Jack Nicholson: From Class Clown To Bad Boy of Mulholland Drive
Jack Nicholson is one of the most accomplished actors in Hollywood history. From his start in low-budget Westerns and a number of exploitation movies, to bringing to life some of the most complex (and occasionally terrifying) characters in cinema, Nicholson has proven time and time again that there is very little he cannot do. However, there is far more to delve into about Nicholson than just his filmography.
From a string of high-profile affairs, to a home life that turned out to be a fabrication, to his outspoken progressive values, there’s a lot people don’t know about this classic actor. Today, we’re paying tribute to Jack Nicholson, and walking thought the life of one of the most interesting figures in Hollywood. Heeeeereee’s Jacky!
1. Who’s your daddy?
Lots of celebrities have had unusual upbringings, from Winona Ryder being brought up in a commune where she watched movies projected onto the side of a barn door, to actors like Kiefer Sutherland being the children of even more famous entertainers. However, even by celebrity standards, Jack Nicholson’s upbringing was particularly unique.
Growing up, Nicholson’s parentage was kept secret from him, due to the fact that his mother was not actually sure who his father was. Even to this day, despite his birth certificate saying one name, he cannot be entirely sure who his biological father actually is.
2. Famous fathers
Even though neither the press nor Nicholson himself can know for sure who his father was, we can know the two most likely probabilities. The man named on Nicholson’s birth certificate is Donald Furcillo, otherwise known as Donald Rose. Furcillo was an Italian-American showman who was already married when he married Jack Nicholson’s mother, June Frances Nicholson, when she was just 17 years old.
With that said, biographers have speculated that Nicholson’s real father might have been Edgar A. Kirschfeld, otherwise known as Eddie King, a Latvian performer who also worked as June Frances Nicholson’s manager during her own career as a showgirl.
3. Grandma confusion
June Frances Nicholson not knowing the father of her child was enough to cause a scandal all on its own, but there is also the fact that Nicholson was around 17 years old when she fell pregnant. Not only that, but after she discovered that Donald Furcillo was already married, her engagement to him fell apart.
This set of circumstances could have ruined her reputation, and so her family decided to take action to protect her. Instead of June Frances Nicholson bringing up Jack Nicholson, the future actor was instead brought up by his grandmother and was told that his grandmother was actually his mother.
4. Secret sister
Jack Nicholson being brought up to believe that his grandparents were his parents had consequences for the rest of his family too. Most importantly, Jack Nicholson’s biological mother had to maintain that she was instead his older sister.
The family took this ruse so seriously that even his auntie maintained that she was his sister throughout his life, even after both his biological mother and grandmother had both died. Jack Nicholson never suspected that he had been lied to, and his family never revealed the truth to him.
5. The truth will out
Jack Nicholson did eventually find out the truth about his parentage, but not from his parents themselves. In fact, he did not find out the truth through his family at all, since they were committed to keeping their secret until they died. Instead, it was a total stranger who revealed the truth.
In 1974, at the height of Jack Nicholson’s fame, a journalist researching for Time magazine was able to conclude that Jack’s sister was really his mother, and his mother really his grandmother. The magazine published its findings, as well as contacted Jack Nicholson to tell him what they had learned in person.
6. Taking life as it comes
Learning that your entire immediate family spent their lives engaged in an elaborate lie to protect you, would probably cause you to feel a lot of different emotions. However, Jack Nicholson surprised everyone by remaining fairly calm in the face of this shocking new knowledge.
Speaking about the revelation in an interview some time after the event, Jack Nicholson said: “It was a pretty dramatic event, but it wasn’t what I’d call traumatizing … I was pretty well psychologically formed [by the time I found out].” The blow was probably softened by the fact that his mother and grandmother died in 1963 and 1970 respectively, and so never found out that the truth had been revealed.
7. Class clown
Jack Nicholson grew up as an observant Roman Catholic, and his whole family moved twice before he started high school, ending up in an old-money area of Spring Lake, New Jersey. Nicholson attended the nearby Manasquan High School, and was known by all his friends as Nick.
Despite his religious upbringing, Nicholson was most known during his school days for being a troublemaker. He famously spent every day after school in detention for a whole year, an exploit which helped him get voted as the official class clown of 1954 by his classmates.
8. Back to school
Despite not being the greatest student during his school years, and mostly leaving a legacy of making trouble, his high school nevertheless decided to honour him once he became established as an accomplished and talented actor. Both the school’s theatre and its student drama award were named after Nicholson, in order to pay tribute to his talent and career.
Nicholson never lost his connection to his high school either, as he eagerly attended his 50-year high school reunion in 2004. He was accompanied by his aunt Lorraine, who he now knew to be his aunt rather than simply one of his sisters, as he had thought during high school.
9. Taking to the skies
Following his high school graduation, Jack Nicholson immediately joined the Armed Forces, specifically the California Air National Guard. At the time, the Military Selective Service Act was still in force, necessitating that any draftees were required to complete up to two years of active service, as a consequence of the Korean War.
Jack Nicholson had to perform weekend drills, as well as complete an annual two-week training period to become a firefighter assigned to Van Nuys Airport. In interviews in the years since, he has sometimes said that his decision to join up and become a trainee firefighter was actually an effort to dodge the draft.
10. Duty calls
If Jack Nicholson’s aim when he joined the California Air National Guard was actually to dodge the draft as he said, then he was actually unsuccessful. During the Berlin Crisis of 1961, Nicholson was called up for several months of active duty, in a completely different role to his usual one.
