< Return to Adherents.com's Guide to Movies
< Return to Religion of the AFI's Top 50 Screen Legends
< Return to Famous Jews
The Religious Affiliation of
great American actress
Born into a Jewish family, Bacall's birth name was Bette Perske.
Bacall wrote about herself, from: Lauren Bacall, Now, New York: Alfred A. Knopf (1994), page 182:
So despite Slim's [Slim Hawks - the wife of director Howard Hawks] pure Aryan heritage -- she'd been well-born, was used to servants and houses and greenery -- and my pure Jewish heritage (I was well-born but not in the financial sense and was used to doing-it-yourself and apartments and cement), we were very similar.
Lauren Bacall wrote about one of her close friends, Mildred, a fellow Jew, from: Now, pages 152-154:
Mildred. When we first met I was nineteen, she somewhere in her late thirties. She was the wife of Bogie's [Humphrey Bogart] agent and friend, Sam Jaffe, and she was beautiful, beautiful in a totaly unstereotypical Hollywood way. Long, dark hair parted in the middle and worn in a bun; clear-blue, deep-set eyes; generous mouth; high cheekbones. She was biblical-looking, with a strong face that reflected her love and appeciation of art. In the beginning I thought of Mildred and Sam as Bogie's friends, and as time went on I thoguht of them as ours: good, mutually simpatico, but not intimate. Gradually, witht he birth of my first child, Stephen, Mildred and I grew closer.
Lauren Bacall recalled her close friend Mildred's long marriage to Sam Jaffe, from: Bacall, Now, pages 157-158:
...She [Mildred] did not follow the crowd. She was a Jewish mother, passionate about her husbnd and her three daughters. Passionate about her friends, their lives...
The Jewish background is a strong bond. We both had it, though I was less religious than she. She acted both as a contemporary of mine and as my California mother. Without really being aware of it, I found myself depending on her for advice.
I could never comprehend her [Mildred's] sixty-year marriage to Sam [Jaffe]. How do people stay together that long? Who gives up what? Bogie [Humphrey Bogart] and I were married eleven and a half years, Jason and I for eight. Being a product of divorce, I had never thought a relationship could last beyond five years. The Jaffes' mutual love of family, their shared Judaism, their respect for each other, I suppose those are the things that kept them together. They had rocky times like anyone else, but they stayed together. There have to be times when one or the other wants to take off, see a new face, hae a fresh experience. I'm sure there were such times with Sam and Mildred. But something was strong enough to keep them from doing that. They were lucky. They loved each other.
Lauren Bacall wrote in her autobiographical book Now, pages 55-56:
Every Christmas I do much the same thing: buy a beautiful Christmas tree, decorate it with every light, every ornament I have meticulously saved over the years, including those kindergarten specials made by each child; creating tradition--family history again. Then, as if to make up for being the only parent around, I buy endless gifts of all sizes, suround the base of the tree with them, hang stockings on the fireplace, fill them to the brim, all to give the feeling that there is more than just me, that there is a well-established family. The reality is that I do it as much to convince myself as to convince the children. I leave out nothing. I buy special candles. I plan a large turkey dinner, with everyone's favorite dish. I take out of the cupboards special objects that I hae saved over the years that I cherish--like the Mexican tree-of-life candelabra Spencer Tracy gave me one year. I think of Spencer often, anyway, but when I have the tree of life prominently displayed, he might almost be there.
In her autobiographical book Now, Lauren Bacall mentions God frequently, but casually. Usually she seems to be invoking "God" unthinkingly or simply linguistically. (e.g, page 22: "They had loved each other once--God knows what they had shared..."; page 24: "And timing--that you either have or you don't: it is timing that rules the day. Luckily, that is my one God-given gift, and I treasure it."; Page 29: "God, losing a friend is paintful, and he was a friend, my best."; Page 54: "The two people who saved me that day were Leslie and Sam, the fact of them. I thanked God that I had them around me, had them to love, to look after, to share my days with, to come home to." etc.) There is no indication that she was an active participant of any religious or spiritual group. Example, pg. 54: "The two people who saved me that day [when her husband Bogart died] were Leslie and Sam, the fact of them. I thanked God that I had them around me, had them to love, to lo ok after, to share my days with..."
