Biggest Celebrity Loss of 2014: Lauren Bacall

Of the notable people who died in 2014, Lauren Bacall is the one I will miss the most. Most of the obituaries about her left out something quite important about the evolution of her career. The typical account noted that her triumphant debut film with Bogart, To Have and Have Not , was followed by glorious success the following year in The Big Sleep. But what happened is more complex than that.

The Big Sleep was completed on January 12, 1945 and was shown to troops on U.S. military bases. To Have and Have Not was released to American audiences a few weeks after that. Normally, the Big Sleep would have been released to U.S. audiences immediately after or even concurrently with the big hit debut film of a star. That would have dampened Bacall’s career because in the original version (a good but not great movie), she just doesn’t have the sass and zing on display in To Have and Have Not. Coupled with the poor reviews she received for Confidential Agent later that year, she could easily have ended up as a one hit wonder.

But the war of course was ending in 1945, and Warner Brothers realized it had to rush all its war-related films into theaters right away. As a result, The Big Sleep was set aside and American stateside audiences did not see it in 1945. Bacall’s agent, Charles Feldman, used his considerable muscle in the interim to have major rewrites and reshoots done on The Big Sleep. Some scenes without her were cut, some were redone to be sexier and more fun, and this entirely new scene was created. It works even better than it might otherwise have because the two stars were madly in love and newly married. Bacall here shows off the persona that entranced countless men, including me. What a woman! She will be greatly missed.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.