The late Bacall's mature face, no less beautiful than her young one, looked like a road map of a life lived to the fullest.
Lauren Bacall: 'I think your whole life shows in your face, and you should be proud of that.' Photograph: Trevor Humphries
When I sat down last year to list my icons for a chapter in my book about beauty, Lauren Bacall was the first to make the list. She was, until the very end, one of the most extraordinary beauties I have ever seen. Hers was a strong face. Proudly Jewish (she rubbished rumours of a nose job), intelligent, handsome, sophisticated and elegant. She was never mimsy or cute.
Her strong, thick brows were the kind that could bat off unwanted male attention with a faintly menacing arch. Her bones were exquisite, her mouth was wide, and full, and she possessed a glamour that was always womanly, never girlish, even when she was an ingenue of just 19. And that sexiness. Bacall had the sort of lethal femininity Elizabeth Taylor also possessed – tough, earthy, striking.
Betty Joan Perske was born beautiful and handled her gift masterfully. Bacall (who was never comfortable with her stage name, preferring "Betty", or "Baby" – the nickname used by Humphrey Bogart) was unashamed of her beauty and, unlike many of her Hollywood contemporaries and successors, didn't think it needed changing. Studio make up artists attempted to pluck her trademark thick brows, bosses asked for her teeth to be straightened, her hairline to be shaved back (a standard practice endured by Vivien Leigh and Rita Hayworth). She refused. Howard Hawks (whose wife had discovered the young model on the cover of Harper's) agreed. "Howard had chosen me for my thick eyebrows and crooked teeth, and that's the way they would stay," Bacall told Vanity Fair in 2011. A skilled make up artist herself, Bacall often painted her own screen face and always did her own hair, combing it into a deep side parting and pinning in her signature waves against her right cheek (Bogart once said, "She has a map of eastern Europe slung across her cheekbones").
While Bacall was not without her insecurities (her famous chin-down, eyes looking up smoulder was a deliberate attempt to stop her trembling during the shooting of her first film, To Have And Have Not, and stuck), she confronted middle age and old age with a defiant lack of resistance rarely seen in Hollywood. She refused to give up her beloved cigarettes, despite their visible effect on her skin, famously saying: "I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that." Her mature face, no less beautiful than her young one, looked like a road map of a life lived to the fullest – every crow's-foot, the sign of a laugh at a dirty joke; every sunspot, a footprint of an amazing holiday with Bogart; each wrinkle, an indelible marker of extraordinary experience. She wore her white hair defiantly long, steered clear of facelifts and Botox and at 83, attended an event in a low cut jacket, causing tabloids to criticise "the ageing actress's deflated cleavage". Bacall gave every impression of not giving a damn, even more so when a few years later, a beautiful, almost make-upless, heavily lined and unretouched portrait by British photographer Andy Gotts was released with her blessing.
The influence of Bacall's beauty on today's Hollywood can be seen by anyone. Jessica Chastain, January Jones, Cate Blanchett and Cara Delevigne have all worn Bacall looks on the red carpet, beauty mogul Bobbi Brown has created an upcoming make up collection inspired by Bacall's timeless, yet somehow always modern, look. As much as I'm delighted to see the enduring effect of this late, great star's immense beauty, I doubt anyone will ever come close to it. I will never tire of looking at her face.