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Recalling Bacall: My Interview

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I was named after Lauren Bacall, and for some reason, have always been excessively proud of that.

When I was little, whenever she was mentioned on an entertainment TV show, or if one her movies came on cable, I could count on one of my parents to say:

"Lauren Bacall! That's who you were named after!"

And I'd grin with pride at the TV, at this beautiful black-and-white lady who was somehow connected to me.

When kids in my class talked about who they were named after, or why their parents picked their names -- great-aunts, uncles, baby name books from 1982 -- I'd scoff, flipping my side ponytail with pride.

"I was named after Lauren Bacall."

I'm not quite sure anyone else on the playground knew who Bacall was, actually.

But I knew, and to my 8-year-old self, that's all that mattered.

She glamour incarnate. A true starlet from glory days of Old Hollywood. One half of the hardboiled screen couple "Bogie and Bacall." She won Tony Awards and National Book Awards alike. A fashion icon, a writer, a pin-up girl with pluck. A star to her dying day.

So when I heard this week that Bacall died of a stroke at 89, my heart sank a little.

I called my dad.

Me: "Did you hear Lauren Bacall died?"

Dad: "Lauren Bacall? Geez. That's a shame. That's who you were named after."

But of course, that was a stage name. She was born Betty Joan Perske in the Bronx in 1924 to two Jewish immigrants. She was immortalized as "Lauren Bacall" for her smoky voice, come-hither looks, flirtatious wit.

I'm a freelance writer, and was asked this week to talk to Bogie and Bacall's grandson, Jamie. I'll post a link to that article at the end. But, as a journalist, you always end up cutting and snipping to save inches -- here are a few tidbits that ended up on my cutting room floor:

Bacall -- whom he called "grand ma ma" -- had a serious and sudden stroke. He recalled a dog-lover and a bird-watcher, who always kept a field guide at her house. A news junkie who loved Tom Brokaw.

He acknowledged she was something of a tough cookie. She always reminded me personally of Colleen Donaghy, Elaine Stritch's character on "30 Rock." A classic, strong, and classy woman.
She expected love for her dog, too.

"She loved her dog, Sophie, this little tiny thing... I remember one time, I petted Sophie, and went to have a seat, and she told me I wasn't done greeting Sophie. I was like 'Uh oh, this is going to be an interesting few hours," Jamie said with a laugh.

He fondly recalled relaxing days at Bacall's Long Island summer home with his extended family, tossing the Frisbee with his uncle.

"She ultimately gave up that home, but she loved it there. It was very relaxing there for her," he said.

He recalled once, when he was 12 or 13, Bacall quizzing him on which birds were at her birdfeeder.
"I can't remember what she asked, but I couldn't go play until I passed the quiz," he said with a laugh. "She always had a field guide around. She loved birds."

But the best moments were when you could get her alone, for a relaxed one-on-one talk.
"She wasn't big on people whispering in groups, she was always keeping an eye on that kind of thing," he said. "But she was a nice person, and I don't think people saw that. She did have a vulnerable side."

He said Bacall never talked about "what movies she was in, or what movies we should see her in. She never talked about her own life... She didn't like to say 'look at me,' or brag."

The only movie Bogart ever recalled his grandmother mentioning as being fond of was "The Mirror Has Two Faces," her 1996 movie co-starring Barbara Streisand.

"She did like being with Barbara Streisand in that movie. And she liked Nicole Kidman, too -- she'd met her and liked her. But she didn't watch too many movies at home. She would watch the news a lot; she loved Tom Brokaw."

As for the so-called "new Hollywood" generation, well, they didn't seem to be up snuff.

"With these younger stars coming up, she's shake her had almost comically, like, 'These people aren't stars yet. Who are these people?'"

A version of my interview originally ran here.