Jack Nicholson was only discharged in 1962, after months of extended active duty. By that time, he had already begun to make a name for himself in the entertainment world, and had to put his career on hold in order to serve his country.
11. Working for the big dogs
Lots of young people take odd jobs straight after graduating and, for the most part, these entry-level jobs tend to be fairly gruelling. With that said, Jack Nicholson’s first post-highschool job involved working for some of the biggest names in entertainment, even if it didn’t involve actually acting.
When Jack Nicholson first travelled out to Hollywood, he got a job working as an assistant for William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, at the MGM Cartoon Studios. Hanna and Barbera have been responsible for some of the most beloved cartoons of all time, from The Jetsons to Scooby Doo, Where Are You? By working for them, Nicholson had achieved a lot of your children’s dream jobs.
12. Climbing the ladder
Even if Jack Nicholson wasn’t super pleased with his first Hollywood job, the people at his job were definitely pleased with him. In particular, Nicholson managed to impress both William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who were super keen to keep him working for the company.
In fact, both halves of Hanna-Barbera were so convinced of Nicholson’s potential that they offered him a job working in the animation department, drawing the cartoons themselves. Nicholson eventually turned them down, believing that the job would distract him from achieving his acting dreams. He was right, in that we probably wouldn’t have gotten many of his iconic performances if he had stuck with animation – but think of the episodes of Scooby-Doo we could have gotten!
13. What a cry baby
After making his exit from the MGM Cartoon Company, Nicholson began training to become an actor, working with a group called the Players Ring Theater. This led him to take several small bit parts, either on stage or on various American soap operas.
However, his training first paid off when he was given the opportunity to star in The Cry Baby Killer, playing the title character in the 1958 Roger Corman flick. The film noir crime film made very little money, with Corman saying that it was his first film to only make its budget back via the television rights. Not the best debut for Nicholson.
14. A burgeoning collaboration
Despite The Cry Baby Killer being a certified flop, it still marked the beginning of a long-term collaboration between Jack Nicholson and producer Roger Corman. Corman directed Nicholson on a number of different occasions, most notably in The Little Shop of Horrors.
Nicholson played both the pain-loving masochistic dental patient in The Little Shop of Horrors, as well as the undertaker Wilbur Force. Corman also directed Nicholson in horror flick The Terror, as well as 1967’s The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, an American gangster movie based on events from the life of Al Capone.
15. Three Musketeers
At the same time has he was adjusting to the life of a struggling actor, Jack Nicholson also made what would later become life-long friends. Jack Nicholson spent the early 1960s going to auditions and trying to pick up acting work wherever he could, and he wasn’t the only early-career actor doing so who would later go on to become a legend.
At the same time, both Bruce Dern and Harry Dean Stanton were both trying to find a foothold in the industry, and the three would often clue each other in on potential gigs. The three actors soon became very close, hanging out together when they weren’t working, and supporting each other through the gruelling lifestyle of an early-career actor.
16. Leaving your mark
Jack Nicholson was obviously grateful to have made friends in the industry who were at the same point in their respective careers as him. Short of resources and needing a way to show his appreciation for the friendship, Nicholson found a creative strategy for letting his new friends know what they meant to him.
In order to show his affection for Harry Dean Stanton, Nicholson began surreptitiously placing his initials in shots of every film or television episode he filmed. Whether he carved them into a tree in the background of a shot or placed them on a wall via graffiti, Nicholson ensured that Stanton’s initials were everywhere in Nicholson’s early filmography.
17. Going West
As well on working on horror and crime flicks with the legendary Roger Corman, Jack Nicholson also turned to the other kind of genre films that were considered a good source of income for an early career actor: Westerns. Nicholson worked on multiple Westerns throughout the 60s, and managed to pick up another long-term collaborator along the way.
Many of the Westerns that Jack Nicholson shot were helmed by Monte Hellman, a director, producer, writer and editor who embarked on many low budget projects over the course of his career. Hellman directed many of the Westerns that Nicholson starred in, with the most notable being Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting.
18. Behind the camera
After working as a struggling actor for a number of years, and not seeing any momentum beyond more crime flicks and low budget Western movies, Jack Nicholson began to get disillusioned with his career as an actor. As surprising as it sounds now, Nicholson considered abandoning the industry all together, before instead deciding to try switching focus.
Jack Nicholson opted to try out a career behind the camera, working as a writer and director on his own set of projects. Nicholson spent the late 60s developing his own scripts and projects, many of which were abandoned before completion. However, he did see some success, with one idea of his catching the attention of several notable actors of the day.
19. A Trip with potential
The project that caught the attention of several actors was The Trip, which was directed by Roger Corman but had a screenplay written by Jack Nicholson. The story follows a newly divorced TV commercial director, who attempts to numb his heartbreak by experimenting with illicit substances.
Upon reading the script, Peter Fonda approached Jack Nicholson to compliment the screenwriting. Soon after, Fonda agreed to star in the film, convinced that the project could be ground-breaking and experimental thanks to its subject matter and writing. This represented Nicholson’s first big writing success, as both Fonda and his costar Dennis Hopper were both established actors.
20. Lost in the editing
Unfortunately for both Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda, 1967’s The Trip did not turn out exactly like either of them hoped. The movie was massively successful, grossing $6 million both thanks to its themes of substance use and the fact that it was released at the height of the Summer of Love, but neither Nicholson nor Fonda were happy with the final result.
Fonda was particularly upset, believing that the editing had turned the movie into something far more predictable and ordinary than the vision offered by the script. Similarly, the film received pretty lukewarm praise from critics, who also believed that some of the acting and editing choices were to the film’s detriment.
