to Bogie that there was a myth of the movie star about me. I don't think I've done anything to produce such a feeling. Bogie is the big legend. He is a bigger star now than he ever was. He will live forever.'
So, things won't change? ‘ I'll be fighting the battle until they close the coffin. I'll be in there shouting: “ Just a minute...” ‘
Her autobiography ‘By Myself' was published in 1978 and was a runaway bestseller. She is in the UK to publicise what could loosely be described as a sequel. It is about her children (three), her dogs ( several past and present), homes ( now a ten-room apartment in Manhattan's landmark Dakota building that they wouldn't let Richard Nixon into but where John Lennon was living when he was shot) and the December of life dealing with the loneliness and, in her game, the wrinkles.
She spouts Tinseltown heresy:' What's so terrible about growing older and having wrinkles? ‘ Well, don't ask the ladies of ‘Baywatch'. Much more fun to listen to Bacall:' I think the preoccupation with youth is terribly depressing. It'as if the only alternative is suicide. A friend of mine recently said:”Oh, you've had your face lifted.” I said:” Are you out of you mind?” Can you imagine a “friend' saying something so cruel. Listen, I've stuck with this face. God knows there's room for improvement. I've earned every one of my wrinkles. Cheese ripens with age. Wine ripens with age Why can't people. Does everybody have to be plastic?
‘I think I have value and worth as a human being. I've tried to be a good mother and a good wife. I feel I'm a better friend more than anything.'
She talks positively. In ‘Now' the feelings are more ambivalent. At one point she writes:' I wonder if I will ever love anyone again or if anyone will ever love me. I know how lucky I have been to once have had in my life a man who loved me without reservation and whom I loved in the same way. But that was long ago. Can it happen again? Will it? I hope so.'
Off page she's not so sentimental:' Marriage again? Forget it! I'd simply like to find somebody I could go out to dinner with but I don't meet anyone I can have a conversation with.
‘There are very few eligible men around and those I might be interested in either have no self-confidence or they want twelve-year-old girls as lovers and I have not interest in that.'