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Nicholson, Jack

Category: Performer

 

John Joseph Nicholson (born April 22, 1937) is an American actor, director, film script writer and filmmaker.  Nicholson is known for playing a wide range of starring or supporting roles, including satirical comedy, romance and dark portrayals of antiheroes and psychopathic characters.  He has not worked in television

John Parker – Jack Nicholson; the biography
Jack Nicholson will not normally appear on television, he never has and says he never will, and never never will he go on talk shows, which he hates

The Joker and Batman

During his time in show business he has made, starred in or directed well over 65 films.  The ones for which he is perhaps best known are Easy Rider [1969], Five Easy Pieces [1970], Carnal Knowledge [1971], Chinatown [1974], One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest [1975], The Shining [1980], The Postman always rings twice [1981, Reds [1981, Terms of Endearment [1983], Prizzi’s Honor [1985], The Witches of Eastwick [1987], Batman [1989], A Few Good Men [1992], As Good as it gets [1997], and About Schmidt [2002].  As one can see his successful film career has spanned a period of well over 40 years.

The types of role he has played have been many, but according to Jack himself, he has kept to a certain principle in the selection of many of the parts:

If there’s a constant in my work, it is the principle of affirmation.  It’s the little guy, and sometimes he may be moved back, squeezed down by the system, but he tries to creep back up, move forward, affirm his life.  That’s where the vitality and sense of adventure has to come from, that affirmation of basic human values.  It’s not anti anything; it’s pro, it’s positive

This said, throughout his career, he has taken more risks than practically any leading man has ever taken in Hollywood, with such a contrasting selection of roles in a very short time

John Parker – Jack Nicholson; the biography
…. Kubrick and The Shining [for example] provided Nicholson with a total diversion from the distinctive array of characters he had played … the alcoholic lawyer in Easy Rider, the brutal hedonist in Carnal Knowledge, the devious sailor in The Last Detail, the smooth sensitive detective in Chinatown and the sympathetic lunatic in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s NestThe Shining gave him the opportunity for menace.

On the set of Carnal Knowledge

There is always the temptation to think that Nicholson was not really acting.  But that would be extremely unfair.  Jack started to be labelled as a male chauvinist, for example, when Carnal Knowledge was released and it upset him.  The character was a mindless sexual malcontent, an anti-hero and Nicholson was somewhat shocked that his audience actually believed he was that character.  Jack may be laid-back almost to the point of being horizontal, over-sexed, with a sense of humour verging on the anarchic, but he is not cruel to women, as we will see.  His friendships are long, loyal and constant.  He has had friends in Hollywood he has helped and supported almost their entire careers.  And he is extraordinarily generous with his time, and with his money.

John Parker – Jack Nicholson; the biography
It is a characteristic of Nicholson that he displays and hopes for loyalty from a friendship, and therefore most of the people he met and formed relationships with in the late Fifties and early Sixties were still in his life as he grew older.

On the other hand….

John Parker – Jack Nicholson; the biography
[when one meets Nicholson] in person, there  is the most awesome feeling of encountering a man of unquestionable charm, intelligence and friendship, yet who possesses an indefinable menace that can only be compared with some of the roles he has acted.   Who was it who said that when he agree to play the Devil in the Witches of Eastwick, it was because he had been practising for the role all his life?

He did !!!

with mary steenburgen in goin' south

So maybe he draws on the hidden depths of his personality to play his roles, without actually acting them out in real life.  We all have the black and the white.  The film industry, thankfully, recognise that it is acting and good acting and it is reflected in all the awards he received.

Nicholson has won the Academy Award for Best Actor twice, one for the drama One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and the other for the romantic comedy As Good as It Gets (1997). He also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the comedy-drama Terms of Endearment (1983). Nicholson is one of three male actors to win three Academy Awards.

Nicholson's 12 Academy Award nominations make him the most nominated male actor in the Academy's history. He was nominated for, for example,  About Schmidt, A Few Good Men, Ironweed, Prizzi’s Honour, Reds, Chinatown, The Last detail, Five Easy Pieces and Easy Rider. Nicholson is one of only two actors to be nominated for an Academy Award for acting in every decade from the 1960s to the 2000s; the other is Michael Caine.