21. An unlikely break
The Trip represented Jack Nicholson’s first big success in the film world but, given that he wrote the screenplay, it did very little to move him directly forward as an actor. However, Nicholson’s big break as an actual performer came shortly after, and was partly as a result of the success of The Trip.
Fonda and Hopper had both been impressed by Nicholson while working on the Trip and so, when the leading role opened up in their film Easy Rider, they invited him to take the part. Originally, the character of George Hanson was supposed to be played by Rip Torn, but Torn was fired as a result of an argument between himself and Hopper.
22. A good return
Easy Rider only cost $400,000 dollars to make, and grossed $40 million when it was released in 1969. This huge return, as well as Jack Nicholson’s own memorable performance, helped to skyrocket Nicholson’s status into that of a bonafide actor.
After seeing the film, many critics commented that Nicholson’s performance placed him in the company of Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney, cementing him as a kind of anti-hero that reflected the anxieties of the current counter-culture. That persona was one that would go on to follow Nicholson throughout his later career.
23. Impressing the best
Throughout his career, Jack Nicholson has often said in interviews that he is grateful for Easy Rider, and cites it as the project that allowed him to become the actor he was for the rest of his career. Speaking to The Indipendent in 2008, Nicholson said of the film: “All I could see in the early films, before Easy Rider, was this desperate young actor trying to vault out of the screen and create a movie career.”
Nicholson was not the only person to recognise the importance of his performance in Easy Rider, as it also impressed legendary director Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick saw Nicholson in the film and became determined to cast him in his next project.
24. Lost in the shuffle
Kubrick set to work attempting to cast Nicholson in something right away. Firstly, he offered Nicholson the starring role of Napoleon, in a historical film depicting events in his life. However, that project soon fell into development hell, thanks to the MGM studio changing hands in the middle of pre-production.
The ownership of MGM changing threw a wrench into the development of the Napoleon project, and it unfortunately never recovered. Stanley Kubrick remained determined to have Nicholson star in a project of his though, and remembered the actor when it came time to cast his adaptation of The Shining.
25. Annoying the waitress
Jack Nicholson’s next prominent project was Five Easy Pieces, which was released in 1970. In it, Nicholson played an oil rig worker named Bobby Dupea, who has a surly blue-collar manner stands in stark contrast to his upbringing as a piano prodigy.
In the film’s most iconic scene, Nicholson’s character gets into an increasingly heated sarcastic argument with a waitress who refuses to accommodate the details of his order. The argument culminates with Nicholson’s character being thrown out of the diner, along with all the people he has picked up along the way.
26. A real-life encounter
The diner argument is no doubt one of the most iconic scenes in Five Easy Pieces, but if you’ve ever watched it and thought that the fight seems out of character for Bobby Dupea, you wouldn’t be alone. Nicholson’s costar Karen Black later said that she didn’t think Bobby would care enough about the specifics of his order to get into a fight over it, and that the scene represented a key difference between Nicholson and the character he played.
With that in mind, it makes sense that Nicholson specifically asked for the argument scene to be made part of the movie, and that he actually improvised his way through most of it. Nicholson has said that the scene was based on a real experience he had in a diner once, which is why it might not seem to line up with how the character of Bobby would have handled things.
27. Crushing co-stars
Five Easy Pieces is not only famous for the diner argument, or even for earning Jack Nicholson an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. It’s also known for the fact that Jack Nicholson’s costar Karen Black, who played his girlfriend Rayette in the movie, had a serious crush on Nicholson throughout production.
Black made no effort to hide her feelings about or from Nicholson, and later said when asked: “He was very beautiful. He just looked right at you … I liked him a lot … He really sort of wanted to date me but I didn’t think of him that way because I was going with Peter Kastner.”
28. Tears of love
Karen Black’s feelings for Jack Nicholson may have been most evident on the set of Five Easy Pieces, especially because the two were playing love interests, but that isn’t where it all started. Black also worked on Easy Rider, and began to develop feelings for Nicholson while watching him work during that project.
The two did not have any scenes together in Easy Rider, and so didn’t see each other until the premiere of the film. The moment Black saw Nicholson on the red carpet, she famously burst into tears and began sobbing, which she said was an expression of the fact that: “I really loved him a lot, and I didn’t know it until I saw him again, because it all welled up.”
29. Nicholson and Garfunkel
Jack Nicholson starred in Carnal Knowledge in 1971, a comedy-drama which costarred Ann Margret, Candice Bergen and Art Garfunkel. Director Mike Nichols was open about the fact that there were very few actors he could have picked that would do the role justice, saying: “There is James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, and Henry Fonda. After that, who is there but Jack Nicholson?”
While on set working on Carnal Knowledge, Nicholson struck up a close friendship with his costar Art Garfunkel, and the friendship remained long after production had ended, even though the two actors lived at opposite ends of the country, and so didn’t see each other every day.
30. Co-star sleepovers
Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel became such good friends that whenever Garfunkel would come to LA for work, he would stay at Jack Nicholson’s house on Mulholland Drive, rather than stay at a hotel. The pair used these opportunities to hang out, when Nicholson wasn’t working on a film and Garfunkel wasn’t in the studio or on tour.
In fact, Art Garfunkel stayed at Jack Nicholson’s house so many times, that one of the spare rooms in Nicholson’s house became known as the “Art Garfunkel room”. It may sound odd that Nicholson became best friends with one of the most famous folk singers in the world, but that’s exactly what happened.
