Monday, January 11, 2010

"By Myself" by Lauren Bacall

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.


  1. Good review, Rachel! And I'm so glad you enjoyed it. :)

    It still rates up there with one of the best/favorite auto-bios I've read. Bacall really does write well, so I think that helps. Plus, like you said, she's so open and honest, like she's handing us her life story and trusting us with it!

    I've got a copy of her second book, 'Now', around here somewhere (unlike 'By Myself' -- which I couldn't put down! -- I never finished 'Now'...) and I can look and see if there's anything about THE SHOOTIST.

    I liked that movie, too :)

  2. I actually did put this book down for almost two weeks -- when I got to the part about Bogie dying, I couldn't get myself to read anymore for a while. Read another book instead, then came back to By Myself when I was having some really crap days last week due to Daniel being sick. Reading about Bacall's difficulties during and after Bogie's death really helped me see my life doesn't suck so much after all, and I finished the rest of the book in a couple days.

    TIA for letting me know if she discusses The Shootist! That's a hard movie for me to watch, as I love John Wayne, and seeing him portray a character with similar health issues to his own makes me very sad. But it's so good I do have to watch it once in a great while.

    BTW, have you read any of Michael Munn's biographies of actors? His book about John Wayne is the only bio of the Duke I've ever made it all the way thru, much less bought a copy of. And his bio of Richard Burton was amazing too -- I need to read more of his books. He writes about them as people, neither deifying nor demonizing them, unlike many celebrity bios. And he relies extensively on not only his own interactions with his subjects, but also copious interviews with the people who knew and worked with them. Fab stuff.


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