He has received Golden Globe Awards for About Schmidt, As Good as it gets, Prizzi’s Honor, Terms of Endearment, Chinatown and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest; and was nominated for The Departed, Something’s Gotta Give, Hoffa, Batman, Ironweed, Reds, The Last Detail, Carnal Knowledge, Five Easy Pieces and Easy Rider.  He has won BAFTA awards for Reds, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest, Chinatown and the Last Detail and was nominated for The Departed, About Schmidt, Batman and Easy Rider.

He received the Kennedy Center Honour in 2001; the Cecil B de Mille award for outstanding contribution to entertainment in 1999; and in 1994, he became one of the youngest actors to be awarded the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award.

He is also a very wealthy, but generous man.  Witches of Eastwick for example was one of the great box office successes of 1987 taking more than $125 million with Nicholson on profit share.  Easy Rider took $45 million on an outlay of less than $400,000.

Early Life

 

Jack was born, the illegitimate son of the person he was told was his sister.  His ‘sister’ was thus really his mother except he did not know about it until he was 38 years old.  He only found out because Time magazine was doing an article on him and did some research by going to Neptune [his place of birth] searching out old friends.  And they discovered the secret his family had kept all those years.  The magazine telephoned him in Mexico where he was filming.  Nicholson said he was stunned, he genuinely didn’t know and the magazine article did not appear with the information in, out of respect for him and the shock they had caused.

Ethel May Nicholson, the woman Jack thought of as his mother, was really his granny.  She was a broad shouldered woman, who obtained her income by running a beauty salon and who figuratively carried the family, and occasionally her husband literally when he was too drunk to stand without support.  She was from strong and wealthy Dutch Protestant stock, a religious family from Pennsylvania, who had virtually cut her off when she met and married the handsome, well dressed, Roman Catholic, rakish sign painter of Irish descent named John Nicholson; the man who Jack was to consider his father, but who was actually his grandfather.

 

They had two daughters June and Lorraine.  June was 17 when Jack was born and Lorraine was 15.  A one-time Italian band singer Donald Forcillo Rose has laid claim to be Jack’s father saying that he had attached himself to June when she was only just 16 [and he was 26] and as a consequence she had become pregnant.  We will never know the truth, as he scarpered once the news became known, and June died of cancer in 1965 without ever divulging who Jack’s Dad actually was.

June was removed in the spring of 1937 to Bellevue to have baby Jack, returned quietly and between them they concocted the preposterous story that the baby was June’s mother and father’s – Ethel and John.  It may have given Jack apparent legitimacy at a time when being born out of wedlock was severely frowned on, but it totally confused him.  Mrs Nicholson [granny] moved when Jack was five and it helped to keep the charade a secret.  The move had the added advantage that the schools were better and her business boomed. 

 

June eventually married a test pilot, the son of a wealthy Boston brain surgeon and had two children whom Jack was led to believe he was an uncle to, when in fact they were his step brother and sister.  The couple lived in some luxury on Long Island and Jack spent many happy holidays with them lapping up the luxury, presumably wondering why his sister mothered him so much.

This charade had a permanent effect on Jack’s approach to women.  Mothers were strong dependable types [like his granny], but not especially affectionate or loving in the sense of a mother figure.  He looked for women who were like his granny for friendship and companionship as a consequence, but then wandered in a confused way searching the affection he had had from his ‘sister’.

After school in 1954, aged 17, he decided he had had enough of rote learning, went to California, worked in a toy shop then out of the blue got a job as a mail boy in the MGM studios.  He was hooked and started to take acting classes.