31. An unexpected tragedy
Jack Nicholson’s friendship with Art Garfunkel was not the only one he had cultivated throughout the 60s and early 70s, as Nicholson had also become close to director Roman Polanski. Nicholson had been close with both Polanski and Polanski’s wife, the legendary actress and model Sharon Tate.
Nicholson’s friendship with Polanski meant that he was shaken to the core by the Manson murders in 1969, which saw Sharon Tate’s death at the hands of Charles Manson’s family supporters. Nicholson stayed with Polanski in the days following the murders, hoping to be of some help and support.
32. A dedicated friend
The Manson murders shook the whole of America when they happened in 1969, but they also shook Jack Nicholson personally. In the days following the murders, Nicholson began sleeping with a hammer under his pillow, in case he was targeted by a similar attack. This was a habit that he maintained for a long time.
In addition to amending his sleeping habits, Nicholson also took frequent breaks from the set of whichever project he was working on, in order to attend the trial of Charles Manson and members of the Manson family. He also left whatever set he was working on if it transpired that Polanski needed support.
33. The first of many
By the time Jack Nicholson took the part of Randle P. McMurphy in an adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975, he had already been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor on three separate occasions. Nicholson had been nominated for his performances in Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail and Chinatown, but had never actually won the award.
Nicholson won the Oscar for Best Actor as a result of his performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which required him to play an anti-authoritarian patient at a mental hospital who becomes an inspiration and a leader to the other patients. The character played perfectly with Nicholson’s own rebellious streak and independent spirit, which lent the performance a kind of uncanny authenticity.
34. Last to be asked
Despite the part being perfect for Jack Nicholson, he wasn’t the first person to be asked to play the role. In fact, he wasn’t even the second actor to be asked… or the third. Marlon Brando was the actor most desired to play the part, and when he turned it down, it was Gene Hackman who was asked to accept it next.
Only after Brando and Hackman had turned the role down, and Burt Reynolds and James Caan had both been approached but had said no, was Jack Nicholson asked if he wanted to try his own spin on the character. In hindsight, Nicholson was obviously the right choice, but we might have seen a very different adaptation if one of the other actors had been keen on the part.
35. Celebrity neighbours
Just as Nicholson had lived and worked alongside Harry Dean Stanton and Bruce Dern in his days as a struggling actor just starting out, he ended up neighbours with his peers once again, this time as a far more successful actor. In this case, it was Marlon Brando and Warren Beatty who made up Nicholson’s neighbours, and they transformed Mulholland Drive into what became known as “Bad Boy Drive”.
The exploits of the actors living on Bad Boy Drive became kind of a Hollywood legend, with books even being written to allege the debauchery people believed was going on there. Mulholland Drive even received the highest honour when David Lynch set one of his movies there in 2001, to explore the themes of nightmarish decadence that the street had already become known for.
36. Snacking with the stars
Of course, even for actors as legendary as Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty, life couldn’t be a 24/7, nonstop party. Some of the stories that have come out of the so-called Bad Boy Drive have been far more relatable, and even hilariously domestic.
For example, Jack Nicholson has often told the story of how he and Marlon Brando lived so close to each other, that Marlo would often sneak into Nicholson’s house. Why? Well, in order to steal Nicholson’s snacks, so he didn’t have to go to the trouble of buying any of his own, of course!
37. Meeting your heroes
The fact that Marlon Brando had made a habit of sneaking into Jack Nicholson’s kitchen to raid his fridge and eat all his snacks, implies that the two were pretty much best friends. This may not seem super surprising, actors make friends with each other all the time after all, but it was no doubt a big deal for Jack Nicholson.
When Jack Nicholson was still a teenager, he worked as an assistant at a local cinema, which allowed him to spend a lot of his working day watching films. By far his favourite was Marlon Brando’s film On the Waterfront, which Nicholson has readily admitted to watching 40 times while on the job. So essentially, Jack Nicholson got to become friends with his biggest cinema hero.
38. Protecting a legacy
Jack Nicholson was friends with Marlon Brando throughout his life, and went to great lengths to ensure the actor’s legacy after his death in 2004. Marlon Brando’s incredible Hollywood mansion became a symbol of Hollywood’s own mythic status, but after his death it began to fall into disrepair, being claimed by mould.
Nicholson didn’t want the mansion’s declining standard to in any way become a metaphor for Hollywood, or to somehow posthumously affect Brando’s status and reputation. In order to avoid this, Nicholson actually purchased Brando’s mansion, just so he had the authority to tear it down and protect the pristine image everyone had of it in their heads.
39. A surprise reunion
Many of Jack Nicholson’s peers might have turned down the chance to appear in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t have anyone to talk to during production. In fact, Nicholson actually made a new friend, that he had a much older connection to than he realised.
Danny DeVito played one of the other patients in the hospital in the film, in one of his earliest film roles. When DeVito and Nicholson began talking, they soon realised that they both grew up in the same area of New Jersey, at around the same time. What a coincidence!
40. Childhood friends
Upon further discussion, the pair realised that they must have grown up just a stone’s throw away from each other, and probably had families that knew each other well. This was soon confirmed, when they found out that both of their relatives worked at the same hair salon together in New Jersey!
Since One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Danny DeVito and Jack Nicholson have collaborated with each other on a number of occasions, even both playing the famous Criminologist during the same production of The Rocky Horror Show, where they swapped out in various scenes.
41. Working with friends
Jack Nicholson got the chance to work with Roman Polanski in 1974, when Nicholson was cast as the star in Polanski’s new film Chinatown. The film also starred Faye Dunaway and John Huston, and even included a cameo for Polanski himself. Polanski and Nicholson were already long-time friends by the time the project rolled around, and so were happy for the opportunity to work together.
