DATE June 1, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Novelist Martin Amis discusses his new book titled
"Experience," and his relationship with his father, the late
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.
On today's archive edition, an interview with writer Martin Amis. Terry Gross
spoke with him last year after the publication of his most recent book,
"Experience." The paperback edition comes out this month.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Martin Amis is a member of England's most famous writing families. He's best
known for his novels "Money," "London Fields" and "The Information." The last
two were best-sellers in the States. His father, Kingsley Amis, is best known
for his satirical novel, "Lucky Jim." Kingsley wrote social satires and was
known for his caustic wit and curmudgeonly personality. He was knighted in
1990, five years before his death. Now Martin Amis has written a memoir about
being a writer who is the son of a writer. It's called "Experience." Let's
start with a reading from the opening chapter.
Mr. MARTIN AMIS (Author, "Experience"): `I am a novelist trained to use
experience for other ends. Why should I tell the story of my life? I do it
because my father is dead now, and I always knew I would have to commemorate
him. He was a writer, and I am a writer. It feels like a duty to describe
our case, a literary curiosity which is also just another instance of a father
and a son. This will involve me in the indulgence of certain bad
habits--name-dropping is unavoidably one of them. But I've been indulging
that habit in a way ever since I first said "Dad." I do it because I feel the
same stirrings that everyone else feels. I want to set the record
straight--so much of this is already public--and to speak for once without
artifice, though not without formality.'
`The trouble with life, the novelist will feel, is its amorphousness, its
ridiculous fluidity. Look at it, thinly plotted, largely themeless,
sentimental and ineluctably trite. The dialogue is poor, or at least
violently uneven. The twists are either predictable or sensationless. And
it's always the same beginning and the same ending. My organizational
principles, therefore, derive from an inner urgency, and from the novelist's
addiction to seeing parallels and making connections. The method, plus these
footnotes to preserve the collateral thought, should give a clear view of the
geography of a writer's mind. If the effect sometimes seems staccato,
tangential, stop-go, etc., then I can only say that's what it's like on my
side of the desk, and I do it because it is being forced on me. I have seen
what perhaps no writer should ever see--the place in the unconscious where my
novels come from. I couldn't have stumbled on it unassisted, nor did I. I
read about it in the newspaper.'
GROSS: Martin Amis, what do you mean by that last line about reading about it
in the newspaper?
Mr. AMIS: I had an affair with a married woman in the mid-'70s and she later
led me to understand that the daughter--the two-year-old daughter she had was,
in fact, mine. And I believed her because I took the photograph she gave me
of this little girl to my mother and said, `What do you think, Mom?' And she
held it--the photograph at various distances from her eyes and then said
without looking up, `Definitely.' When this became public 20 years later, 18
years later, there was a great deal about it in the newspapers. And the
novelist Maureen Duffy wrote a piece saying that if you look at my novels, you
can see that from this date on in the mid-'70s, my novels became quietly
obsessed with missing children, threatened children, misattributed children,
And when I read it, I felt completely defeated by this piece. I thought--I
felt, as it were, busted by this piece. It seemed to me self-evidently true.
And no novelist--you know, you don't--what you write about comes from what's
at the back of your mind, not at its forefront. You write about what you--the
things you don't know you're worrying about. And it was clear to me that I
had been worrying about her, thinking about her. And I was consoled, in fact,
because it meant that I had, in a very--in the deepest way possible for me,
had been with her in spirit far more than I knew. But it was a great shock to
be--to have your unconscious laid out for you like that.
GROSS: Were you grateful to the reviewer for pointing this out to you?
Mr. AMIS: It goes beyond gratitude. It's awe or distress. It was just
something unanswerable. And it was only actually half the picture, because I
realized also that I'd been worrying about someone else. In 1973, a few weeks
after my first novel was published in fact, my cousin--my mother's sister's
child--disappeared, and for 21 years no one knew what had happened to her.
And then it was revealed round about the same time as the identity of my
daughter and when I came to meet my daughter that she had been murdered and
her body had been exhumed from the basement of Frederick West's house in
Gloucester and--he being one of the most prolific serial murderers in English
GROSS: It was your missing cousin's body that was found?
