National Press Club

National Press Club mourns passing of Lauren Bacall

August 13, 2014 | By Christopher Hamrick | chamrick@press.org

Vice President Harry S. Truman plays as Lauren Bacall lounges on the piano in February 1945.

Vice President Harry S. Truman plays as Lauren Bacall lounges on the piano in February 1945.

Photo/Image: AP/Wide World Photos

The National Press Club mourns the loss of an American classic, Lauren Bacall, who passed away at the age of 89 on Aug 12.

In February 1945, then-Vice President Harry S. Truman played during one of the many World War II canteens at the National Press Club. Young Hollywood starlet Lauren Bacall had not yet achieved widespread fame when an iconic photo was taken.

Truman was playing for an audience of nearly 800 servicemen while Bacall lounged on the upright piano. Photos of this event appeared all over the world, including in Life Magazine on May 17, 1945, and was reprinted so often it became known as one of the most published photos in journalistic history.

Truman’s wife, Bess, however was less than pleased to see this image. David McCullough, author of Pulitzer-Prize winning biography Truman, documented that his wife told Truman in response to this image that “he should play the piano in public no more”.

In decades to come, NPC members and guests would pose to re-enact one of the Press Club’s most iconic photos. Pianist Marvin Hamlisch, Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank, Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell, and even Truman’s grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, were among those to pose and mimic Bacall and Truman’s historic moment. Nearly 70 years later, this same piano still proudly stands in the Club’s Truman Lounge.

Several obituaries mention the famous encounter or show the picture:

New York Times
Washington Post
Associated Press