While the pop culture world was busy mourning Robin Williams, another iconic Hollywood voice — albeit one from a much different era — was silenced on August 12. Lauren Bacall, known as much for her sultry good looks and marriage to Humphrey Bogart during Hollywood’s golden age as she was for her impressive body of work, died of a stroke on Tuesday. She was 89 years old.
89 years ain’t too shabby — for Bacall, it was long enough to garner dozens of films, a Broadway career, two Tonys, an honorary Academy Award, two marriages, three children, multiple grandchildren, and two autobiographies — but as Stephen Colbert said when his 92-year-old mother died, the good fortune of a long life “does not diminish, it only magnifies, the enormity of the room whose door has now quietly shut.”
Now, no one is blaming Hollywood or social media for focusing so much attention on Williams, because his premature death begs attention for a much larger issue, and his voice is one that brought joy to so many people who are still alive and kicking today.
But “Pretty Little Liars” actress Troian Bellisario hit the nail on the head with an Instagram post from last night, which perfectly encapsulated why so many people, especially women, were so affected by Bacall — because the 5-foot-8, deep-voiced actress introduced the movie world to a new kind of femininity that had not yet been embraced on screen.
“When I was younger I was so embarrassed of my voice,” Bellisario, who also possesses Bacall’s enviable pipes, wrote to her 3 million followers. “I thought it was too low, too raspy and not lady like. Then when I was 16 my father showed me Lauren Bacall in ’To Have and Have Not’ and he said ’see baby, she’s got a voice like yours and it was one of the things people loved about her, one day you will love having your voice too.'”
Bellisario’s father was right. It sounds absurd to think of a Hollywood where tall, dynamic, sultry-voiced beauties like Bellisario, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, Catherine Zeta-Jones, or even Jennifer Lawrence might fail because they were deemed too masculine, but that’s the world that Bacall (who was born Betty Joan Perske) lived in when she was 19 and preparing to make her “Have Not” debut. As luck would have it, the world fell in love, and thus Bacall paved the way for generations of spitfire actresses to come.
“From the minute you saw her. You fell in love with her sly grin, her feline arching eyebrows and of course her deep warm voice,” Bellisario concluded. “@badge714 even based Spencer in the noir episode [of ’Liars’] after the film roles of Mrs. Bacall. She is and will remain a legend. An icon. And an inspiration. Thank you for teaching us all how to whistle.”