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ANN CONWAY

Bacall Offers Words of Strength at Her Tribute

March 31, 1997|ANN CONWAY

She got the standing ovation many thought she deserved at the Academy Awards.

No sooner had Lauren Bacall swept into the Hyatt Regency Irvine ballroom than 500 fans--many toting cameras--jumped to their feet.

Bacall's recent speaking engagement at the Pacific Symphony benefit came two days after she lost her bid for best supporting actress.

The spirited outpouring seemed to catch her by surprise. But Bacall, 72, stood calmly before the crowd, smiling, head high.

"This is what she needed--I told her Orange County loved her," said benefit chairwoman Margo Chamberlin of Newport Beach.

(Chamberlin and her committee had lined up Bacall to speak before the actress received her nomination.)

A film tribute to the actress was included in the "Experience the Look" luncheon that netted $100,000 for the orchestra.

Watching the tribute on twin screens, guests giggled and applauded as they saw the sultry star deliver lines from "To Have and Have Not," "How to Marry a Millionaire" and "The Mirror Has Two Faces"--for which she received her Oscar nomination.

"Oh my," Bacall said from the podium, after watching herself go from ingenue to mother-of-the-bride in six minutes. "Things do change, you know, with the passage of time."

Beginning a speech that was more about family and work than Tinseltown, Bacall spoke of Newport Beach: "Newport played a big part in my courting days with Bogart," she began. "He was a member of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club."

She hesitated a moment, studying her speech. She seemed to have lost her place. "You'll have to forgive me--my brain is a little scrambled," she said. "I have been slightly preoccupied. It has been award-time in my profession. Los Angeles has been consumed by it, and I, too, have been consumed.

"Now that that's over, I can breathe again, move onto other things."

It would be the only time during her 30-minute talk that Bacall would allude to the Oscars.

Listening from the back of the room was actor and close friend Roddy McDowall.

"I had to come down [from Los Angeles] to see my friend," said McDowall, who has starred in classics such as "How Green Was My Valley" and "Planet of the Apes." "I hadn't heard her speak. And, of course, she's wonderful. She has that intangible something that sets her apart from the crowd.

"And she's always surprising her fans," he added, "because she keeps doing things that people don't expect, like becoming a stage star, a musical star, an author. She is a lady of enormous industry and glamour."

For Bacall, industry always came first.

"My great luck in life was being surrounded by people who had goals," she told the crowd. "There is no greater curse than not having a goal in life. I wanted to work, dreamed of being a star."

Then she met Bogart.

"I fell in love with and wanted to marry Bogie as badly as I wanted to breathe," she said. She married the 44-year-old actor when she was 19.

"And that meant making promises . . . that our life together would always come first."

When Bogie died of lung cancer in 1957, "work moved back into first place in my life," she said. "Fortunately, I was able to keep my name alive enough so I could get a job."

She paused, looked up from her notes. "I can't believe it; I'm still unemployed!" she deadpanned.

While she loves her profession, "it's not all clover," she said.

There have been several stage injuries, countless rejections.

"We have to constantly audition, and we are constantly turned down--we're always trying to please directors, producers and audiences. We even try to please our agents, and we pay them. Figure that one out."

She plans to work as long as she can remember lines, she said. "I want to be like John Gielgud--at the age of 94, still delivering the goods."

But you have to have an "inner strength" to survive in the industry, she added. "The strength I have, I have through the grace of my mother and Bogie--the two greatest influences of my life."

Event proceeds will go toward underwriting the Pacific Symphony's "String of Pearls" gala May 17 at the Hyatt Regency Irvine. Dancer-choreographer Tommy Tune will entertain. (714) 755-5788, Ext. 264.

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