This week, we lost two great stars, each representative of very different eras. I add my brief two cents to the many eulogies written over the week. Here are the two statements I drafted for my university’s press office.
When Lauren Bacall (1924-2014) – née Betty Joan Perske – first walked on screen in Howard Hawks’s 1944 To Have and Have Not, audiences could sense the raw power of her young talent. Paired with veteran Humphrey Bogart – 25 years her senior – she more than held her own, and in her sultry voice told him just how to whistle. A star was born, and when she later married Bogart, a star couple was formed. Never Oscar-nominated until The Mirror Has Two Faces in 1996 – sadly losing to Juliette Binoche for The English Patient – Bacall nevertheless dominated the films in which she starred, which included The Big Sleep, Key Largo, How to Marry a Millionaire, Written on the Wind, Murder on the Orient Express, The Shootist, and Dogville, among many others. Winner of two Tony Awards, for Applause in 1970 and Woman of the Year in 1981, Bacall had a long and successful life as an actress, author (of three autobiographies), mother of three (two with Bogart, and one with her second husband, Jason Robards), and woman of the world. With her death, we lose one of the great lights of Hollywood past and present.
Robin Williams (1951-2014) was the most important and influential comedian of his generation. For those who came of age with “Mork and Mindy,” he left an indelible impression of brilliant manic energy and unrivaled empathic intelligence. While audiences remain divided on the quality of his later film work, he touched us deeply – and made us laugh hysterically – in films as diverse as The World According to Garp, Moscow on the Hudson, Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society (his portrayal of Mr. Keating had an enormous influence on my own early teaching), The Fisher King, Mrs. Doubtfire and Good Will Hunting (for which he won an Oscar after 3 previous nominations), not to mention his multitude of stand-up comedy performances. He will be sorely missed by millions around the globe.
If you want to hear more of my thoughts on Robin Williams, you can listen to the podcast of the August 18, 2014, Midday with Dan Rodricks show (on Baltimore’s NPR News Station, WYPR, 88.1 FM).