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How Mississippi helped make Lauren Bacall

Warning, this post has absolutely nothing to do with the #mssen race.

Lauren Bacall, born in the Bronx as Betty Joan Perske, wouldn't have been Bacall without her Mississippi connection.

Two of her finest movies, her first, "To Have and Have Not," and my favorite, "The Big Sleep," were written by William Faulkner. 

Faulkner's career in Hollywood started in 1932 when despite having a successful novel, he was broke. His publisher on "Sanctuary" had gone belly up. So he accepted Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's offer, the equivalent of $8,500 a week today. GardenandGun tells the story here.

In 1944, the 19-year-old actress was starring with Humphrey Bogart in "To Have and Have Not" and was so nervous she couldn't stop shaking unless she held her head down and looked up at the Hollywood legend. And that was the beginning of "the look."

Two years later, she and Bogart made "Sleep" and Faulkner was at the top of his game.

America's greatest novelist had help from Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman to adapt Ernest Hemingway's "To Have and Have Not" and Furthman shared the writers' credit with him on "Sleep" but I'd like to think Faulkner was responsible for some of the best banter this side of "The Thin Man."

Some greatest hits:

Bacall as Vivian Rutledge: "I was beginning to think perhaps you worked in bed like Marcel Proust."  "Who's he?" "You wouldn't know him, a French writer."Bogart, opening the door to his PI office: "Come into my boudoir."

Then there's Bogart and Martha Vickers, as Bacall's sister Carmen Sternwood: "You're cute."

"And you're higher than a kite."

And Bogart to the suddenly seductive bookstore clerk played by Dorothy Malone: "It just so happens I've got a bottle of pretty good rye in my pocket and I'd a lot rather get wet in here." 

You get the idea though they all sound better on the screen. Roger Ebert did. In his list of Great Movies he writes:

"Working from Chandler's original words and adding spins of their own, the writers (William Faulkner, Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett) wrote one of the most quotable of screenplays: it's unusual to find yourself laughing in a movie not because something is funny but because it's so wickedly clever."

Bacall never hit it as big, though after Bogart's death in the late '50s, she had an awesome second career on Broadway, which led to my brush with Bacall.

Hooked on Bacall since I first saw "The Big Sleep," I couldn't believe my luck when she brought "Woman of the Year," a musical adaptation of the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn movie, to The Fox in St. Louis. Bacall, much much older, remained magnetic.

Unforgettable.

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