The Terror 1963 Jack Nicholson Sandra Knight

Jack spent fourteen years of his life in Hollywood, before he got his big break in Easy Rider,  acting in low cost quickly made horror films and what were then called teenage exploitation pictures, mostly with a director called Roger Corman, who paid him little but appeared to have taught him a great deal.  And Jack is remarkably candid about these films

People who haven’t seen my early movies are better off than I am… but like all actors I needed the work.  I did all those movies because they were the only work I could get

When he became an ‘overnight star’ in Easy Rider he had already appeared in nearly 20 films, had written 6, co-produced 3 and edited or assistant edited 5.  By 1968, Nicholson was even thinking about giving up acting altogether.  He was approaching thirty two and practically nothing had happened.  And then along came Easy Rider, and he never looked back.

On Inspiration

Jack is not exactly brimming over with mystical spirituality, and it would not have done his image and film career any good at all to have been labelled with that of a closet mystic.  On the other hand he has a charisma and energy that shows that something is happening.  What therefore is his inspiration?

Nicholson and drugs

 

In Easy Rider, Nicholson played a conventional, hard-drinking lawyer reluctant to try marijuana because “it could lead to the harder stuff,” but in real life, during the 60s, Nicholson was already far beyond weed. One of the things he had tried was LSD, principally to help him come to terms with his peculiar upbringing and he openly admits that through LSD he had had an extraordinary experience saying it was “the first time he saw God”; he called his experiences with LSD “life-changing.”  He also used LSD to get inspiration and authenticity in his scripts for movies such as The Trip (1967) and Head (1968).

But unlike Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper he was no supporter of drug use per se.  He once told reporters

I don’t advocate anything for anybody, but I choose always to be candid because I don’t like the closet atmosphere of drugging… In other words, it ain’t no big thing. You can wreck yourself with it, but Christ, you can wreck yourself with anything.

In general, Nicholson was an expert in publicity geared to the film and the moment, as such one is never sure quite how much to believe of what he said, but even in the 1980s, he was still claiming some use of ‘consciousness-altering drugs’.   Tongue firmly in cheek he once replied to a journalist that:

I still love to get high, I’d say, about four days a week. I think that’s about average for an American. Last year on a raft trip I had a little flavour of the season — peach mescaline — but it was not like the hallucinatory state of the ’60s. This was just kind of sunny.

Nicholson and Jessica Lange as Frank Chambers and Cora Papadakis
The Postman Always Rings Twice

But the truth is that he has never been arrested for using drugs. 

Furthermore, he cultivates the image of a ‘bad boy’.  If we take The Witches of Eastwick, Nicholson played Darryl Van Horne, who excelled at the violin and the art of seduction.

John Parker – Jack Nicholson; the biography
For a man of a certain reputation, it was not an unnatural moment to observe, as many did, that it was a role for which Nicholson had been practising all his adult life.  He typically threw himself into research for the part by reading Dante’s Inferno and vast mounds of witch material from the Middle Ages, to give thought to the nature of evil, and declared to Anjelica [Huston] that he wanted his audiences to think that Jack Nicholson was the Devil himself.  That, she assured him, should not prove too difficult, even without the research.

As such, we are of the opinion that although the LSD and marijuana taking was key to his therapy and getting him accepted and publicly known in the '60s and '70s, Nicholson does not derive his inspiration via drugs, he derives it from his women.  He is at heart a troubadour.

Sex, sex, sex

Nicholson’s main driver, his principle inspiration and source of energy was and is sex – making love for hours and hours.  In October 1989, it was revealed, for example, that British model Karen Mayo-Chandler had sold the story of her affair with Nicholson to Playboy to appear in the December issue.  It is one of the few ‘kiss and tell’ articles there is of Jack’s approach to women, but 28 year old Karen did not hold back in her glowing descriptions

 

“He would hold me down, rip off my clothes and make incredible, mad, wild, wonderful love to me’ she said.  There was more.
“Jack is the most fantastic lover who has ever lived.  He is not selfish, he’s not just interested in satisfying himself like so many men are’…. 
‘I don’t mind admitting that I learned everything I know about life, love and sex from Jack.  I did things with him that I had never done with any other man’.  …
‘I was trembling like a child when he first carried me up to his bedroom; but he was very gentle, very loving, very romantic.  He kept right on kissing me deeply, undressing me at the same time.  We did not sleep a wink that first night.  He has amazing stamina and self control and we just kept on making love.  He’s a guaranteed non-stop sex machine’.

