Bogie defends Betty (1946) 🇺🇸

Lauren Bacall |

November 07, 2021

In Defense of My Wife

by Humphrey Bogart

Overnight Lauren Bacall’s name became a byword, then came the blast of criticism. Here her Bogie takes up the challenge

When Photoplay asked me to write an article about my wife my first impulse was to say, “Nothing doing.” Who am I to be writing articles for the magazines? And why should I write about Betty when Betty is perfectly capable of writing about herself if she wants to, though I don’t think she would want to. Betty doesn’t pack a portable typewriter and furthermore she’s no egotist.

Betty took quite a beating from the critics for “Confidential Agent.” Nobody but myself really knows how she took this beating — what she went through in the shock and surprise of it. It was an experience that tested her mettle, and because she is a girl with plenty of courage and with plenty of the right stuff in her she met the test and licked it.

That’s why I decided to write this article. I want to tell something of what I know of Betty’s character and I think it deserves to be told, for Betty’s sake if for no other reason.

What I want to point out at the beginning is that Betty had to learn two great lessons practically overnight, the lesson of how to handle oneself in the face of immediate and unexpected success, and that other lesson of how to take immediate and unexpected failure. Few people get both of these experiences so close together, and even an old-timer like myself would have a tough time accepting and adjusting to such a situation. I think that Betty proved herself a champion the way she took it in her stride and didn’t cry for help.

Remember that “To Have and Have Not” was her first picture. She had come to Hollywood from New York, prepared for a long battle of hard work and hard knocks. Any sensible person starting out on an acting career should expect such Betty did. Then overnight she had a success which put her right in the big league. Betty went from what was practically oblivion to the spotlight of world attention without a chance to learn values, without any past experience to go by. It was enough to turn any girl’s head.

Then from one extreme to another, before she had time to catch her breath, she took a panning that would have staggered even a seasoned star. The plain fact of the matter is that Betty was lauded for one picture out of all proportion to her desserts and panned for another that wasn’t by any means her entire fault. Mind you I am not alibiing Betty for what the critics said about her in “Confidential Agent.” Betty would kill me if I did be- cause she doesn’t go in for that sort of thing. What I think is unfair is that Betty was the target for what the critics admitted was a poor picture. She didn’t write it, she didn’t direct it, she didn’t play all the parts. Yet the critics acted as if the whole thing were her fault. They went out of their way to knock her just as they had to build her up.

We were down on the boat at Balboa when the picture opened and the notices began coming in. I watched Betty’s reactions, not knowing at first how to help her. She was badly hurt, there was no doubt of that. Then I decided that the only way to handle the thing was to kid her, and pretty soon we got to the point where she was kidding about it too. She has a sense of humor, you see. She has a sense of values, too, and she has guts.

 Strangely enough all this happened at just about the time when Betty was thinking seriously of giving up the screen. Long before we ever met she had determined that some day she would put marriage and a home above any ambitions for a career. She had got her success with her first picture. She had two others coming up, “The Big Sleep” and “Confidential Agent.” We were happily married, and she decided the time had come to be a homemaker for me.

I didn’t want to influence her one way or another. I didn’t feel I had the right to make an important decision of this kind for her. So I told her that either way was okay with me but it was entirely up to her. I kept thinking of her youth, her eagerness to be successful, her love of acting. What right had I to change her course?

For weeks this hesitancy and indecision kept up. One day Betty would make up her mind to quit, and then Warners would come along and offer her a new deal with a big boost in salary. She was going through hell trying to make up her mind. My heart went out to her, but I kept my mouth shut.

Then, when that “Confidential Agent” blast hit her everything was changed. She couldn’t quit. It would look as if she were running away. Since she was getting the rap there was nothing for her to do but take it and then go on to prove that her first success was no fluke, that she could really act if she got the right opportunity.

My own feeling about “Confidential Agent” is that Betty shouldn’t have been in it. It was wrong casting right from the start. She didn’t want to do the part but Herman Shumlin, the director, insisted on having her and the top men at the studio went along with him. They had plenty of opportunity to judge her performance as the picture was being filmed. They saw the rushes every night. If they weren’t satisfied with her they could have put someone else in the role. No doubt they figured that her terrific popularity from “To Have and Have Not” would insure a big box-office success for this picture too. Anyway, she was kept in the picture and was made the goat when it was shown. No one panned Charles Boyer, for he was an established star with many fine performances to his credit, but she had to stand or fall on only one previous effort.

Betty is the most honest person I have ever known. She admitted freely that she wasn’t good in the picture and that’s a pretty hard thing for a kid to do after she has been shot right up to the top. Now she’s out to show them. She won’t quit until she does that, and I’m backing her up all the way.

Right on the heels of the “Confidential Agent” blow the Hollywood Women’s Press Club held its annual meeting to vote on the most cooperative and the most uncooperative players of the year. I got wind of the fact that Betty was in line for the booby prize. She was running neck and neck for this socko with Greer Garson. I began phoning my news- paper friends asking them to vote for Betty. I put on a regular campaign to boost her into the cellar for her so-called non-cooperative attitude. I told my newspaper friends that we really ought to have an award of some kind in our family and I begged them to vote for Betty instead of Garson.

Betty was very much amused, of course, by my frantic efforts to get her a slap in the face and that, of course, is why I did it. I was afraid she really might get that booby prize and if she did it would go hard with her unless I could find some way of kidding her about it. Actually, she didn’t win, but it was a close call.

And why this attitude on the part of the members of the Women’s Press Club? Betty had fourteen magazine interviews in that past year. Out of the fourteen she had been able to keep her appointments with twelve of the interviewers. One of these wanted a life story which she felt she wasn’t ready for, the other was on a deadline and couldn’t wait. Some thirty or forty members voted her as being uncooperative. How come? Most of the members had never met her at all.

I get a big kick from the way Betty takes things in her stride. Before we got married she had lived all her life in small apartments in New York and Hollywood. After we were married we bought a house up in the hills, a nice, comfortable house with plenty of room, and Betty pitched right in and learned how to rim it.

It’s the same with the boat. She had never been sailing in her life and knew nothing about boats. She didn’t know whether she would be any good at it or not, but when we planned to marry she told me she was going to learn to love the seafaring life — or else! She said that since she loved me it was up to her to love the things that interested me. In a few months she could handle a sailboat as well as anyone with limited experience.

I think that ability of hers to learn and to conform to the rules in all kinds of activities shows in her acting. She’s a good actress, not the greatest, not the most inspired maybe, but she’s got the stuff in her. There are very few really great actresses on the screen. There are great personalities and I think Betty is one of these. She has a simple, direct way of delivering her lines which gives her a distinct individuality. Furthermore, we work well together. We have fun on the set and we both get a kick out of going over our lines and studying our parts at night. I think “The Big Sleep” will show some of Betty’s real qualities as an actress. I’m not going to stick my neck out with any prediction.

Let’s all wait and see.

The End

Bogie loves boats, is making a sailor out of Betty

Source: Photoplay, June 1946