Home / Lauren Bacall and Nicole Kidman – Shadow Boxing

Lauren Bacall and Nicole Kidman – Shadow Boxing

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“Bacall hits out at co-star Kidman,” shouts the headline on the BBC website. Shock, horror! My eye was drawn to the story immediately. What was going on? Had the sprightly 79 year-old thrown a deft right jab at her fellow thespian? Well no, the sum total of the story was:

“Veteran actress Lauren Bacall has labelled co-star Nicole Kidman a “beginner” after an ITV journalist described Kidman as a “legend”. “She’s not a legend. She’s a beginner… she can’t be a legend at whatever age she is,” Bacall told GMTV.”

And that was that. Now, what on earth is a legend? I tried looking it up but my dictionaries at home are pretty good but rather old. The King’s English Dictionary, with a picture of King George V at the front, says: “a chronicle or register of the lives of saints”; for ‘legendary’ it states: “strange, fabulous”. Not very helpful unless Ms Bacall was aware of this old definition and was simply trying to say that Nicole Kidman wasn’t ‘strange’. I think not.

For a modern definition I was forced to use the internet and the Merriam-Webster website and I have to say that it shed very little light either: “1 a : a story coming down from the past; especially : one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable b : a body of such stories (a place in the legend of the frontier) c : a popular myth of recent origin d : a person or thing that inspires legends e : the subject of a legend (its violence was legend even in its own time — William Broyles Jr.)

So let’s forget dictionaries; what is it that makes someone a legend to you or me? There’s no doubt that being dead is very helpful. It definitely confers status. The likes of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe may not have had that many roles but they are definitely legends. Being on the older side helps too – I would suggest that Lauren Bacall could legitimately be called a legend in her own lifetime.

But now, I come to my own litmus test – the modern day young star. Let’s take Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, or Michael Schumacher. I have to say that unless they pass away or grow old and wear very long grey beards I don’t think I would call them legends.

Ms Bacall is right. And I suspect that she was not being critical of Kidman, but asserting her role of protecting the English language. This theory holds water – especially when you consider that the BBC article goes on to say:

“Bacall told a recent press conference she and Kidman had a “fabulous relationship both on screen and off”.

“I love working with a young actress,” said Bacall.

No contest. Moving swiftly on ….

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About Danny Rosenbaum

  • Eric Olsen

    the “old dogs” are always going to be very reluctant to bestow status they believe should be derived from longevity to younger generations

    Thanks Danny!

  • Bacall was 100 percent correct — and I don’t think she was being defensive. Bacall is a legend, and I think she knows what a legend looks like. As long as there is such a thing as film, people will know Lauren Bacall — and we are not yet at a stage where the same can be said of Nicole Kidman. There have been first-rank A-list stars in the past who have faded completely from the cultural memory bank — Janet Gaynor, for example, or Luise Rainer.

  • I have often wondered if Bacall (whom I love) would be a legend if she weren’t part of the legendary Bogie/Bacall.

  • I think Bacall is wrong and just plain out of touch on this one.

    While her recent output has been shoddy, Kidman is without a doubt, one of the finest actresses of our time.

    Now if we were calling Sharon Stone a legend, there might be room for debate!

  • bhw

    Well, Kidman isn’t a legend, but she’s no beginner, either.

    I think I sense a little competitive bite from Ms. Bacall.

  • To me, the term legend implies a kind of iconic status that can be (but doesn’t have to be) independent of one’s body of work. James Dean is certainly a good example of this, since he died too young to produce much of a body of work, and the movies he did act in seem a bit dated by today’s standards. But he’s a legend, and a cultural icon as well. Kidman is a good actress, but not a legend, at least not yet. And I agree with Justene’s point about Bogart — Bacall by herself (and I think she’s a good actress) is kind of unthinkable, really. Her legendary status is most definitely due to her being partnered with Bogie, whose status as a cultural icon is uncontested.

  • I have often wondered if Bacall (whom I love) would be a legend if she weren’t part of the legendary Bogie/Bacall.

    Perhaps. It’s a kind of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers thing, maybe, a team where one star outshines the other. But, not just anybody could have done what Rogers did and not just anybody could be Bacall — in both teams, something clicked. For me, whenever I think of elegant, refined, big city, slightly dangerous 1940s cool, the Bacall of The Big Sleep just soars to mind. Interesting someone should bring up Sharon Stone, because in that famous scene in Basic Instinct she has a confident, self-possessed, Bacall kind of thing going on, doesn’t she?

  • I think that in the context apparently intended by the journalist – a “legend” as some sort of icon of cinema history – it really isn’t appropriate to label Kidman as such, and so Bacall was right (regardless of whether she herself is a “legend” or not). Kidman is a good actress and certainly among the best of “her generation,” as they like to say.

    But there are a number of very good actresses of prior generations who didn’t end up being remembered by many outside of film history classes. And there are some – such as Katherine Hepburn – who were rather lightly regarded in their “prime” and only achieved “legendary” status over time.

    And one could say that perhaps Ms. Bacall was really saying something like: “Geez, if she’s a legend at her age, what am I? Ancient myth?”