Mr. AMIS: Yes. Yeah. So the combination of these two events, I realized
that this had--this had constituted the silent anxiety at the back of my mind
when I wrote all those novels.
GROSS: Martin Amis is my guest. He's written a new memoir called
You say in your memoir that you've said in the past that the present phase of
Western literature is `higher autobiography, intensely self-inspecting' and
that this phase began with confessionalism in American poetry. And you say
we're in this phase where it's no more stories, the author is increasingly
committed to the private being. Have you thought of this as a bad thing? I
mean, that sounds like a pretty critical way of looking at autobiography or
autobiographical fiction, and now you've written a memoir.
Mr. AMIS: I'm suspicious of it, and I don't like the emphasis on the
personality, but I'm also susceptible to it, and I feel the same stirrings, as
I said, as everyone else. You know, I wrote this book because I came across a
natural break in my life. And as I say, I always knew I'd have to write about
my father in a kind of pro bono spirit because of the--I say modesty--rarity,
but, in fact, uniqueness of our case.
GROSS: Do you feel you couldn't have written a memoir if your father was
still alive or just that you wouldn't have wanted to?
Mr. AMIS: I wouldn't have wanted to. No, it was always going to be
posthumous where he was concerned. It would have been embarrassing. I mean,
I couldn't have faced him over the dinner table if I was writing about him
while he was alive.
GROSS: What were your father's rules--and by the way, my guest is Martin Amis
and his father is the late writer Kingsley Amis. What was your father's rules
about speaking of or writing about family--speaking of family in public or
writing about them?
Mr. AMIS: I don't think he had rules. I don't think he or I had rules. I
think you're guided by your instinct and your sensitivity. There's no point
in having rules in the publicity age where the rules are broken by others, you
know, every day. It would be, you know, frigid and meaningless to just step
back from this. So he talked, actually often mischievously, to the press
about me, for instance, and would be quite scathing about the next generation
of writers. In his memoirs, he tended to stay away from personal things, but
his novels, as I, you know, came to understand, were not autobiographical, but
they were about how he was feeling. You know, it's like a damage report or a,
you know, thermometer reading to read someone's novels. You see what--the
state of their spirit and that's evident, you know, throughout his corpus.
GROSS: Your father wrote a memoir. What was in it about you? Did you the
book to learn more about how he felt about you?
Mr. AMIS: Well, of course, I wrenched it open and looked at the index first
to see where I appeared. No, I make little walk-on appearances in his
memoirs. But he called that book an allography, i.e. writing about others,
and steered clear of personal stuff, I think, to preserve it for the fiction.
GROSS: Now you say that your father was always honest about his literary
opinions, and one of the things he said about you that's been quoted a lot is
that you had a terrible compulsive vividness in your style. He said he can't
even finish reading your novels and, quote, "It goes back to one of Martin's
heroes, Nabokov. I lay it all at his door, that constant demonstrating of his
command of English." What was your reaction when you read that? I mean, on
the one hand, your father felt he needed to always be honest about his
feelings about books. On the other hand, he could've spared you by saying
that he's your father and not your reviewer, and he doesn't have to offer
public opinions about your writing.
Mr. AMIS: But he was incapable of fudging an opinion when it came to writing,
and I always knew that about him and understood that about him. He thought
basically--and he made it clear to me, too--privately he said, you know, `I
think you're the best of a bad lot.'
GROSS: Well, that's high praise.
Mr. AMIS: Yeah, well, it is. And actually the highest praise he ever--when
we were talking about the rarity of our case, he said, `A father and son who
are both some good,' he said. But--and I was very moved to hear that because
that was high praise coming from him. But the big difference between him and
me is that he was a poet as well as a novelist and I'm just a novelist, so
that all the things that you might reserve for your poetry, in his case all
his thoughts about the spirit and the soul and intense and careful use of
words--all that goes into my prose, because there's no other channel for it.
And that really is the central difference between us.
GROSS: My guest is Martin Amis. His new memoir is called "Experience."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Martin Amis, and he's written a new memoir called
"Experience." And the book is, in part, about his father, the late writer
Your father had a lot of phobias, including fear of being alone, fear of
heights. What were some of the other--driving phobias.
