I've been a fan of Lauren Bacall since the first time I saw her in a movie, which was To Have and Have Not (1944). I saw it in high school, when I was probably seventeen or eighteen -- only a year or two younger than Bacall was when she made that film. I've seen her in nine or ten other films since then, and my admiration has grown with each viewing. Her characters are cool, sophisticated... and yet, they always have a sweet vulnerability that keeps me from getting annoyed by her.
So when I found her autobiography, By Myself, at a used bookstore, I couldn't resist it. And I'm happy to report that it has enhanced my admiration of her, not tarnished it. The book traces her life from growing up in a single-parent family in New York City during the 1930s through her fantastic burst on the Hollywood scene, her marriage to Humphrey Bogart, and her life post-Bogie as she struggled through other relationships, raised her three children, and made a place for herself on Broadway.
This is a poignant, honest book, with a measure of soul-searching that I'm not accustomed to in autobiographies. As she says toward the end of it, "When I plunge I do plunge; halfway is not my way." (pg. 358). Throughout this book, she shows how throwing herself wholeheartedly into everything, be it a film or stage role or a personal relationship, has both its advantages and disadvantages.
My only disappointment with this book is that it ends before Bacall makes The Shootist (1976) with John Wayne -- I would love to have heard her thoughts on an older, ailing Duke, as she had some kind things to say about him when she discussed making Blood Alley with him in the '50s. But Bacall has written two more autobiographies, and I'm sure she covers the making of The Shootist in one of them.
If you're a fan of Bacall's, or simply of classic Hollywood, this book is an enjoyable read that feels like a chat with a friend over a cup of coffee or two. Thoroughly engaging, even in the sad parts.