Bewitched, Bothered, Bacall’d
Even in a sea of finery and famous faces, Lauren Bacall stands out
It’s 1997 and my first year as a producer on the Golden Globes. I’m joining a “mission impossible” team of great professionals led by the legendary Dick Clark. They all have an easy, familiar way with the many superstars who come in for rehearsal. I am doing my job in a state of awe. I’ve never seen such a collection of big celebrities in one place at one time.
It’s the Saturday before the show, and so far we’ve seen Tom Cruise, Halle Berry, John Travolta and Nicole Kidman. But my eyes are glued to the Beverly Hilton ballroom entrance for the arrival of one actress— Lauren Bacall.
You see, as a kid growing up in Chicago, watching old movies on a black-and-white TV, I wanted to be Humphrey Bogart. He was the ultimate tough guy with a soft heart, connoisseur of the world, whiskey and women. And the woman he chose, onscreen and off, was Lauren Bacall. She was and always will be “Bogie’s baby.” In their first movie together, To Have and Have Not, she was beautiful, regal and in a class by herself. In the film, she delivered these immortal lines: “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and...blow.” How steamy was that moment?
Well, if you were an alien from outer space, all you would have to do is watch the “whistle” scene, and you’d instantly know how and why earthlings have sex. And today Lauren Bacall is coming in to rehearse. I have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to actually talk with a woman who seemed so absolutely unreachable from my little Chicago apartment. Suddenly I’m wondering if I can be free and easy and cool or even just not stupid around her.
But before I can figure it out, she swoops in. Protected by a swarm of her “people,” she seems to be heading toward me. I look around. Yes, she IS heading toward me.
I have to come up with something to engage her in conversation. I’ve got only one bullet in my chamber. My wife, Bridget, is the daughter of an Academy Award–winning actor, the late Edmond O’Brien. He won his Oscar for The Barefoot Contessa, a movie that also starred
and...Humphrey Bogart. Bingo! Bacall must have known my wife’s father!
My wife abhors name-dropping and the fakeries of show business. She would lose all respect for me if I used her dead father, whom I never met, to curry favor with Lauren Bacall. I decide to use it. But first, I have to address her: Should it be Miss Bacall or Lauren? I go for Lauren. Her real name is Betty anyway, so what’s the damage?
“Hi, Lauren, I’m Barry Adelman, one of the producers.”
“Where’s Dick Clark?” She smiles sweetly, but it’s like she’s worried that the restaurant has run out of lobster and she’s going to have to settle for the shrimp. I fill the silence: “Dick should be out here any minute. Why don’t you have a seat? We should have you up onstage rehearsing next.”
“Next” turns out to be forever. The star who is currently onstage is very needy, and I’m running out of small talk. After another eternity, I play the father-in-law card.
“Here’s something you might find interesting...My wife’s father was Edmond O’Brien.”
Icebreaker par excellence! Big, wide, warm, sexy smile! “Oh my God, Eddie O’Brien! What a wonderful actor! I adored him! Do you know, when they were making Contessa in Italy, Bogie, Eddie, Billy Faulkner and I would go out every night. What fun that was!” My head is swirling. I can’t focus on what is more amazing—that Lauren Bacall just said “Bogie” to me or that she just called William Faulkner “Billy.”
For the next 20 minutes, Lauren and I become fast friends. After her run-through, she joins me at a table. We chat, we schmooze, we network, we even talk. When she gets up to go, she gives me a big hug and a kiss. As I watch her leave, I smile a world-weary smile, rub my chin and give a little whistle.
The next night is the Golden Globes. Three hours full of twists and turns and thousands of backstage decisions. It’s live TV, a living, breathing monster.
Amid this frenzy, a stage manager rushes over to our producers’ table behind the set. “Barry, Lauren Bacall wants to see you right away!” Dick Clark shoots me a look that shows he’s a bit impressed but perhaps a tad slighted that she doesn’t ask for him. I straighten my tux and find her by the greenroom. Flashing a big grin, I spread my arms for a hug and say, “Lauren!”
“We need more wine at table seven,” she says, then makes a perfect pivot and exits—beautiful, regal and in a class by herself. I’m too dry to whistle.
BARRY ADELMAN is executive producer of the Golden Globes and Executive VP, Television for Dick Clark Productions.