Chinatown got incredible critical reviews and made $29 million at the box office, continuing Jack Nicholson’s upwards momentum as an actor. Despite the fact that it was made in the 70s, many felt that the noir thriller fitted in easily beside the original noir movies of the 40s, and many believe it is one of the best examples of the genre even today.
42. Reaching new heights
As important to film history as Chinatown is now considered to be, it was equally important for Jack Nicholson’s own personal career trajectory and development. Famous film critic Roger Ebert commented that Nicholson’s performance was “sharp-edged, menacing, and aggressive”, and claimed that it was this performance that kept the movie from becoming “a typical genre crime film”.
Ebert also commented on the fact that Nicholson’s portrayal of Detective Jake Gittes marked a turning point in his career, away from the exploitation films that had come to define him in the previous decade. Nicholson’s performance as Gittes earned him a Best Actor nomination, and has become one of his most iconic performances.
43. Just dropping by
Following Chinatown, Roman Polanski was discovered in Jack Nicholson’s house in 1977, conducting a photoshoot with a 13-year-old girl named Samantha Geimer. Jack Nicholson was not home as he was out of town, and no-one else was at the house.
However, Nicholson’s then-girlfriend Anjelica Huston stopped by Nicholson’s house to pick up some of her belongings, and unwittingly crashed the photo shoot. Polanski introduced Geimer to Huston, and the three apparently spoke about Nicholson’s two large dogs, before Polanski and Geimer drove away.
44. An unceremonious arrest
The next day, Polanski was arrested for assaulting Geimer, and Huston was also called in to give her account of events. Huston explained that she had actually recently broken up with Nicholson, and had taken the opportunity of him working out of town to collect her belongings while he wasn’t there.
She explained that Polanski couldn’t have known she was going to interrupt him, as she wasn’t supposed to be in the house, but stressed that she saw “nothing untoward” while she was at the house. Huston also claimed that she had not seen Polanski and Geimer together in the other room, as they had come out to meet her.
45. A star in demand
As we’ve already discussed, director Stanley Kubrick had been impressed with Jack Nicholson’s acting ability ever since seeing his early work, and was determined to cast him in a project as soon as the right opportunity arose. That chance came around when Kubrick began casting his film adaptation of The Shining.
Kubrick believed that Nicholson would be perfect for the character of Jack Torrance, the struggling writer and family man who is slowly driven crazy by the spirits of the hotel that he is acting as a steward of. Torrance has gone on to become one of the most terrifying characters in all of horror, in part due to Nicholson’s chilling portrayal.
46. An unhappy creator
Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack Torrance might seem like the definitive version of the character now, but Nicholson’s take on the character was actually pretty divergent from the Jack Torrance of Stephen King’s books. Right from the beginning, Nicholson being cast caused problems for Stephen King, who was doubtful that the actor could deliver the right performance.
In King’s books, Jack Torrance actually begins as a good and dedicated father, who slowly deteriorates as the story goes on. Nicholson’s portrayal has Torrance feel jarring and off-kilter right from the beginning, and feels less like a wholesome everyman. This upset King deeply, and he never came around to believing that Nicholson was right for the part.
47. Iconic improvisation
Despite Stephen King being famously unhappy with both Nicholson’s casting and the final result of the film overall, Kubrick was absolutely thrilled to get the opportunity to work with Nicholson. Kubrick even allowed Nicholson a lot of freedom to improvise on set, an opportunity that he didn’t give to many of his actors.
In scenes where Kubrick was confident that Nicholson knew both his lines and the blocking of the scene inside out, Kubrick allowed Nicholson to take the scene in whatever direction he felt was best. Some of the most iconic parts of the final film came out of these improvisations, such as Jack Nicholson saying “here comes Johnny!” as he bursts through the door.
48. Practise makes perfect
Kubrick might have admired Jack Nicholson a lot, and given him more freedom and flexibility than he afforded many other actors, but that doesn’t mean that The Shining was an easy film to work on. Kubrick’s had a reputation for asking his actors to do an unprecedented amount of takes for each important scene, and Nicholson was not exempt from this.
One of the most pivotal scenes in the film shows Jack Torrance talking to the ghostly barman at the Overlook Hotel, which marks the beginning of his downfall. Kubrick asked Nicholson to do 37 takes of the scene, which Nicholson said was exhausting and required a lot of skill and stamina on his part.
49. Almost another icon
Jack Torrance might be the most iconic single character that Jack Nicholson has ever played, rivalled only by maybe the Joker. With that said, he almost had the opportunity to play another cinematic giant – that of Michael Corleone in The Godfather.
Nicholson was approached and offered the part of Michael Corleone early on in pre-production, but he felt he had to turn it down. Rather than the problem being anything to do with his availability or the quality of the script, Nicholson instead felt that the actor playing Corleone should be Italian, and so declined in the hopes that an Italian actor would be found to replace him.
50. A brilliant Best Man
We’ve already discussed the friendship that Jack Nicholson cultivated with Harry Dean Stanton when they were both young actors struggling to get a foothold in the industry. However, what you might not know is that even while the pair worked on different projects and drifted apart over the years, their friendship endured.
In fact, when Jack Nicholson got married to actress, painter and writer Sandra Knight, it was Harry Dean Stanton who agreed to be Jack Nicholson’s Best Man. Unfortunately for Nicholson though, his marriage to Knight didn’t last, as the two split up just six years after the originally tied the knot.
