It is no mystery that a huge part of The Big Sleep's appeal is the undeniable chemistry between its two stars, the real-life couple and legendary Hollywood duo, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. Both represent the early days of the American film industry, and their pairing is still admired as one of the most glamorous marriages in recent American history. Part of what gives The Big Sleep its credence and viability as a film, in spite of its mind-bogglingly convoluted plot, is the palpable affection and mutual respect between the couple.
Lauren Bacall was born "Betty Perske" and was discovered by Howard Hawks's wife, Slim, when she was flipping through a Harper's Bazaar and saw the young model in a photograph. Betty abandoned the surname of her deadbeat father, adopting a variation on her mother's maiden name, "Bacal." Slim Hawks tutored the young Jewish girl from the Bronx in how to lose her natural Bronx accent by having her read aloud from a Lloyd C. Bridges novel The Robe, and is responsible for helping Bacall cultivate her iconically deep, smoky, and seductive voice. Humphrey Bogart had been working in Hollywood for a number of years when he first met the 18-year-old Bacall. He himself was 43. They would soon star in the now classic adaptation of the Hemingway novel To Have and Have Not. However, romance began slowly, as Bogart was already married to Mayo Methot, with whom he had a combative relationship.
Bacall's iconic "look," a staple of her early film performances, has a rather romantic and quaint backstory. She is quoted as saying, “I used to tremble from nerves so badly that the only way I could hold my head steady was to lower my chin practically to my chest and look up at Bogie...That was the beginning of The Look. I still get the shakes from time to time.” What appears to be a seductive and masterful pose was in fact a posture of fear, as well as deep affection for her leading man. However, they would have to overcome quite a few hurdles before uniting in their now iconic marriage, much of which would take place while filming The Big Sleep. According to Hollywood legend, Bacall was often so distraught about Bogart's apparent affinity to then-wife Methot during filming that she was inconsolable; an article about the couple in The Daily Beast states, "She was crying so much that an assistant was tasked with giving her ice packs to reduce the swelling. And Bogart was a wreck, too. Hawks at one point advised him to seek psychological counseling to get a handle on his feelings for Bacall."
They were soon married, however, and their marriage became one of Hollywood's most famous. They lived together happily until Bogart's death in 1957. Of their marriage, Bacall once said, "“What it felt like to be so wanted, so adored!...No one had ever felt like that about me. It was all so dramatic, too. Always in the wee small hours when it seemed to Bogie and me that the world was ours—that we were the world. At those times, we were.”