Friday, August 27, 2010

Bogart, Sinatra and What's-His-Name

Approaching 86 next month, Lauren Bacall is making news again, telling all about her life in a second memoir and doing interviews to promote it.

Well, not quite all. In an hour on TCM, there is, of course, the story of her classic coupling with Humphrey Bogart and even a few words about an affair after Bogart's death with Frank Sinatra.

But not a word about Jason Robards, to whom she was married for eight years in the 1960s and with whom she had a child, the actor Sam Robards.

In airbrushing her life this way, Bacall is doing what living legends, and many of us lesser mortals, do--using selective memory to put bad times out of mind and make the best of what's left.

This story of her lost husband is a tribute to Lauren Bacall's toughness. In a fringe way, I can testify to that quality.

In 1966, as editor of McCall's, I had sent an interviewer to see her for a cover story. He overheard Bacall threatening to alter the anatomy of Robards for having an affair with his co-star in a play. Worried that references to him might soon be obsolete, we reduced them to a minimum.

When the piece appeared, Bacall called me in a rage. Why was there so much about Bogart and her affair with Sinatra and so little about her current husband? I could not bring myself to tell her.

Soon afterward, at a party I was talking to David Merrick, the producer of "Applause" in which she was then starring on Broadway. When Bacall came in, he said, "She's driving me crazy asking for vacation time." Merrick, for whom hard-nosed was a term of endearment, ducked away by asking my wife to dance.

Bacall greeted me with a minimum of warmth. "I know you're still sore," I said, "but I'm going to make it up to you. I'll convince Merrick to give you some time off."

"Time off!" she snorted, tilting her head toward the dance floor. "Watch your wife!"

We were friends again. Several years later, she divorced Robards and erased him from her legend.

Bogart fans watch "Casablanca" over and over again but, for real-life romance, nothing beats seeing him fall in love with that long-legged young beauty in "To Have and Have Not" and "The Big Sleep."

It's all there on the screen.

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