One by one they go, the icons of our lives, the magical images that kept the stars shining in our eyes. Yesterday’s bad news was about Robin Williams; today it’s about Lauren Bacall. Robin Williams made us laugh. Lauren Bacall made us dream. Now, their passing makes us cry.
Lauren Bacall lives in my memory, of course, the willowy dream girl with the acerbic wit, the glamorous half of “Bogey and Bacall.” But she was so much more.
I was 10 years old when Bacall first lit up the silver screen. Living in Malvern, a hamlet on a Jamaican mountain top, where such amenities as movie theaters did not exist. But once or twice a year, my dad would load the family into his old Ford and make the 100-mile pilgrimage to Kingston, where the Carib Theatre would usher us into a magical, twilight world of air conditioning and daydreams.
While World War II raged and the Ford was up on blocks because gasoline was rationed, we took the train, getting up before dawn to ride the Royal Mail van to the railway station. Nothing was going to keep us from our trips to the city.
Among the films we saw over the years were several starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. I can see them now in “The Big Sleep,” Bogey jaded and hard-boiled, Bacall every inch his match. I don’t recall seeing “To Have and Have Not” but I must have because I can still hear her husky voice telling Bogey:
You don’t have to say anything, and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.
Of course, that line is so legendary that I could have unknowingly incorporated it into my memories without actually hearing it. An old man’s memory plays tricks like that.
I don’t know if the films were great works of art. I don’t know whether Lauren Bacall was a great actress. She must have been. She won an Academy Award and a handful of Tony Awards for her stage performances.
But to me, her movies were far more than all of that. They were a part of my dreams, a part of my life, a part of my growing up.
And now she’s gone.