Mr. AMIS: Flying, trains, lifts, though he had a rich array of phobias, which
I haven't inherited so far.
GROSS: Have not?
Mr. AMIS: Have not, no.
GROSS: It's funny that a man with such strong opinions would be so timid when
facing a train or just being alone.
Mr. AMIS: I know. And I was thinking back the other day to being in New
York. We spent a year in America when I was a child--when I was nine--and we
came to New York for the day and went up to the top of the Empire State
Building. And I was in awe of this great glittering immensity great beneath
me and was very puzzled when my mother said--or my father said, actually--on
this occasion he said that it was only the presence of his children that
stopped him from screaming when he was on top of the Empire State Building.
No, it was puzzling and a bit disturbing, but the great thing about parents
and children if all is well in the heart is that you completely accept and you
give it a minute's thought and then you just accept it--you just accept your
parents, you accept your children. That's the key to it.
GROSS: You know, another thing I find so paradoxical about your father's
phobias is that he's somebody who appears to have been so critical of other
people and yet so needy for them.
Mr. AMIS: Is that a contradiction? I think it's all of a piece--Don't
you?--that you might--the fact that you need people around might make
you--might build up a certain kind of resentment at your own weakness.
GROSS: But what about at their own weaknesses, I mean, those other people he
was so critical of?
Mr. AMIS: Well, he was critical in his letters and utterances, but, you know,
what would you have him do? He was--we prize our writers for their candor. I
wouldn't want him any--I wouldn't--you know, he didn't get on with my stuff
particularly, but I wouldn't want him to fudge it and pretend that he did.
That's what writers are for, to tell the truth as they see it.
GROSS: How old were you when your parents divorced?
Mr. AMIS: Thirteen.
GROSS: You write a little bit about their divorce and then you write about
your own divorce when you were--What?--in your early 40s?
Mr. AMIS: Yes, mid-40s.
GROSS: And you say that your father wrote that, `Stopping being married to
someone is an incredibly violent thing to let happen to you.' And you thought
about that a lot during your divorce. Were your circumstances similar? Did
you both each leave your wives or visa versa or...
Mr. AMIS: Well, in fact, I don't write very much at all about my own divorce
and, you know, don't really want to talk about it. One of the great subjects
of the novel has been marriage. And, you know, what I have to say about the
process of being divorced will go to the back of my mind and I'll worry about
it and in a few years I'll write a novel that will have something to do with
it. You select your material when you're writing something like this by
thinking about the feelings of others. And I know my ex-wife wouldn't want me
to write about it, and that was enough for me. And having felt that, I didn't
want to write about it either.
GROSS: Oh, well, fair enough. Another thing you do say in your memoir is
that only to your father could you confess how terrible you felt, how
physically terrible, bemused, subnormalized, stupefied from within during this
period of divorce, `Only to him could I talk about what I was doing to my
children because he had done it to me.' Could you talk a little bit about if
he was able to--if he was helpful to you, if you were able to talk with him
about your feelings about his divorce and...
Mr. AMIS: Yeah. That was--I mean, it seems to me that the great--the real
violence of divorce is what you are doing to your children. And what that is,
simply put, is making them distrustful of love, making them think, `Well,
you'd better not love anyone utterly because things can change.' And that's
their first lesson in the fragility of love. And my father--I could talk
about it with my father, and he was in his 70s and, in fact, you know, only
had two or three more years to live. But he really stirred himself and was a
great friend to me during that time. And he used to say, `Talk as much about
it as you want or as little about it as you want,' and that was his last
fatherly duty to me. He rounded the circle. You know, he had done the same
to me, he had made me distrustful of love and perhaps weakened my capacity to
love. But he repaired it, you know, inasmuch as he could in his last years.
It was his last fatherly duty.
GROSS: Martin Amis is my guest. He's a novelist who's written a new
memoir called "Experience."
You write about your mother that your mother had a breakdown in 1963, which
culminated in an accidental overdose of sleeping pills. She said she had been
depressed because she was still in love with your father. You say in 1995
your mother was still contemplating death as an escape from her feelings about
your father, but an escape in the opposite direction. What do you mean?