51. A favour for a friend
Proving h that a best friend is there for you in both the good times and the bad, Harry Dean Stanton also proved himself to be a dedicated friend to Jack Nicholson even once the marriage went sour. After Nicholson and Knight split up in the late 60s, Jack Nicholson found himself without a place to stay, and Stanton stepped up to provide.
In the weeks during and following the divorce, Harry Dean Stanton insisted on Jack Nicholson staying with him at his house, lending him the sofa for as long as he needed. It was a kindness that Nicholson went on to carry forward, allowing Art Garfunkel to stay with him whenever he needed a temporary place to crash.
52. A five-time father
Jack Nicholson has only ever been married once and, after his split with Sandra Knight, he has never seemed to pursue the same kind of nuclear family arrangement. Nicholson had one child with Knight: a daughter named Jennifer who is now 57 years old, who has infrequently taken acting jobs of her own, most recently in 2017’s Johnny Christ.
For a long time, Nicholson maintained that he had four other children: Two with actress Rebecca Broussard, named Lorraine and Raymond, one with Jennine Gourin named Tessa, and one with Winnie Hollman, named Honey. Nicholson has been present in all their lives, and has frequently said that children are what brings a person’s life meaning.
53. Why not a sixth?
These five children are not Jack Nicholson’s only children, however. As far back as 1970, actress Susan Anspach alleged that her own son Caleb was Nicholson’s child. Nicholson commented in 1984, saying that he was not convinced that he was Caleb’s father, but he did later pay for Caleb’s college education.
At some point before 1994, Jack Nicholson acknowledged to Caleb that he might be his father, and the two have been seen hanging out and going to basketball games together. When Anspach died, her published obituary said that she was survived by her son Caleb, “whose father is Jack Nicholson”.
54. A fortuitous meeting
In early 1973, Jack Nicholson met a young Anjelica Huston. By the time April rolled around, the two were dating, and this marked the beginning of a decades-long, on again off again relationship, which would dominate the course of both of their lives.
Huston and Nicholson dated from 1973 to 1990, and in that time, both of them also saw other people. However, Nicholson made a habit of being in other relationships while expressing a desire to settle down with Huston permanently, catching them both in a dynamic that was difficult to escape or bring to an end.
55. A rift in the relationship
Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston’s relationship was famously tumultuous, with numerous break-ups and ups and downs over the course of the 17 years they were seeing each other. One of the bigger fall-outs came when Huston discovered that Nicholson had fathered a child with Winnie Hollman over the course of their relationship.
Jack Nicholson had been seeing the Danish model Winnie Hollman for some time, and he fathered a daughter with her in 1981. This led to Huston and Nicholson breaking up for a short time, although they would go on to continue seeing each other for almost a decade further.
56. On again, off again
The final breaking point came in 1989 when Huston realised that Nicholson had fathered a child with the actress Rebecca Broussard. Given that this was nowhere near the first time this had happened over the course of their relationship, Huston realised that Nicholson would probably never be as committed to her as he had always promised to be.
In 1992, two years after her break-up with Jack Nicholson, Hudson married the famous sculptor Robert Graham. The two moved into a house designed and built by him, where they lived until Graham died in 2008.
57. Recommending a friend
Despite Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston’s relationship turning out to be more intense than it was stable, the pair did deeply care for each other. This is evidenced by the fact that in 1987, Huston recommended Nicholson for the part of Daryl Van Horne in The Witches of Eastwick.
Huston was auditioning for the leading role in the film herself, but she was eventually passed over in favour of Susan Saradon, while Jack Nicholson got a part in the movie on Huston’s recommendation. Huston did get to play a witch in the iconic film The Witches just a few short years later, so she did eventually get to live out her witchy dreams.
58. Top billing over Batman
People of a certain age may know Jack Nicholson as the actor from Chinatown and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but those who are slightly younger probably best know him as the Joker. The Joker is one of Nicholson’s proudest roles, as he has said he was impressed at his own ability to create “a piece of pop-art” with the character.
By the time Nicholson came to the role of the Joker, he was already one of the most established and revered actors in the world. So much so, that he earned top billing in the film over the very established Michael Keaton, despite the fact that Nicholson was playing the villain and Keaton was playing the hero and protagonist.
59. Playing with toys
Top billing was not the only thing that Jack Nicholson got as a perk for appearing in the Tim Burton Batman franchise. When contracts were being drawn up and signed relating to his appearing in the film, Nicholson managed to negotiate a merchandise deal that worked out very well for him.
Nicholson managed to negotiate himself an unknown percentage of all the merchandising profits from the film, not just the ones relating to toys that bore his likeness. As a result, Jack Nicholson made somewhere between $60 and $90 million from the Batman film, just from the merchandising profits alone!
60. Upsetting the studio
Batman may have marked the first time that Jack Nicholson collaborated with director and writer Tim Burton, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last. In 1996, seven years after Batman, Burton cast Nicholson in his campy alien science fiction flick, Mars Attacks!
Burton made the decision to cast Jack Nicholson as James Dale, the President of the United States at the time the movie is set. Unfortunately for Nicholson, the character of James Dale doesn’t last throughout the runtime, as he is killed while attempting to make a peaceful first contact with the alien race. The decision to kill off Nicholson’s character was hilarious to Burton, but the studio did not approve.
61. Killed twice over
The studio expressed displeasure at the idea of killing Jack Nicholson’s presidential character, on the grounds that Nicholson represented a lot of the movie’s star power, as well as on the grounds that killing a presidential character was a very large statement to make.
