Leon Bibb remembers Lauren Bacall

Remembering Lauren Bacall, a great talent

CLEVELAND - I fell in love with Lauren Bacall.

How could I have not fallen in love with a woman's whose sultry eyes could pull me in and whose resonant alto voice would fall on my ears? She was among my Hollywood favorites.  

When I read the news of Bacall's death there was a slight break in my voice. It would not be noticeable to our newscast viewers, but I felt it as I uttered the words of her obituary. "Lauren Bacall has died at the age of 89," I said, while video of several scenes of her movies aired during my commentary.

I never met Bacall but I certainly saw her movies. Most of them I saw on television during my youth. Those cinema classics had played in movie theaters years before and became popular again on the late-night television shows of the 1960s when I was growing up. 

She had the eyes and the voice. She had a look which modeling agencies saw and which Hollywood wanted.  Everything Bacall had combined to pull movie viewers. They probably pulled in Hollywood star Humphrey Bogart, whom she married after they met on the set of the 1944 classic, "To Have and Have Not."  He was 45.  She was 20. But, wow! What a 20.

She and Bogie were a happy couple who kept their romance going both on-screen and off-screen in real life.  However, for me, it was their third film together which comes to mind when I think of Bacall.  In "Dark Passage," she befriends an escaped convict  who was unjustly convicted of the murder of his wife. In San Francisco, where Bogart lived before prison and where Bacall followed his court case in the newspapers, Bacall helps Bogart elude the dragnet. 

She also helped him after he contacts a plastic surgeon who will change Bogart's face, better enabling him to elude capture and a return to prison. While Bogart recovers from the surgery in the safety of her apartment, Bacall and Bogart grow closer together.  In their several days together, the musical theme of the movie, "Too Marvelous for Words," continues to play. It is a favorite song, often played on Bacall's apartment phonograph. During this time, she also helps him find the real killer of his wife. But the real killer dies from a fall before Bogart or anyone else is able to point the finger and establish his own innocence.

Unable to establish his innocence because the one person who could clear him is dead, Bogart, with his new face, decides to run to Peru.  Bacall promises to join him there once the heat is off. 

Throughout the movie, the two are moving closer together. Her belief in his innocence is real. She establishes that with a scrapbook of clippings of the trial where Bogart was unjustly convicted and sentenced to prison. Among the items in the scrapbook is a letter Bacall had written to a newspaper during the trial about why she thought he was innocent and was being railroaded. Man! This is the stuff of romance. Bacall with those eyes and that voice. I fell in love. Even with the full knowledge she was in love, both on the screen and off the screen, with the man with whom she shared movie scenes. I could understand what Bogart saw in this woman who was 25 years his junior.

In "Dark Passage," Bogart has no way to clear himself. All that he can do is escape to some place out of the country. They sit down with an atlas of the world and he puts a finger on a coastal community of Peru.  It is decided.  The lovers will separate and he will find his way to the South American country and wait for Bacall in a small community.

At the end of the film, Bogart is cradling a drink in his hands.  Dressed in a tropical suit, he is seated in a plush club where a small band is playing.  The setting is definitely South American and the music is Latin jazz.  Not hard and driving, but soft and romantic.

In walks Bacall.  When the camera picks her up, she is dressed in a skirt and a chic jacket.  That fall of hair is on her shoulders and she has tucked her chin into her chest, highlighting the angles on her face.  Those eyes once again are wonderful as the camera moves in for a closer look.  She has instructed the band leader to play a special song. "Too Marvelous for Words," is played and Bogart, hearing the music, looks up.  He knows there is someone special.  He can feel her presence.

When Bacall walks to Bogart, he simply softly embraces her and they move into the dance floor.  No words are exchanged.  None is needed. The two lovers are reunited in romantic Peru.   Their song is playing and they are in each other's arms in a slow dance. The film is black and white, but there is vibrant color in their lives.

When I read the story on my newscast that Lauren Bacall had died, I thought of that scene. I thought of the several movies she made with her husband,Humphrey Bogart, and the many others she made during a long career  I thought of the roles she played in Broadway theatrical productions. 

But mostly, I thought of Peru.  And of Bacall. And of a wonderful scene at the end of a romantic movie which was filled with intrigue. 

Did I love Lauren Bacall?  I did. I could not help myself when she flashed those eyes and purred with that wonderful resonant alto voice.