Mr. AMIS: Well, she said she--you know, my parents divorce, my mother
remarried and then remarried again. My father remarried. And then when his
second wife left him, they set up a kind of menage, where my mother and her
third husband, to whom she's still very happily married, moved in and kind of
looked after my father and acted as housekeepers for him. But he--my father
was always difficult and later on it was impossible and later on then that was
unbelievable, and my mother, you know, blowing the hair off her forehead,
would say, you know, `I've been dying for a heart attack for years,' because
looking after Kingsley was such hard work. So that's what I meant by escaping
in the opposite direction.
GROSS: That's a really surprising relationship. I'm almost surprised she was
willing to do that.
Mr. AMIS: She didn't have a choice, really. It was forced on her because
she and her husband had very little money and my father had money, but needed
people. So my brother and I kind of, you know, thought this was an obvious,
if temporary, solution. We thought it might last six months. In fact, it
lasted for 12 years, until his death. But, you know, we had arrangements for
weird people. They were always bohemians, and so a bohemian solution was the
GROSS: So he paid your mother to take care of him and live in the house.
Mr. AMIS: That's right, yeah, with my mother--they had the garden flat
below, my mother, stepfather and my half-brother, little Hymie. And Kingsley
had the floor above, and they had a communal floor above that. And somehow it
GROSS: Well, it made it easier for you to visit both your parents at the same
Mr. AMIS: Yeah, I know. It was very good for the children. It killed two
birds with one stone in all sorts of senses.
BOGAEV: Martin Amis speaking with Terry Gross. We'll hear more of their
conversation after a break.
I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.
BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.
Let's get back to Terry's interview with British novelist Martin Amis. His
latest book, "Experience," due out this month in paperback, is a memoir
about being a writer who is the son of a famous writer. His father, Kingsley
Amis, is best known for the novel "Lucky Jim," and for his caustic wit. He
was knighted in 1990, five years before his death. Terry spoke with Martin
Amis last year.
GROSS: Your father, the writer Kingsley Amis, lost much of his memory before
he died. I mean, your father was so much about memory, memory being
transformed into fiction, and I'm sure you've thought a lot about the meaning
of memory, watching your father lose his, and lose certain words in the
Mr. AMIS: Oh, no, it was very much--the losing of the words was even more
dramatic, and losing humor. And that was the truly devastating thing about
his death, was that--you know, he has a character say in one of his novels,
`The rewards of being sane are not many, but knowing what's funny is one of
them.' And he didn't--towards the end of his--you know, in his last months,
he didn't know what was funny. He couldn't find words. It was all closing
down, the whole operation, the great engine of comedy that he'd been was
winding down, and it was like something out of a novel in that it was--it
measured up, it had symmetry. You know, here was this man whose whole life
had been devoted to words and their comic possibilities, and he'd become a
kind of anti-Kingsley.
After he died--and in his last months, as I say, he was reduced to common
places and tautologies and the simplest forms of, you know, communication.
After he died, I was given a typescript of a book he'd written in his last
year or so called "The King's English," which is about language and grammar
and usage. And it almost gave me a heart attack, because it was--here was my
father's voice again, and, in fact, it's one of his best books. It's almost a
memoir in itself about his love of language, and the ways language can make
you laugh, and it was published posthumously.
GROSS: There's so many parallels between your life and your father's life, in
part, because he was a writer, you're a writer. What did his death, after the
loss of so much memory, make you think about facing your own death and
possibly, you know, being so transformed in the process, transformed like he
Mr. AMIS: Well, chiefly, terror, of course. And...
GROSS: Yes. Right.
Mr. AMIS: ...every time I, you know, stumble over a word or can't remember
how to spell something, I think it's starting. But parents--this is
particularly true, perhaps, of fathers and sons--I mean, they teach you not
with catechisms, or, you know, little lessons, they teach you by example. And
they even, as it turns out, teach you how to die. I think Socrates said the
task of philosophy is learning how to die. A big lesson in that is sitting
beside your father's hospital bed and watching him do it.
GROSS: Well, what about the way he did it made you feel that he was teaching
you something by example that you wanted to know?
Mr. AMIS: His great friend, the poet Larkin, said--another death-obsessed
writer--said that being brave while you die means not scaring others. And,
you know, I think that was the great lesson. My father had not much control
over his behavior and the things he said as he was dying, but he did a pretty
good job of not scaring his children. There were some very alarming moments,
and always great suspense when you went to see him during those weeks. But he
somehow managed that and died well.
