Hollywood’s Golden Age Fades Away

by Michael Auslin

The news of Lauren Bacall’s passing yesterday may have surprised many who assumed that all of the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age had long ago left us. Bacall, who was 89 when she died, was perhaps the last of the true mega-stars from that era, noted not only for her excellent body of work, but for her indelible connection to the giants of the time, foremost among them her husband, Humphrey Bogart. To consider Bacall’s closeness, not only to Bogie, but to Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, and others, is to conjure up images of a bygone era, once so familiar, yet fading away in our collective memory. That Bacall was the Brooklyn-born daughter of Jewish immigrants who always identified as a Jew, only makes her life path more fascinating. Andrew’s post on “the last empress of Byzantium” nicely catches her inimitable character as reflected in her best roles.

With her death, and that of Mickey Rooney earlier this year, the only major stars left from Hollywood’s Golden Age are the wonderful Olivia de Havilland, who made her first movie in 1935 and turned 98 last month, and the fiery Maureen O’Hara, who celebrates her 94th birthday next week. Some may also put Kirk Douglas in that group, but his career did not take off until the 1950s. For real film aficionados, German-born Luise Rainer is 104, but while she became the first back-to-back Oscar winner, she never achieved the stardom of Bacall, et al. Bacall truly was one of the last of a breed who helped define American culture at the height of the country’s power.