Authors: James L. Dickerson
JAMES L. DICKERSON
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Copyright © 2003, 2014 James L. Dickerson
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SARTORIS LITERARY GROUP
The Early Years: Revenge of "Stalky"
First Flirtation with Movie Success
The Calm Before the Storm
Tom Cruise Arrives with ‘Days of Thunder’
‘Far and Away’ Tarnishes Nic’s Dreams
At Last, a Juicy Role ‘To Die For’
The Making of ‘Eyes Wide Shut’
Nic Gambles on ‘Moulin Rouge’
Days Asunder: Divorce Hollywood-Style
Heels-Eye View: Life without Tom
Brave new world
Nicole at age 23 in
Days of Thunder
THE EARLY YEARS:
REVENGE OF ‘STALKY’
Nicole Kidman got her American citizenship the old-fashioned way: by drawing her first breath of life on American soil. Born June 20, 1967, in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Australian parents, Antony and Janelle Kidman, she had the wispy red hair and fair complexion of her father and the delicate porcelain facial features of her beautiful mother.
Eventually, Nicole acquired the near height of her six-foot-two father, a marathon runner, and the feistiness and stubborn self-determination of her feminist mother. But, at birth, the chubby-faced and always smiling infant looked like she would forever remain a pink bundle of joy.
Antony and Janelle were in America on educational visas when Nicole was born, thus providing her with dual Australian-American citizenship. Her birth was somewhat of a surprise. They had been married for six years by the time she was conceived and had become increasingly discouraged about their ability to have children.
Nicole could not possibly have arrived at a more turbulent time. In 1967, both America and Australia were experiencing social unrest because of the war in Vietnam. By summer, there were 463,000 American troops in Vietnam, with another 15,000 scheduled for assignment before the end of the year. Australia had approximately 6,300 troops in Vietnam by 1967, a number that rose to 8,000 by the end of the year. In both countries, troops were supplied by conscription, soldiers drawn from families that were becoming increasingly opposed to the war.
In October, American civil right leader Martin Luther King held a press conference in Washington at which he said that if the government did not shut down the war, the government would have to be shut down by the people. Americans by the thousands took to the streets, often in violent protest, to express that very sentiment. Much the same thing was going on in Australia, where a 1967 Morgan Gallup poll found that while 63 percent of Australians favored conscription, only 37 percent favored sending them to Vietnam. As in America, opposition to the war was expressed with protests and resistance to the conscription laws.
Among those Australians opposed to the war were Antony and Janelle. Australia’s conscription laws were different from those in the United States in that draftees were chosen by a lottery system; those who were opposed to the war basically had three choices—they could go to prison, they could leave the country and seek asylum in countries that did not have a draft, or they would seek educational deferments.
Antony’s draft status in 1967 is unknown, primarily because neither he nor Nicole has ever talked publicly about it, but since he was twenty-seven that year, an advanced age for conscription, it is unlikely that it was a factor in his decision to study and work in America. Shortly after Nicole’s birth—Antony was attending the University of Hawaii on a scholarship—the family moved to Washington, D. C., where Antony accepted a work-study position with the National Institutes of Health, while he doggedly pursued a Ph.D. in biochemistry.
Antony and Janelle were in Washington during some of the biggest antiwar demonstrations in the country’s history. Even though their immigration status in the United States was subject to review because of “political” activity, Antony and Janelle remained true to their convictions and joined the protesters in the streets.
Nicole has said that her earliest childhood memory is of playing in the snow in Washington, but following close on the heels of that are her memories of attending antiwar and feminist protest demonstrations with her parents, especially one that occurred in 1969, when she was two years of age. Her parents were involved in “a lot of movements,” says Nicole proudly: “Great social consciences, both of them.”
Although he was pursuing a degree in biochemistry, Antony was still searching for his professional niche. Breast cancer research was his main focus, but he was interested in much more than the pathology of the disease; he was interested in how negative emotional states, such as depression and anxiety, contribute to cancer recurrence. That interest would subsequently lead him to a second advanced degree, this time in clinical psychology.
Janelle, a nursing instructor, shared his interests, both socially and professionally. After meeting on a blind date in 1961, they discovered they had an immediate attraction to each other. They were married later that year and parlayed that initial infatuation into a mature love based on mutual interests. Over the years, they have experienced both traumas and triumphs, but their marital bond has remained strong and they have spent few days apart.
In 1971, their last year in Washington, Janelle gave birth to another daughter, Antonia. Her hair and skin were darker than Nicole’s, but she had the same infectious smile and indomitable personality. That same year, Antony and Janelle decided they had had enough of America. It was time to return to Sydney, so that the Australization of Nicole and Antonia could begin in earnest.
~ ~ ~
At a time when many of Australia’s new residents were arriving in prison shackles, the Kidmans emigrated to New South Wales in 1839 from Ireland as free settlers. The year after the first Kidmans arrived, New South Wales, one of six states in Australia, banned the importation of convict labor. In later years, it irked Nicole that she could not claim convicts as her ancestors, like most of her friends. Actually, her family is about as close as one can get in Australia to having aristocratic roots.
Over the years, the Kidmans did quite well financially in and around Sydney. One of her ancestors, her great grandfather Sidney Kidman, was sometimes referred to as Australia’s “cattle king.” Not only did Sidney make a fortune raising and selling cattle, he became a shipbuilder simply by virtue of owning port-friendly land that was in the right place for the growth of a shipbuilding industry. It was not a pleasant experience for him, however, and he ended up losing money when one of his ships had to be towed out to sea and burned because of faulty workmanship.