In response, Tim Burton created another character for Nicholson to play in addition to the President. Nicholson also took on the role of Art Land, a much more salt of the Earth character with far more blue-collar roots. Unfortunately, Tim Burton’s compromise only extended to expanding Nicholson’s screentime, and not only did the President still die in the movie, but the character of Art Land died also.
62. Golf club road rage
By the time Tim Burton made Mars Attacks in the mid-90s, Jack Nicholson was one of the most prestigious actors in the world. Nicholson was at the top of his game and at the very top of the industry, so he should really have been blissfully happy and productive throughout this entire period.
However, Jack Nicholson was still prone to fits of annoyance, and he had a particularly explosive day in 1994. Robert Blank alleged that in 1994, Nicholson approached him in his car while he was stopped at a red light, and accused him of cutting him off in traffic. When Blank protested, Nicholson proceeded to become overcome with rage and attempted to destroy the car with a golf club. Yikes.
63. Tutor’s pride
Several witnesses corroborated Blank’s version of the events, which led to misdemeanour charges of vandalism and assault for Nicholson. However, rather than being remorseful or embarrassed about the situation, Nicholson apparently walked away from the incident rather pleased, due to the fact that he had managed to impress his golf instructor.
When told about the incident, Jack Nicholson’s personal golf tutor apparently said the following: “you have to have a near-perfect grip and a killer shoulder turn… I taught those to Jack Nicholson.” No doubt this controversial road rage event was the best advertisement the tutor could have asked for regarding his skills as a golf instructor.
64. An award every decade
Acting is a very subjective art form, and so it can be difficult to put an actor’s talent contextually into any kind of objective scale. With that said, one definitive thing that can be looked at when attempting to judge how beloved or prolific an actor is, is how many Oscars they have been awarded over the years.
When looking at things by that metric, it is undoubtable that Jack Nicholson is one of the most talented actors in the world. Nicholson has been nominated for an Oscar in every decade from the 1960s to the 2000s, a feat which very few performers in the world can claim.
65. In good company
In fact, there is only one other actor on Earth right now who can claim the same honour as Jack Nicholson, and that is Michael Caine. Like Nicholson, Caine has been nominated for an Oscar in acting every decade, starting in the 1960s right up to the 2000s.
Also like Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine has not been nominated for an Academy Award in the decades since the 2000s ended, with Caine’s last Oscar nomination being in 2002, for his role in The Quiet American. As for Jack Nicholson, his last Academy Award nomination was in 2003, for his performance in About Schmidt.
66. They can’t all be winners
Jack Nicholson has been nominated for 11 Oscars over the course of his career, and has won on three separate occasions. However, not all of his projects have been as beloved as Chinatown or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In particular, 1993 proved to be a bad year for Jack Nicholson, as he was nominated for two Golden Raspberry awards for Worst Performance in the span of 12 months.
Hoffa and Man Trouble were both nominated for Razzie Awards in 1993, and were both considered blips on Jack Nicholson’s otherwise perfect filmography. Man Trouble in particular, which centred on a man attempting to navigate his crumbling marriage, was received particularly negatively by both audiences and critics.
67. A divisive project
With that said, filmmaking is an art form like any other, and as such it is subjective. Critics often disagree with an audience about what makes a good movie or a good performance, and even different bodies responsible for different awards may disagree about what is worth praising or passing over.
Sometimes this can result in pretty contradictory seeming things, such as the fact that Hoffa was both nominated for a Golden Rasberry Award, and a Golden Globe. Nicholson was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture for Hoffa, but Hoffa was also considered one of the worst films of the year by the Razzies.
68. Wined and dined
Jack Nicholson is far from the most controversial figure to have graced Hollywood over the past few decades, but he has made a reputation for being outspoken about his beliefs. Most of these haven’t gotten him into too much hot water, such as when he claimed he was pro-choice but personally against abortion, or when he campaigned for Bernie Sanders in the US election.
With that said, he did make waves in 1998, when he returned from a trip to Cuba during which he had met Fidel Castro. Nicholson apparently left the vacation with a very high opinion of both the country and Castro himself, who he famously called “a genius” during an interview upon his return.
69. A controversial holiday
It is unclear why Jack Nicholson agreed to go to Cuba in 1993, but he had an excellent time on his excursion there. As well as returning to America with a high opinion of Castro himself, Nicholson also returned with a high opinion of Cuba’s culture, as well as its entertainment industry.
Nicholson met with leaders of the Cuban film industry while he holidayed there in June of 1993, and he also enjoyed local restaurants and jazz clubs. Not only that, but Nicholson also visited one of the most famous Cuban cigar factories in the world while he was there, which pleased him greatly. Many critiqued his opinions, on the grounds that most Cuban citizens will never experience the luxuries that Nicholson was presented with.
70. That’s my chair!
It’s not uncommon for famous celebrities to spend much of their lives out of the spotlight, attempting to avoid cameras wherever possible. Sometimes, famous actors even go to extreme lengths to live their lives freely, hiding their location and wearing disguises whenever they have to go out in public. That cannot be said for Jack Nicholson.
Not only has Jack Nicholson never really hidden from the spotlight, but the paparazzi always know just where to find him, as he has had roughly the same routine for around thirty years. Nicholson has held courtside seats at the Los Angeles Lakers’ court for three decades, never wavering in his support of his favourite basketball team.
71. Giving up his seat
Not only has Jack Nicholson continually shelled out money to keep hold of his favourite courtside seats, but he has also rarely missed a game in the three decades he has been supporting the team. However, one year pushed Nicholson’s loyalty to the limit, and that was 2015.
