Lauren Bacall (1924-2014)

Film icon Lauren Bacall died yesterday, just over a month shy of her 90th birthday. Known for her husky voice and her relationship with Humphrey Bogart both on and off screen, Bacall was a true movie star. As was the case with many of her fellow stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood — think Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn or Kirk Douglas rather than Gene Kelly or Jimmy Stewart — she rarely ventured into television.

She took a bow from the audience when Bogart was interviewed on Toast of the Town (aka The Ed Sullivan Show) in October 1951, which may have been her introduction to television audiences. Her first true TV appearance is believed to have come almost exactly two years later when she was a guest on The Colgate Comedy Hour in October 1953. She was also a mystery guest on What’s My Line? in November 1953.

Bacall and Bogart would make a joint appearance on Person to Person in September 1954. The following month Bacall participated in “Light’s Diamond Jubilee,” a star-studded two-hour special airing across all four TV networks to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Edison’s invention of the incandescent light bulb. Produced by David O. Selznick, the special was a combination of filmed and live segments. The UCLA Film & Television Archive has a kinescope of the CBS broadcast in its collection.

The high point of her television career came on May 30th, 1955 when she co-starred with Bogart on “The Petrified Forest,” an episode of NBC’s lavish Producers’ Showcase anthology series. The production was an adaption of the stage play by Robert E. Sherwood, which opened on Broadway in January 1934 with Leslie Howard and Bogart in the lead roles. The two also starred in the 1936 film version of the play along with Bette Davis. For the television version, Howard’s role was played by Henry Fonda with Bacall taking over for Davis.

Broadcast live in color, the 90-minute production was not only Bacall’s TV acting debut but marked the first and only time Bogart appeared in a dramatic TV role (it was also his second and last TV acting appearance; his first was an October 1953 comedic sketch on The Jack Benny Show). Critics praised the cast for their performances and Delbert Mann for his direction, while noting the technical limitations of television. In October 1986, Bacall found the only known copy of “The Petrified Forest,” a black-and-white kinescope, in her personal collection.

In January 1956, Bacall co-starred in an episode of Ford Star Jubilee that adapate Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” for television, with Coward and Claudette Colbert. She made a handful of appearances on television throughout the 1960s, including an episode of Dr. Kildare in 1963 and two episodes of Mr. Broadway in October and December 1964.

She starred in a television version of the Broadway musical Applause in March 1973 (for which Bacall won a Tony in 1970) and guest-starred in a two-part episode of The Rockford Files in October 1979. She was also one of more than 100 stars who helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of CBS in 1978 A handful of TV movies followed in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as two episodes of Chicago Hope in 1998. According to IMDb, her last credited TV role was a March 2014 episode of FOX’s animated Family Guy.

Obituaries for Bacall can be found at The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Variety.

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