Sidney’s next big project involved the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the longest and widest single-span bridge in the world. It was erected in the early 1930s and quickly became a symbol of Australian nationalism. At the bridge’s opening, which was attended by Australian premier Jack Land, a right-wing royalist who was upset about independence, galloped toward the ribbon-cutting ceremony on a horse and cut the ribbon before Land could do so, thus giving the Crown a rather dubious claim to the bridge. Today there are rumors that the bridge is rusting from the inside-out, but no one seems to pay much attention to that. It’s stood for more than sixty years and Sydney residents cannot imagine not having it as part of the city’s skyline.
Nicole is inordinately proud of the bridge. She often takes American visitors to see it up close. There is a museum and viewing platform on one of the art deco pylons on the south side and private companies offer guided tours through the bridge’s inner workings. Nicole has been spotted more than once wearing a regulation jumpsuit on the tours, pointing out, along the way, the work her great-grandfather may or may not have contributed toward the bridge’s construction. Make fun of her height, if you want to—she’s used to that—but don’t dare make a disparaging remark about her bridge!
~ ~ ~
When Antony and Janelle moved back to Australia in 1971, they bought a house in the upper-middle-class North Short district, where they still live today. Four-year-old Nicole was enrolled in ballet and acting classes and she made her stage debut at the age of six playing a sheep in a Christmas pageant. Janelle constructed her costume out of an old sheepskin car seat, which was fine with Nicole. Wearing the car seat, she bleated her heart out and followed Mary about the stage like an adoring lamb.
Acting wasn’t the only activity that Janelle selected for Nicole. An ardent feminist—she read all the feminist authors of the day: Germaine Greer, Betty Friedman, and Gloria Steinem—she took Nicole with her when she went to street demonstrations. Often Nicole was asked to hand out pamphlets, a dubious honor, in her eyes at least, because passersby sometimes responded in a scornful manner to Janelle’s feminist viewpoints. Occasionally, Nicole rebelled against those belieefs, like the time she wanted a Barbie doll for Christmas more than anything else in the world and Janelle refused to buy it for her because it was a politically incorrect toy. Nicole resolved that dilemma by stealing one from a store.
Even though she was sometimes embarrassed by her mother’s feminist activism, she saw the experience in a more positive light in later years. “I’ve never been intimidated by a man,” she told a writer for
in 1996. “My father was gentle but strong, a good role model. So I’ve always liked men. I wasn’t brought up to hate them. But I never thought that because I was a woman I wouldn’t be able to achieve something.”
Nicole was raised a Catholic and attended Mass every Sunday with her father, while Janelle remained at home. Although she converted to Catholicism when she married Antony (the Kidman family was fiercely Catholic), Janelle later became an agnostic. In later years, Antony did her one better and became an atheist. Despite those spiritual readjustments, neither parent allowed his or her dwindling faith in organized religion to prejudice their children. Nicole and Antonia were both enrolled in convent schools and encouraged to attend church.
As parents, Antony and Janelle did not believe in corporal punishment. They subscribed to the theory that children will respond to discipline that shows them the logical results of misbehavior. When Nicole and Antonia misbehaved, they held part or all of their allowance or restricted television viewing; they did not scold them or tell them they were stupid or wicked. They avoided imposing layers of guilt on them because they felt it would not be constructive.
“Guilt has long been regarded as an essential to good conduct,” Antony once wrote. “Take away guilt, and it is thought that morality will collapse. There is no proof of this whatsoever. Millions of crimes and immoral acts are committed by people who have experienced intense guilt over their past transgressions, but who go on breaking moral codes. If guilt is so efficient in controlling behavior, why do you have so much misbehavior? Guilt can be used to control behavior in children, but the costs and the emotional turmoil associated with that control often outweigh the benefits.”
Antony and Janelle were not always able to control Nicole’s behavior—she was willful, determined, and at times reckless—but they made certain that she did not grow up experiencing a sense of guilt over mistakes she made. Nicole either learned from her mistakes—or she did not. Either way, she went forward without a sense of shame.
In some respects, Nicole’s biggest problem as a child was Nicole herself. By the time she started school, she already was taller than everyone else in her class. By the time she started junior high school, at the age of thirteen, she was five-feet-nine, hardly a functional height from which to blend into her surroundings.
Because she was so tall and gawky, her classmates nicknamed her “Stalky.” She was such a pariah that one of her classmates once had to be dragged kicking and screaming across the room to dance with her. It was bad enough that she was the last girl left chosen to dance, but when the young man protested so vociferously having any association with her, it left her humiliated and perplexed about her future as a woman, a situation not helped by the fact that her platinum blonde and brunette friends seemed to have perfect heights and body shapes.
Nicole’s younger sister didn’t help with that situation either. “She has brown skin and beautiful brown hair, and I was always sort of the one who needed to have a personality," Nicole told
magazine. "We'd walk down the street and people would go, 'Oh, Nicole, isn’t your sister gorgeous?”
Then there was the matter of her thick, curly red hair. Growing up, everyone took turns tugging on her curls. She hated that immensely. It made her feel awkward and ugly, sort of freakish. One day she bunched her hair onto the top of her head into a wild configuration. It attracted so much attention that the principal had to issue her a dire hair-alert warning. She let her hair down the way the school wanted it, but she began dying her kinky tresses a variety of colors, sometimes creating a punky rainbow effect.
Despite the drama of her acting-out challenges to the established order, she remained a very shy person, sort of a female James Dean. Sometimes, when she went to parties by herself, she waited outside in the car, watching the people come and go into the brightly-lit rooms that pulsated with music and adolescent hormones, wishing she could be more like
. Sometimes she mustered the courage to go inside, but more often than not, she ended up turning around and going back home. It was the same situation on the school bus. If she had a friend with her, everything was fine; but if she ever had to board a bus alone, she continued the journey in stony silence, fearful someone would say something about her frizzy hair or her constantly blushing face.