GROSS: But I think one of the scary things is just watching somebody be so
transformed before death; watching them be a different person because they
don't have memory anymore. That's scary enough.
Mr. AMIS: Oh, it's very scary. And one of the hospitals he was at, the door
to his room had a little glass window set into it, and I, like all his
visitors I'm sure, would peer in through that glass as if at a TV screen to
get a kind of a trailer of what lay in store for you. Because, you know, you
had absolutely no idea of what was going to happen in the next--during your
visit. And you would take a deep breath and in you would go. But, again, as
I said earlier, acceptance is what marks the filial and parental relationship,
and so even in extremis, you would accept it.
GROSS: When your father was dying, you say that you told yourself what you'd
always told yourself, is what all writers have always told themselves,
consciously or otherwise, the things you feel are universal. Now did that
reminder to yourself that the things you were feeling were universal--was that
an attempt to help you deal with your feelings, knowing that they were
universal? Or is that more about writing what you were feeling, feeling
Mr. AMIS: No, it was a moral worry really because the death of a father is a
complex event. It's not just, you know, feeling sad and it's--I describe the
feeling when I was told by my mother that he was going to die 'cause till
quite late on we thought he would persist, you know, sort of damaged way, for
some years. And it felt like I was about to levitate. A sense of impending
levitation; rise up off the ground. But, in fact, that's expressive and,
again, a complex reaction because you are coming into your own when your
father dies. And, of course, you want him to live forever. And I can boast,
and my brother and sister can boast, that we had no regrets when he died. We
wanted him to live forever, but we'd had our time with him. We'd said the
words to him. There was nothing left unsaid. There were no bitternesses. So
it was all--that was all clear.
But to bring in Freud and his vicious embryos again, Freud says that the death
of a father makes--it's partly chemical I suppose--but floods you with
endorphines to get you through the experience. And you feel full of energy
and ready for work. And, you know, there are books to be written, there are
children to be raised. It's only afterwards that you get--you know, for the
rest of your life, you are repairing the damage done, the grief inflicted, by
the loss of the father. It's--you lose a part of yourself and you never get
over that. And--but the actual business of the father dying is not a simple
one of grief. It's--you feel this guilty energy and a sort of spring in your
step because you're stepping forward; you're evolving; you're going on to the
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. AMIS: Thank you very much.
BOGAEV: Martin Amis' memoir, "Experience," is due out in paperback later
Coming up, Lauren Bacall. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Lauren Bacall discusses her career in movies and her
marriage to Humphrey Bogart
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This Sunday Lauren Bacall will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the
Tony Awards party. At the age of 19, she knocked everyone out with her screen
debut in the 1944 film "To Have and Have Not." One year later she married her
leading man, Humphrey Bogart. They'd been married over 11 years when Bogart
died of cancer. Their screen lives together included the films "The Big
Sleep," "Dark Passage," and "Key Largo." Bacall also starred in "Young Man
With a Horn," "How to Marry a Millionaire," "Designing Woman," "Murder on the
Orient Express," "The Shootist," and "Misery." Terry spoke with Lauren Bacall
in 1994 about her on- and off-screen relationship with Humphrey Bogart.
(Excerpt from 1994 interview with Lauren Bacall)
TERRY GROSS, host:
I think a lot of people have been a little disappointed by life and by love
because they compare it to what they've seen in the movies and it never quite
measures up to the movie version. Before you ever really experienced love,
you were acting out the movie version of romance and then you started having
the romance with the person who you were acting it out with on screen. And I
guess I'm really wondering if there was anything disappointing about the real
life version of it, even though it was the same two people who were doing it
Ms. LAUREN BACALL (Actress): No. You mean if there was any disappointment
in my marriage; in my life with Bogie or...
GROSS: The early romance of it.
Ms. BACALL: The early romance was the most romantic experience I have ever
had in my life, far surpassing anything that I might have dreamed of or
imagined. It was quite amazing. I mean, when you are young and when it's
your first love and you are just carried away by it and when that's all you
can think about and--you see, Bogie was the kind of man who believed in taking
care of a marriage and taking care of a relationship. He believed you had to
work at it and keep it fresh and fun and interesting. And he did.
