Lauren Bacall on Harper’s Bazaar: “The Twist of Fate That Changed My Life Forever”

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?

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5 Responses to Lauren Bacall on Harper’s Bazaar: “The Twist of Fate That Changed My Life Forever”

  1. CW says:

    You did this just to make me crazy Red :)

    I have about an 800-page, 32-dimensional story about that picture, but I don’t think it will fit here.

    More saliently: 1942 = Betty Bacall. 2005 = Britney Spears. CW = wrong guy in wrong decade.

  2. red says:

    HAHAHAHA

    Yeah, I posted this for me but I posted it for you, too. ha!!

  3. Stevie says:

    Absolutely one of my favorite Hollywood books is Lauren Bacall’s first autobiography, By Myself. It so touchingly captures her love affair with Bogie, and her life with him. I’m so glad you love it, too, Sheila! Some others I LOVE, most or all of which I’m sure you’ve read, Red, but just in case you haven’t:

    Tracy and Hepburn, by Garson Kanin
    Garson Kanin’s Hollywood, by Garson Kanin
    Life is a Banquet, by Rosiland Russell
    Mother Goddam: Bette Davis, by Whitney Stine, with comments from Davis interspersed with the text (fabulous – I love her revisions)
    Change Lobsters and Dance, by Lilli Palmer
    The Moon’s a Balloon, by David Niven (excellently written)
    Shelley, AKA Shirley, by Shelley Winters
    MGM’s Greatest Musicals – The Freed Unit, by Hugh Fordin (this is totally indispensible)
    Doris Day – Her Own Story, by A E Hotchner
    Early Havoc, by June Havoc (amazing story about her time doing a dance marathon – it was source material for “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”)
    Goldwyn: A Biography, by Scott Berg
    Myself Among Others, My Side, and An Open Book, all by Ruth Gordon
    My Story, and A Life on Film, by Mary Astor (these are stunning for the breadth of their stories, from the silent era to MGM in the 40’s to Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte)
    Hollywood Babylon, by Kenneth Anger (a disturbing hoot)
    Haywire by Brooke Hayward (all about her mother Margaret Sullavan, surely one of your favorites, Red? and her ethereal sister, and life as a Hollywood kid in the 40’s)
    On Cukor, by Gavin Lambert
    The Three Phases of Eve, by Eve Arden
    Intermission, by Anne Baxter (fabulous account of her life in the Australian bush with one of her husbands; strewn with Hollywood tidbits)
    Marilyn Monroe, by Donald Spotto
    Music for Chameleons, by Truman Capote (includes his touching story about Marilyn Monroe, “A Beautiful Child”)

    Dig in and enjoy. All of these are vastly entertaining, and many are beautifully written, too!

  4. red says:

    Stevie – an incredible list. You are amazing. I have read many of them, naturally – but a ton of them I have not.

    Shelley Winters autobiography has to be one of the BEST juiciest gossipiest un-edited autobiography out there. I LOVED every single word.

  5. Stevie says:

    Thanks, Sheila! Yeah, this list has some real gems. Shelley’s book is top-notch. Do you love the story about how Shelley and Marilyn would share the “F/M” shoes?