There are thus some hints he is a practitioner of Sex Magick, although any links with Sexual stimulation would be hypothetical.   Nicholson was no slouch academically, at school he always got straight As with virtually no effort, and he was extremely well read, with a library that was very impressive, and included such mystic luminaries as Nietzsche,…………..

Warren Skaaren [screenwriter]
Jack was like an encyclopaedia of culture and history and art.  I threw out  a line from Nietzsche and Jack jumped on it and threw out  a line from Nietzsche

 

….. as such there is every reason to believe he knew exactly what Sex Magick was – as did his fortunate and numerous girl friends.

Robert Evans once told a reporter that not even Warren Beatty had been as successful with women as Nicholson. 

John Parker – Jack Nicholson; the biography
If only half of the adventures he is alleged to have had were true, as another of his former compatriots said, he ought to be ‘totally shagged out’.  Granted he often looks it, but let that not detract from the fact that even half represents a vast number of encounters

Nicholson appears to be a woman magnet.  Even those that resist his bed still cannot resist his charms and quite a number want to work with him.  Cher for example has said

I wanted to be in Witches of Eastwick because of Jack.  He was like the jewel and we women were the setting.  I remember getting ready to do the buffet scene on the lawn and for some reason I got an anxiety attack.  I could hardly move.  I was terrified, and he put his arm around me and said ‘Look it’s free floating anxiety, nerves.  Nobody’s gonna do this scene until you’re ready’.  And the minute he said that, I really started to feel good.

The mothers of his children

Jack has at least five children by four mothers one of whom he married.

  • Sandra Knight – Sandra Knight was a slender auburn haired girl of ‘striking appearance’ whom Nicholson met in acting class.  She was bright, responsible and slightly dominant.  ‘She slotted admirably into the mother substitute role Nicholson often sought for stability – as opposed to the more sexually desirable women who he pursued for pleasure’.  Nicholson said “I got married not thinking about it one way or the other; I just loved the girl”.  A year after they were married their only child Jennifer was born.  But married life was not like unmarried life and the relationship started to flounder.  Jack continued to have an occasional fling with other women, but he also started to experiment with LSD and marijuana.  Sandra had once seen a bad LSD experience and was having nothing to do with drugs.  Instead she decided to follow ‘a form of mystical path, seeking enlightenment’.  Her religious leanings and slightly Presbyterian view of life did not match Jack’s.  He was also working too hard - acting and writing at the same time and became extremely difficult to live with.  They separated and divorced ‘a good divorce - non violent and non tumultous’.  Sandra eventually moved to Hawaii, but Jack was able to see Jennifer on a regular basis over the years.  She would come for holidays and weekends and he treated his role as a father seriously.  He never hid his lifestyle from her and the honesty resulted in a deep attachment on both sides. 

  • Susan Anspach – Nicholson met Susan Anspach during the making of Five Easy Pieces in which she also had a part.  She gave birth in 1970 to a boy whom she named Caleb James, but it was not until five years later that she revealed Nicholson as the father.  “Nicholson said he wanted to be pleased at the news, but had been unable to confirm whether it was true or not, since Susan had not requested assistance in the boy’s upbringing”.  The relationship with Anspach was not as amicable as the others in that Anspach herself distanced herself from Nicholson when she found she was pregnant.  Some commentators have speculated that Anspach used Nicholson to become pregnant – wanting a child, but not wanting to marry him or live with him, in other words she wanted a father for a child and he seemed to be suitable.
  • Rebecca and Jack with Lorraine
    Rebecca Broussard – Jack’s daughter Lorraine was born on 16th April 1990, six days before his 53rd birthday.  Rebecca gave birth to Ray – named after singer Ray Charles, on 20th February 1992.  Jack provided the family with a separate house and supported them financially.  Nicholson gave a rational explanation for needing to live separately and that was work – he couldn’t concentrate if he had to live with a family making demands on him, but he certainly was not going to neglect them.  He has since enjoyed quite close relations with his two children by this relationship
  • Jennie Gourin - An ex-waitress called Jennie Gourin conceived a baby with Nicholson in November 1993 when she was twenty.  Her daughter was born on 14th August 1994 and Jack has supported them since paying for schooling and medical bills.  She also lives in a decent house.