In 2015, the Lakers had an atrocious season, with Kobe Bryant nearing retirement and on the bench with injuries for much of the time. Nicholson got so frustrated with the team’s terrible performance that he threatened to sell his courtside seats on StubHub for fans to buy – playfully stating that he could get $6,264.75 a seat if he went through with the sale.
72. A recent retirement
We’ve already discussed the fact that Jack Nicholson is one of just two actors to have been nominated for an Academy Award in every decade from the 1960s to the 2000s. Unfortunately, that also means that Nicholson has now not been nominated for an Oscar in almost two decades, with his last nomination being in 2003.
Many have considered Jack Nicholson to have retired in the early 2010s, though he has never actually confirmed this or said anything publicly regarding his lack of new projects. This is unsurprising though, as Jack Nicholson has famously avoided talk shows ever since 1971, and only agrees to speak briefly during press conferences or when approached by reporters.
73. Getting forgetful?
Many people have speculated about the reason for Jack Nicholson’s absence from our screens. One prominent theory is that the actor is getting forgetful, and that he found it more and more difficult to remember his lines towards the end of his career. Allegedly, this led him to conclude that it was time to wind down his performances, in order to not dilute the quality of his legacy.
This rumour has become the defacto reason that many give for Nicholson’s retirement, though it technically remains just a rumour, as it has never been confirmed by Nicholson himself or any credible source close to him. It is also true that many actors continue to act via earpieces that feed them their lines, but this doesn’t particularly seem like Nicholson’s style.
74. A decade off the screen
Jack Nicholson’s last performance was in 2010, in the romantic comedy How Do You Know. The film starred Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson opposite Reece Witherspoon, and follows Witherspoon’s character as she navigates a love triangle after being fired from her professional softball team.
Jack Nicholson played Charles in the film, the father of Paul Rudd’s character George. How Do You Know grossed only $49 million against a budget of $120 million, and it received generally negative reviews from critics as well as floundering at the box office. Many have theorised that it was the failure of this project that convinced Nicholson to stop accepting new roles.
75. An unrealised remake
Though Jack Nicholson hasn’t made a single movie since the release of 2010s How Do You Know, there have been many rumours about his potential return. In particular, many were convinced that Nicholson’s next project would be in a remake of the 2016 German-Austrian film Toni Erdmann, in the title role.
In 2017, it was officially announced that Nicholson was attached to the project, along with Kristen Wigg and Lena Dunham. Unfortunately, in 2018 both Nicholson and Dunham withdrew from the project, effectively placing it in development hell and ending any immediate hope for a comeback from Nicholson’s fans.
76. A perfect presenter
Jack Nicholson has been nominated for an Academy Award 11 times over the course of his career, but he also holds another near record-breaking relationship to the Oscars. Having presented the award for Best Actor in 1972, 1977, 1978, 1990, 1993, 2006, 2007 and 2013, Jack Nicholson has officially presented the award more times than any other actor.
Jack Nicholson has not limited himself to presenting only the Academy Award for Best Picture either, as he also presented the award for Best Actress in 1999, as well as presenting Michelangelo Antonioni with a special honorary award in 1995. Best of all, he was able to present his long-time friend Warren Beatty with the Thalberg Award in 2000.
77. Rooting for the underdog
An established and esteemed actor in the later stages of their career is often picked to be the one to present the Best Picture Oscar. Therefore, it makes sense that Jack Nicholson was asked to present the award in later years, but not so much in the early 70s, when he was just beginning to make a serious name for himself in the entertainment world.
In fact, Jack Nicholson was only asked to present the award for Best Picture in 1972 because no-one else would. Many more established actors were afraid that the debauched and groundbreaking A Clockwork Orange would win in the category and didn’t want to be associated with any resulting backlash. In contrast, Nicholson loved the film, and so was happy to oblige and present the award when asked.
78. A Star Wars close call
We’ve already discussed the fact that Jack Nicholson has been offered even more legendary roles than he eventually ended up playing, thanks to him turning down a part in The Godfather on the strength of his belief that the actor should be Italian. However, what you might not know is that Jack Nicholson has almost taken parts that eventually went to Harrison Ford on four separate occasions.
At one point or another, Jack Nicholson was offered the role of Han Solo in A New Hope, Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Rick Deckard in Blade Runner. All of these roles eventually went to Ford, who became so synonymous with them that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in his place. However, we could have had a much more swashbuckling era of Jack Nicholson!
79. Almost a cannibal
As if all the legendary characters that Harrison Ford has ever played was not enough, Jack Nicholson was also offered one of Anthony Hopkins’ most famous roles. As difficult as it may be to imagine Nicholson in 1991s The Silence of the Lambs, he was indeed offered the part of Hannibal Lector, but turned it down during the early stages of pre-production.
Nicholson was also offered Anthony Hopkins’ eventual role in 1994s The Road to Wellville, just three short years after The Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins won the Best Actor Oscar in 1992 for his turn as Hannibal Lector, so Nicholson theoretically could have added another award to his roster.
80. A one-time director
Throughout his career, Jack Nicholson has had the opportunity to wear many hats. He has been an actor, but also a screenwriter and a presenter, as well as almost becoming an animator for a short time. However, one thing he has only ever had the opportunity to do once is direct.
Jack Nicholson has only ever directed one film in his lifetime, and it was a film that he also stared in. Called The Two Jakes, the film is a direct sequel to Chinatown, and it was released in 1990. The production was a troubled one, with the film being stuck in development hell for years, but it was finally released to mixed reviews.