Miss Bacall, Cousin Betty

It has been a terrible week. Too much violence in the world, too much ignorance and killing and evil levels of cruelty.

Then we lost a brilliant comic to suicide, and the only thing good that can come of that is a public conversation about suicide and why it’s not fair to call it “selfish” when depression is a disease that steals people’s ability to think beyond their pain. Chronic clinical depression causes agonizing suffering. Pastors need to understand that this is not a matter of “think happy” or “pray more” or “reach out and you’ll feel better.” It’s okay to not know what to say, but it is not okay to say things that put more burden on the suffering. May he rest in peace, he was a dazzling human being with a blazing mind. I am sorry that the fire burned and did consume. Dear Robin. We thank you for making a sacrament of your suffering and offering it to us in the form of cheering art.

I’m really, really tired and beat. I just got the news of the death of another great of my father’s generation, and my heart aches for the loss of those titanic Weinsteins who populated my youth and gave me such a high opinion of grown-ups and grown-up life. They were so charismatic, so smart and accomplished, so hard-working and shiny bright and talented and impressive. Betty was a movie star, okay, and that was special, but you were never to forget that it was FAMILY that got her there: Grandma Sophie who encouraged her, Uncle A.J. and Aunt Min who hosted her in Connecticut during hot New York City summers, Uncles Charlie and Jack who helped out financially, got her out to Hollywood and looked after her when she traveled out there alone at 19, and most of all Natalie, her mother, who devoted her every spare breath and hour to nurturing her Betty and supporting her dreams.

And it wasn’t that Betty was a glamorous movie star that impressed me as a child, it was that she was such a hard worker, known for busting her ass on the stage every night (as my father put it), never missing a performance, and being respectful to the cast, crew and orchestra. I was a theatre kid, remember, taking acting classes every week from fourth grade on and performing in shows several times a year. Theatre was my life and being an actress my life goal. Whenever I wanted to miss a rehearsal, I heard, “Do you think your cousin Betty skips rehearsals?” Whenever I auditioned and didn’t get a party my father and mother would say, “If you were gracious and made a good impression, they’ll remember that.” My father always said, “Betty always says, if you want to get work, be good to work with.”

In this time of raging debate about immigration in America, Betty also represents the immigrant roots and spirit of which I am so proud. Although there were five Weinstein children born to Max and Sophie Weinstein-Bacal, only two were born in Romania: Betty’s mother, Natalie, and my grandfather, A.J. (Albert Jonah). How far all us Weinstein kids were able to come from the shtetl because of Sophie and Max’s courage.

Rest in peace, Miss Bacall. Thank you for showing me that hard work, preparation and discipline are essential to any lasting legacy. It also doesn’t hurt to have killer cheekbones. Kiss of peace to you, dear cousin.

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I used to have an original of this 8×10 glossy. God knows where it went to…

4 Replies to “Miss Bacall, Cousin Betty”

  1. So sorry for your family’s loss of such a wondrously talented woman — and wow that she was your family! Which means that you have quite an illustrious extended family… Thank you for sharing your family’s journey.

  2. She is one of my favorite actresses! Truly beautiful and talented woman. Loved her in “To Have, Have Not” and “Key Largo’. And also the same song of that title!

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