Nicholson with Lorraine and Ray

Angelica Houston

 

The one person with whom he appeared to share a great bond of affection was Angelica Huston his friend and partner, lover and colleague for nearly 17 plus years.  Angelica is the daughter of John Huston and at the time Jack met her she was a model, having rejected the acting career mapped out by her father.  She was slender and willowy, taller than Nicholson, but she felt completely at home with him, because he was like her father.

John Parker – Jack Nicholson; the biography
She was taken by his eyes. ‘And who isn’t?’ she said.  ‘They were kind, his whole face lit up when he smiled’…. She was fascinated by this older man, who was as enigmatic as her father and just as big a womaniser.  Eyes met, they circled each other like gladiators and became engulfed almost simultaneously by each other’s presence, so that, if ever there was a moment to believe in love at first sight, it was then.

 

They never had children and when Rebecca had hers, Angelica said that for Christmas 1989, Jack had given her the worst two Yuletide presents she had ever received in her life  - she had finished with him and someone else had had the child she had always wanted with him.  She stuck with him despite his wanderings with other women.  But with a dignity and show of strength which somewhat indicates why Jack felt such love for her, she bore no grudges.  She said

‘It’s been a long relationship and it is between us – I don’t feel that it is for public scrutiny.  If you are dealing with two very volatile people – such as we are – you go through many changes every day.  The relationship is a fact of my life and there is not an aspect of my life that has not been touched by him.  He is a soulmate and I hate to think of a world without him.  It would be dismal’

Other lovers

There are numerous other ladies who have entered his life and left.  Some to stay months, some a little longer, but like ships in the night they came and they went

  • Michelle-Phillips
    Michelle Phillips – Michelle Phillips was, when Nicholson met her, Dennis Hopper’s wife.  But the partnership was over and Hopper bore no resentment at the affair, wishing them both well.  Despite the fact Nicholson said that “expanding sexuality was not most satisfied through promiscuity but through continuously communicating with someone specifically”, he did have some difficulty with moments where he lapsed and wandered.  Michelle also had additional problems when her daughter by a previous partnership – China – was found to have a tumour.  Two years after they got together, they drifted apart.  Real life intruded.  Nicholson might have made a very good troubadour in another age, as he sought the romance and escapism of the wild and passionate affair and hated the down-to-earth problems of actual partnerships – the money, the illnesses, the day to day work commitments.  The affair ended without bitterness and Michelle moved in with Warren Beatty.
  • with Lara Flynn Boyle
    Mimi Machu – Mimi Machu was an actress who had appeared in films such as Psych-Out and Hell’s Angels on Wheels.  The initial relationship was described as ‘invigoratingly stormy’.  Described as tall, dark-haired and strong willed she was also slightly taller than him.  Mimi Machu had at the time she walked out, been in his life longer than any other woman apart from Sandra Knight.  He had been with her for three years and, as he saw it, in love.  The split was caused by his affair with Anspach and his gradually increasing work commitments.  His self confidence and pride was greatly hurt by her decision to leave him and he even underwent therapy to help himself.  At the time he was 33, but was described as being ‘like a lovesick teenager‘.

  • Lara Flynn Boyle - For over a year from 1999 to 2000, Nicholson dated actress Lara Flynn Boyle; they later reunited before splitting permanently in 2004.  Another tumultuous and volatile affair.
  • Karen Black – was Nicholson’s co-star in Five Easy Pieces.  Karen Black actually fell in love with Nicholson but nothing came of the relationship as she was supposed to be going with someone at the time – as was he

And so it could go on, but we won't prolong the point, it has been made.

Nicholson with Karen Black in FIVE EASY PIECES

The Observations

We only have a few observations for Jack and these are related to his taking of LSD as well as his use of marijuana, but as we have said they are not entirely representative in terms of his true source of inspiration.

Observations

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