At the dawn of the television age in America, it was not uncommon for big name Hollywood movie stars to appear regularly on the small box. Some were guests, others hosted their own shows. It was a natural progression for the many movie stars who had become big radio stars in the 30s and 40s.
But somewhere along the line, things changed. The belief took hold that doing television was the kiss of death for a movie star, unless they were in the twilight of their careers, were being overlooked by the movie business, or were B-list actors. As a result, actors made choices: movies or television.
In recent years, this has changed significantly. The stigma of a big name doing television has largely disappeared, and it is not uncommon to see shows like Downton Abbey, American Horror Story and others populated with award-winning movie folk.
But in 1979, the sight of one of the biggest stars (at least, in my firmament) appearing on my favorite show was shocking. The show was The Rockford Files. The star was the one and only Lauren Bacall..
Lauren Bacall! Of Bogey and Bacall! She of “The Look” and the smokey voice. Yeah, that Lauren Bacall, right there on my TV with Jim Rockford!
Lauren Bacall starred with Humphrey Bogart in 4 films: To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Dark Passage and Key Largo. Then there was How To Marry A Millionaire with Marilyn Monroe, Designing Woman with Gregory Peck and The Shootist with John Wayne. She was nominated for an Academy Award, won a Golden Globe and two Tony awards. A bona fide movie star if ever there was one.
I don’t remember the film where I first saw Lauren Bacall, but I was mesmerized. The hair, the attitude, the voice, the interplay with Bogie…thus began a serious crush that continues to this day.
And now…as if she didn’t already have me…she was doing a two-part Rockford Files. The interplay between my favorite actress and my favorite actor was every bit as good as you’d imagine. By the end, there’s an inkling that there might be romance in the cards for the two of them, but—as almost always was the case—Jimmy didn’t close the deal.
For this…and many other reasons…it was with great sadness that I noted the passing of James Garner on July 19 of last year. And just 24 days later, that of Lauren Bacall.
I’d like to think that somewhere they are together, enjoying the witty banter and dancing around the edges of an incredible relationship. Of course, I suspect Bogey will have something to say about it.
Today’s Fact Cetera
David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, was a writer/producer on The Rockford Files.