GROSS: I mean, he was already a movie star to you, right...
Ms. BACALL: Oh, yes. Absolutely.
GROSS: ...when you worked together. So you had a sense of him as an icon as
well as a man.
Ms. BACALL: No, not as an icon. He was not my favorite movie star.
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Did you tell him that?
Ms. BACALL: Yes. He knew it. No, Leslie Howard was my favorite. He knew
that, but he had worked with Leslie Howard in "Petrified Forest," which was
funny, you know. And, no, he wasn't an icon when I met him. I mean, he
was--this was after "Casablanca" and he was a big star, but certainly not what
he is today, which is this legend; this incredible icon now. I mean, he is
bigger than ever.
GROSS: I'm sure you've been asked this a zillion times, but do you think
that what you and Bogart were feeling offscreen you can see on screen? I
mean, that the real relationship registers in the movie?
Ms. BACALL: Well, I think sometimes it does. Certainly, the chemistry
registers. Whether it is a consummated relationship or not, I think if there
is chemistry between two people, you feel it. I think that Bogie and myself
in "To Have and Have Not"--I think having fallen in love with one another,
finally, I think--first of all, it was great for me because it gave him--he
wanted me to be good in it, so he wanted--he made it much easier for me to
play the scenes. And, of course, my feeling--you know, it's--the feeling was
so strong that, you know, originally in "To Have and Have Not" his character
was supposed to have a little flirtation with the other woman. And once
Hawks saw the rushes of the scenes that Bogie and I had played, Bogie said to
him, `Nobody is ever going to accept or believe that he would go off with
anybody else for a second.' And it was true.
GROSS: When you and Bogart decided to get married, you write that he said to
you that he wanted to marry you, but only if you were willing to give up
going on location for a film because he didn't want you both going off in
Ms. BACALL: Right.
GROSS: How do you feel about that in retrospect?
Ms. BACALL: Well, I recognize the fact completely that separation does not
breed a happy marriage. I think you must be together. I mean, the reason
you get married is to be together, not to be separated. And I think,
particularly in my profession, but in any profession, I think if you each go
off in opposite directions, sooner or later you're just going--one of you is
going to go off and not come back. And I think that's natural. And I agreed
to his terms.
GROSS: But you wanted so much to be an actress.
Ms. BACALL: Right.
GROSS: And this cut down on the roles that you could take.
Ms. BACALL: Yes. Oh, absolutely. And I--soon, I never even got the offers
because I was thought of as Bogie's wife and that I would just go with him on
location, which I did, and we were never separated. We were separated once,
only, for a very short time.
GROSS: Well, you know, I was thinking how very frustrating it must have been
when he was making "African Queen" with Katharine Hepburn. You were there
in Africa with them kind of suffering through all of the problems they had to
suffer through, but, I mean, you were there as the wife and not as the star.
Ms. BACALL: I was there as the wife. I was in charge of lunch. No, right.
GROSS: So how did it feel?
Ms. BACALL: Yeah, but, you know, I had a lot of frustrations about my
career; a lot of, you know, times where I felt I should have been considered
for a part that I wasn't considered for. Bogie had decided early on and told
me from the very beginning that he would never interfere with my career; that
whatever I did professionally I would do only with myself and my agent. If I
wanted his advice, I could ask him, but that he would never step in. And he
never did. And sometimes I thought, `Well, he ought to step in. I mean, once
in a while, you know, I should be in a movie with him in one of the parts,'
but whatever his decision was, he was correct because he'd had enough
experience to know what worked and what didn't work. And I was very
frustrated at times, but I still believe and I even believed then that even
throughout my frustration, that the choice I made was the right one.
Obviously, in view of what happened, it most certainly was the right one and
I'm really happy that I made that choice.
GROSS: Because your life together was so short.
Ms. BACALL: Well, because he had a life. He had a life that he never
thought he would have. And it was very short, but imagine if I'd gone off
somewhere. Well, I mean, he wouldn't have stood for it anyway, so...
GROSS: I want to ask you about working with some of the many people you've
worked with over the years...
Ms. BACALL: Yes, absolutely.
