At seventeen, when Lauren Bacall was a simple usherette on Broadway, she met the up & coming Irish-American actor Gregory Peck. They quickly became friends as they grew and progressed from actors on Broadway to actors in Hollywood. However, it was not until 1957 that they would work together professionally in the slapstick comedy “Designing Woman.”
It was with a certain amount of reluctance that Bacall accepted the role of “Manilla” because of her husband’s fatal condition with esophagus cancer. However, it was at the behest of Bogey who supported and championed Bacall to do the film. And when the smoky blond saw she had a chance to play the role of “Manilla,” the fashion designer who spontaneously marries Peck’s “Mike Hagen,” she fought for it. Bacall sacrificed her salary and even stepped on Grace Kelly’s toes to get the role, of which Kelly never forgave Bacall.
But it must have been worth it for Bacall because the production of “Designing Woman” became a therapeutic experience for the actress. And the amount of professionalism she showed on set was lauded by everyone, especially Peck and director Vincent Minelli. To put her mind somewhat at ease, Bogey and the children would visit Bacall on set when he was in better spirits. As a result, Peck, Bogey and Bacall’s friendship strengthened. When asked about working with each other, Bacall responded, “We like one another. There is good chemistry between us. Greg is a loving human being. He is not like most actors. He is interesting and intelligent.” When asked about Peck’s opinion on Bacall, he said “No one else has her looks, her style, her way of moving and her wearing clothes, her sharp mind.”
The film premiered four months after Bacall and the world lost Humphrey Bogart. Much to the disappointment of the film’s cast and crew, “Designing Woman” received mixed reviews and only moderate success at the box office. Only days later, was the film toppled and forgotten by the release of Tracy and Hepburn’s “Desk Set (1957).; ironically, an on-screen partnership which Peck and Bacall’s chemistry was often compared to by critics.
Thirty-six years later, Bacall and Peck teamed up again for a made-for-television movie “The Portrait” (1993). With them was director Arthur Penn, and co-starred Cecilia Peck, Gregory Peck’s daughter.
Over the years, the Turner Classic Movies television channel has taken delight in allowing their audience know about Peck and Bacall. Before his passing, Peck was featured in one of the channel’s short tv spots in which he talked about their friendship. The actor was still amazed at his longtime friend’s consummate professionalism on the set of “Designing Woman” despite having to deal with Bogart’s cancer. The good-humored actor remarked that Bacall’s generous ear-nibbling shown in the film drove him crazy, and said although Bacall was one of the toughest women he’s met, Peck could still make her blush.
In 2003, with the passing of Gregory Peck at 78 years old, Lauren Bacall was amongst the celebrities who attended the funeral. In 2005, TCM held a special called “Private Screenings: Lauren Bacall.” In it, the legend revealed, not too surprisingly, “. . .[Designing Woman] That's absolutely one of my most favorite movies for many reasons.”