I still keep a huge antique Bible that my other bought at auction after my marriage to Bogie--another reinforcement of family solidarity, security. It doesn't take a psychiatrist to figure out that most of these activities, these feelings, stem from having grown up with one parent, having been abandoned by the other... I think I"ve been a pretty good parent, but try as I might, I can never make up for the fact that I am just that--one. Single O. I am not a pair. I have no brother, I have no sister, I am not a family. I am not enough. But I stumbled and fumbled my way through those many years, and I still do now, trying to help my children feel there are more.
In the biography that Stephen Humphrey Bogart wrote about his father (Bogart: In Search of My Father, Penguin Books, 1995), he had this to say about his father and his mother, actress Lauren Bacall:
My mother was a lapsed Jew, and my father was a lapsed Episcopalian. Neither of my parents had any strong belief in God, but, like many parents, they sent their children to Sunday school, out of a vague sense that religion was a good thing for a kid. We were being raised Episcopalian rather than Jewish because my mother felt that would make life easier for Leslie and me during those post-World War II years.
An anecdote from when Lauren Bacall stared on stage in Goodbye Charlie, from: Bacall, Now, page 120:
At last, my entrance. All went well, as all but the end of the play had remained unchanged. Then the new scene was upon us. Att he interval the second and third acts, Sydney [Chaplin] and I had gone over the words again. George and Leland came into my dressing room to wish me luck. Not to worry--it would be great. Please God, I said.
Lauren Bacall recalled her long, platonic friendship with Slim Hawks. From: Bacall, Now, page 178:
My adrenaline was high. As I started the scene, something happened to me that had not happened before. An extra dimension--a creative light--all my juices working: everything fell into place and beyond. The excitement you hope for took over--it was indescribablye, and indescribably exciting. The audience reception was fabulous: they sensed something special was happening, and the glory of live theater. I have no idea what I had done or how I had done it. I only knew that it was a thrilling night for me.
An eerie thing happens to me before someone I am very close to dies. I seem to know. It manifests itself in nonstop sobbing the day and night before, as it did with my mother and Bogie [Humphrey Bogart], or in not being able to think about much else and wanting to talk to the person, as it did with Slim [Slim Hawks, the wife of Howard Hawks, a friend of Bacall's]; it's a kind of ESP, though I don't really attribute it to that. Anyway, it's something inexplicable... Slim's death was another ending, and it leaves a one-sided friendship, which in turn leaves yet another unfillable hole in my punctured spirit.
Lauren Bacall's daughter and son-in-law were not Buddhists, but were married in a Tibetan Buddhist ceremony. Bacall's children essentially had now Jewish identity whatsoever. From: Bacall, Now, page 204:
Slim's was a different kind of friendship and love, but it was both, nevertheless. I was an eighteen-year-old virgin child [when Bacall met Slim]. She introduced me to adult life, to a professional life, and to what was to be the best part of our emotional life.
The lama who was performing the ceremony was a nice-looking young man in a business suit, who looked nothing at all like my imagined Tibetan priest. Little by little, I found myself waking up to the difference in Leslie and Erich's way of life. How different their thining was from mine, yet I think I was beginning to understand it. Neither of them is a Buddhist, but they live very much in the yoga world, which is a world foreign to me I know how very much it has helped her, and they more exposed to it I am, the more certain I am that some of it would be good for all of us.
The ceremony was filled with promise purpose, loyalty, devotion, and hope for the future and for the rest of their lives. I don't know what I expected. Having heard "Tibetan priest," I suppose I thought thee might be some weirdness, proving once again how ignorance distorts.
Webpage created 21 June 2005. Last modified 30 July 2005.
We are always striving to increase the accuracy and usefulness of our website. We are happy to hear from you. Please submit questions, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. to: email@example.com.