GROSS: ...and see if you could share some of your impressions of them. You
worked with Marilyn Monroe on "How to Marry a Millionaire." How was the
experience of working with her?
Ms. BACALL: It was fine. I mean, we got along very well. My only complaint
about her was that she was late all the time. But she was late out of fear as
much as anything else. But it was hard to sit around and wait, you know, but
she was usually an hour or two late every morning. She...
GROSS: You strike me as such different types, probably off the screen,
certainly on the screen.
Ms. BACALL: Oh, yes, we were. We are. I mean, I wish I had been as
photogenic as she was, but--she was a very kind of sweet, kind of far away,
very self-involved, but not--I mean, she had no meanness. She was not bitchy.
She was not strident in any way. She was just always seemed a little lost to
me, wistful kind of. But just kind of not quite there, do you know what I
mean? And you'd be playing a scene with her and she would go over and over
the scene and you'd have to be on your toes because she'd do many, many takes
and she'd always have the coach on the set, which was a big annoyance, you
know, that's constantly--instead of looking at you, she'd be looking at the
coach. That kind of thing was difficult. But personally she really was
sweet. I mean, we did get along well.
GROSS: John Wayne--you worked with him in two movies: "Storm Warning" in the
Ms. BACALL: No, "Blood Alley."
GROSS: "Blood Alley," I'm sorry. That's what I mean.
Ms. BACALL: Yeah. Yeah.
GROSS: "Blood Alley" in the '50s and then "The Shootist" in--Was it '75, '76?
Ms. BACALL: '77.
GROSS: '77. OK. And "The Shootist" was his last movie...
Ms. BACALL: Yes.
GROSS: ...and he had cancer in real life and also in the movie.
Ms. BACALL: Right, off and on screen. Right. Abso...
GROSS: The character was, you know, an aged gunfighter who was dying of
cancer. I'm wondering what it was like then knowing that he was really sick,
it would probably be his last movie, not wanting to kind of overdramatize the
significance of that, but here he is playing out the drama on screen that's
happening off screen and you know what's happening, but you don't want to get
Ms. BACALL: Well, you couldn't with him. I learned through Bogey's illness
that the person who is ill is the one who dictates your behavior.
GROSS: Right. Right. You take your cues from them.
Ms. BACALL: Right. And Bogey never discussed it and never talked about it,
once after his surgery, and so I never did. And Duke was the same.
GROSS: You never talked about it together?
Ms. BACALL: No. No. And, you know, he said, somedays, you know, `I don't
feel so good today,' or `I have to go have this radiation or what'--you know,
stuff like that, but, I mean, he never talked to me about, `If something
happens I want my'--you know, never. Now Duke was the same. Duke never
talked about it. I mean, mind you, I wasn't married to him, but he still--we
knew each other fairly well and never talked about it and he handled himself
impeccably. Well, you have to go along with that.
You know, he was a very strange contradiction of a man to me because he--of
course, politically we didn't agree about anything. We were really on
opposite sides, and vehemently so, so we never discussed it obviously. But we
worked very well together. And he was sweet with me and he was really
attractive, you know. He had a quality that surprised me, but he did have a
kind of a real appeal--I mean, there was a reason he was such a big star. He
was a real man and he had real appeal.
BOGAEV: Lauren Bacall from a 1994 interview with Terry Gross. This Sunday
Bacall will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Tony Awards party.
Coming up, a review of the new film "Moulin Rouge." This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: New film "Moulin Rouge"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
Baz Luhrmann's new musical "Moulin Rouge" made a splashy premiere at this
year's Cannes Film Festival. A replica of the 1890s musical, where Nicole
Kidman plays the star singer, was set up on a pier. Cancan dancers flanked
Kidman as she entered the post-film party. The film also features Ewan
McGregor as her love interest and Jim Broadbent as the cabaret's producer.
Film critic Henry Sheehan has a review.
HENRY SHEEHAN reporting:
"Moulin Rouge" begins with an exquisite shot of a place that no longer exists:
turn-of-the-century Paris. Director Baz Luhrmann moves his camera with
indulgent languor over a wonderfully evocative cityscape of tiled rooftops
that has as much to do with our collective romantic imaginations as it does
with any Paris that ever existed. That's good, though. As the great
filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch once said, he loved Paris, France, but he preferred
Paris, Paramount. Luhrmann is making a similar statement with his camera. If
only "Moulin Rouge" could have stuck to this simple but profound dreamy mood.
