By Catherine Bremer, Reuters
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood veterans turned out in force to see Lauren Bacall, grand dame of film noir, receive an honorary Oscar at the motion picture academy's Governors Awards on Saturday night, away from TV cameras.
Bacall, 85, starred in more than 30 films but never won an Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, coming closest with a nomination for "The Mirror Has Two Faces".
The screen siren earned movie immortality with her husky voice, sultry gaze and curt retorts in films like "Dark Passage," and her 1944 debut opposite Humphrey Bogart in "To Have and Have Not" launched one of the most electric on- and off-screen pairings in cinema history.
She shouted out a whoop on stage when receiving the lifetime achievement Oscar and thrust it above her head.
"I can't believe it -- a man at last," Bacall, who was married to Bogart from 1945 until his death from cancer in 1957, joked to the audience. "The thought that when I get home I'm going to have a two-legged man in my room is so exciting."
Bacall clearly relished the chance to charm an audience that included Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Warren Beatty with the same drawling, teasing voice she used with Bogart.
"He gave me a life and he changed my life," she said of the Hollywood legend.
Saturday's ceremony marked the first time the academy has given its Governors Awards at a ceremony separate from the gala Oscars, which will take place in March 2010.
Some industry insiders questioned the academy's decision to hold the awards banquet on Saturday, but the actors on hand said it was a relief to be able to speak freely and shed the limitations of catering to a television audience that numbers tens of millions worldwide.
Anjelica Huston, whose director father John Huston worked with Bacall and Bogart, presented her Oscar. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks also took part, along with Kirk Douglas, who revealed how he settled for a 60-year friendship with Bacall after an early attempt to seduce her fell flat.
He said Bacall's tough image was all show. "She's a pussycat and she has a heart of gold," he said.
The Academy also bestowed honorary awards on producer and director Roger Corman, who gave a start to a string of directors like Frances Ford Coppola and mesmerized a generation with his quirky, gory thrillers.
Corman was King of low-budget "B movies" such as "The Cry Baby Killer", "It Conquered the World", "The Little Shop of Horrors" and "The Raven", where he mixed a comedy element into Edgar Allan Poe's macabre poem.
"He's been a maverick for a lot longer than I have," risque director Quentin Tarantino told Reuters after describing to the audience how he would sit glued as a boy to Corman's movies like "The Man With the X-ray Eyes" on late-night TV.
Gordon Willis, who worked on the "Godfather" trilogy, "All The President's Men" and Woody Allen films such as "Manhattan" and "Annie Hall" also received an honorary Oscar.
The Irving G. Thalberg Award, named after a pioneering 1920s and 30s producer, went to John Calley, whose works range from "A Clockwork Orange" to the more mainstream "Remains of the Day" and "The Da Vinci Code".