I came to Lauren Bacall at a bad time in my life.
I was eighteen, and I’d had the rug of my existence pulled from under me. I couldn’t talk to people. I couldn’t dress myself. I had no idea where I’d live on my next birthday, and it only sort of registered with me that I went to college. I was a tall child with a debit card, and I had nothing figured out.
And here were Slim and Vivian Sternwood and Irene Jansen, and they did. Sure, they got into problems, but they could kill a man. Or they could win one. Their choice. They had the will to power, as much as they willed their hair to look perfect every morning.
So I decided one day: I was going to be her. Well, not really. I was going to be the women she played. I brought in pictures of her every time I cut my hair, and I tried to speak with my stomach voice to make it deeper. I was serious. And I was upset when it didn’t work out, but through it all, I told myself: If you can will to power like them, everything will be all right.
I learned later the problem with going from human to onscreen archetype, not least of which being that people don’t work like that. Hollywood is a hanging garden. Expect yourself to look stylist good and sound like a hardboiled script and you’re setting yourself up for failure. But Betty’s characters gave me something to want for myself when I needed it, and even now, they give me an ideal.
I told my mother about it when she came home from work. She couldn’t believe it. “I know,” I said. “I figured at this rate the old broad would outlive me.”
She still will.