Lauren Bacall was 17 years old, and modeling clothes at various department stores in New York City. This is the early 1940s, understand, so here’s the deal:
The body type in style at that time was bodacious, with the bullet bras, miniscule waists, curving hips. This was what was “in”. (I shoulda been born then, I tell ya.) Lauren Bacall, a lanky teenager, with a long lean body, was not at all in the style. She said it herself, when she came to my school to do a seminar, “The clothes didn’t hang right on my body. They didn’t look good on me.”
Diana Vreeland, fashion editor of Harper’s Bazaar, thought differently. At the time, she was the only one. But that’s what makes a visionary, and Vreeland was, indeed, a visionary.
She saw Betty Bacall, and decided to put her on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar.
As I said previously:
It is an arresting image. She has a flat blank face, she stares straight at the camera – there is nothing coy about her. Her skin is pale, her lips are bright red. Again: she doesn’t quite look like what models looked like in that time period. She looks like what models look like now. There is a very clear identity on her face – you can see her personality – which models didn’t quite have at that time. Think of the runway models now – how they stalk right at you – with this flat blank “Yeah, this is who I am” stare. That was what Bacall looked like on that cover.
The Harper’s Bazaar cover was, as Bacall described it to us, “the twist of fate that changed my life forever”.
Slim Hawks, Howard Hawks’ wife, saw the cover and showed it to her husband, saying: “What about this girl?” Howard Hawks had been looking for a project. He was a Svengali, he wanted to create a certain type of woman for movies. As a result of Lauren Bacall’s Harper’s Bazaar cover, Howard Hawks called this skinny teenager out to Hollywood to put her under his own personal contract, to develop projects for her, the first being To Have and Have Not – starring (of course) Humphrey Bogart. Her performance in that film is one of the greatest and most startling film debuts of all time.
It all started with a magazine cover. Isn’t it so obvious why she would attract attention? Isn’t it so apparent that she was meant to be a star?