LAUREN BACALL, OF “BOGART & BACALL,” DEAD AT 89: My Encounter with a Hollywood Legend

Lauren Bacall, of “Bogart & Bacall,” dead at 89

My Encounter with a Hollywood Legend who wanted baked potato with chicken

Spending 3.5 hours in the company of Lauren Bacall aboard New York-Chicago flight 

MAY 11, 2004 – I had an unlikely traveling companion on my (again, much delayed) flight from New York to Chicago.  One of the Hollywood legends was seated across the aisle from me.  

At first, I didn’t recognize her… meaning, I knew I had seen the face before, but I could not place her.  She was an older woman, 80-something, quite heavy, tall… probably around 5′ 9″, with bleached blonde hair crudely combed straight back, who had difficulty walking when she first emerged in the first class cabin.  An American Airlines ground staff member and a young lady were helping her keep her balance and settle in her seat.  From her demeanor, it was obvious that the old lady was used to much attention and fussing.

And fuss she did… “Where’s my backpack?”  “Did you put my tote bag where I can see it?”  And so on…

“Where have I seen her before?”, I kept wondering.  I knew she was some sort of a Hollywood celebrity, but could not think of her name.  Then the old lady pulled some papers from her bag.  I decided to play a detective and see if I can use her to help me figure out who she was.  She began reading a magazine article that seemed to be a book review.  The title of the book was “By Myself” (see the cover right, 1979).  And then I saw the name.  Lauren Bacall… Bingo! Next to me was Humphrey Bogart’s sweetheart and wife who stayed with him till his death in 1957.

Except I did not remember her being blonde in the movies in which I had seen her. Indeed, if you look at the poster advertising her film “Dark Passage” in which she starred with Bogey (left), she is a brunette.  Guess blonde is the preferred old color for covering up gray hairs.

I discerned later on during the flight that the aged actress was probably going to Chicago to give a speech.  She seemed to be rehearsing it by thumbing through a stack of cue cards.  Her young traveling companion was probably her publicist/female butler.  They kept up animated conversations through much of our 3.5-hour flight to Chicago (normally, it’s a two-hour flight).

Bacall took center stage when the flight attendant tried to take our meal orders.  She offered a choice of beef or chicken.  Instead of giving her a straight answer, Bacall unleashed a combination of questions and witty comments that kept the stewardess tending to her for probably five minutes if not longer.  

Bacall wanted a baked potato.  And she wanted chicken.  But baked potato came with beef.  So after much negotiating, they decided that Bacall’s companion would order the beef, and while Bacall gets the chicken, and then they would swap the garnish so that Bacall could have her baked potato.

“Whew!”  Deciding on that part alone took at least three minutes.  Then Bacall asked the flight attendant… “And how do you cook the chicken?”

“What makes you think they cook it?” I could not help but interject. 

Bacall  looked at me seemingly stunned by such a possibility.  Then she burst out laughing.  “You’re right… maybe they just use the chicken for clucking.”

After her dinner ordering show, Bacall settled into reading her New York Times.   I could tell from the label on the front page that she must have had it delivered to her home.  It wasn’t hard to see the address.  She lives on the Upper West Side.  I won’t repeat her  full address here to protect her privacy, but that’s something one should keep in mind when traveling.  Never display your private information in public unless you want to have your privacy violated.

About half way during our flight to Chicago, Bacall reached for her tote bag and pulled something out.  I thought another book or a magazine might emerge.  Think again.  Out came a tiny Chiwawa dog.  He or she was so perfectly behaved that it never made a sound throughout the 3.5 hours it  had spent on board.  The dog settled on Bacall’s lap, where it remained snoozing for most of the rest of the flight.

Bacall’s appearance was a disappointment.  A former beauty is a very ordinary old woman now.  Her nails looked dirty and unpolished.  Her hair was unkempt.  But she evidently loves gold jewelry.  Make that big (!) gold jewelry (to me, quite garish looking).  She wore three enormous rings on each of the last three fingers of both of her hands.  Plus, she had a gold bracelet over a large (man-sized) gold watch, and gold ear rings, too.

Karen, who is my resident Hollywood expert, figured that Bacall was about 74, since she started in moviescover quite young.  Karen was close.  Upon returning home, I did a little research and have found out that Bacall is actually almost 80.  She was born on September 16, 1924.  Bacall was only 20 when she starred in her first film, “To Have and to Have Not” in 1944, with Bogart, of course.

I was surprised to learn that Bacall was raised as a “nice Jewish girl” by her divorced mother, according to her own memoirs.  I was also quite surprised by the number of books that she had either written or co-authored (eight books, to be exact, including the “Big Blond,” that that she co-authored with Dorothy Parker, and “Now,” another auto-biographical piece that was published in 1995).

Also, did you know that Bacall’s nick name is “Betty?” (possibly because of her lifelong admiration of Betty Davis?).  When I was still contemplating who that lady might be, early on during the flight, I saw her reading an e-mail that started with “Dear Betty.” (Yes, I did see her e-mail address, too, but I won’t reveal it or use it… just another reminder about what not to do for those who are concerned with their privacy… Don’t read your mail on airplanes).

I’ve also found it surprising that “Betty” is still making movies.  In 2002, for example, she starred as Ma Ginger in “Dogville” at the tender age of 78.   She has won Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe trophies, as well as an Oscar nomination, for her role in Barbra Streisand’s remake of “The Mirror Has Two Faces” (1996). She also received Tony Awards for her Broadway appearances in “Applause” and “Woman of the Year.”

Guess with a resume like that, one can see why “Betty” is used to having her baked potato served any way she wishes.

The End

Posted on May 12, 2004 at YinYangBob


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