But in a harbinger of difficulties to come, our vision also passes by a
rooftop singer. It's Toulouse Lautrec, or at least the artist as embodied by
an annoyingly high-pitched John Leguizamo. He's lounging on a roof singing
"Nature Boy," the old Nat "King" Cole hit that is a standby of drunken
midnight sing-alongs in cheap piano bars. In other words, it's completely,
utterly camp, the nemesis of straight-forward romance.
This is the tension that finally undermines "Moulin Rouge," an ambitious
musical that tries nothing less than to impose a mythic love story over a
backdrop of pop culture ferment. The music itself is deliberately
anachronistic, drawn largely but not only from the top 40 lists of the 1970s
and '80s. Elton John's "Your Song," warbled by a musically and dramatically
thin Ewan McGregor, is its anthem, "Lady Marmalade" its analog to Offenbach's
"Can Can" theme, and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" is its showstopping
introduction of its star, Nicole Kidman.
For all the finery of a movie that depends on fabulous sets and computer
effects for its look, "Moulin Rouge" finally succumbs to the laws of stardom.
How you react to the movie depends a great deal on how you react to Kidman,
who plays the singer and dancer Satine, the main attraction at the notorious
Montmartre cabaret, the Moulin Rouge, and the love object of Christian, a
young English writer played by McEwan(ph). Kidman has her hair dyed a Rita
Hayworth red, and when we see her doing the elaborate "Diamonds" number her
sheaflike dress manages to evoke both Hayworth and Monroe. When Luhrmann
comes in for a close-up on her ravishing face, the actress's red eyebrows and
blue eyes are as art directed as anything else in view.
But even here there's a complication in the contrast between Kidman's slim
athletic body and her models' fleshy ones. It was an easy difference to
overlook, but impossible to ignore. And only Kidman and the terrific English
actor Jim Broadbent are able to tame Luhrmann's usually unsuccessful struggle
to match the sincere and the camp. The movie's plot is ostentatiously,
deliberately derivative. Naive writer Christian falls for worldly performer
Satine, who loves him back, but impresario Zidler, Broadbent's character,
persuades Satine to sleep with a rich duke, who in return will finance the
next Moulin Rouge show. Here, Zidler talks Satine into doing the right wrong
(Soundbite from "Moulin Rouge")
Mr. JIM BROADBENT: (As Zidler) Send Christian away. Only you can save him.
Ms. NICOLE KIDMAN: (As Satine) He'll fight for me.
Mr. BROADBENT: Yes, unless he believes you don't love him.
Ms. KIDMAN: What?
Mr. BROADBENT: Make him believe you don't love him.
Ms. KIDMAN: No.
Mr. BROADBENT: Use your talent to save him. Hurt him. Hurt him to save him.
There is no other way. The show must go on, Satine. We're creatures of the
underworld. We can't afford to love.
SHEEHAN: This is a rare moment when the movie works orally as well as it does
visually. Yet if you were to pass on "Moulin Rouge" you'd be depriving
yourself of Luhrmann's unabashed visual imagination. Over the streets of
Montmartre he plasters a smiling man in the moon who, when he breaks into
song, does it in the voice of Placido Domingo. This and a thousand other
small and large touches make "Moulin Rouge" an eye-popping spectacle, if
finally a cold and timid one.
BOGAEV: Henry Sheehan is film critic for the Orange County Register.
(Soundbite from "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend")
Ms. MARILYN MONROE: (Singing) A kiss on the hand may be quite continental,
but diamonds are a girl's best friend. A kiss may be grand, but it won't pay
the rental on your humble flat, or help you at the Automat. Men grow cold as
girls grow old, and we all lose our charms in the end. But square cut or pear
shaped, these rocks don't lose their shape, diamonds are a girl's best friend.
BOGAEV: Terry Gross returns on Monday. I'm Barbara Bogaev.
(Soundbite from "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend")
Ms. MONROE: (Singing) There may come a time when...
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.