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On His Own Terms
Riding High Atop Hollywood's Star Machine, Jack
Nicholson is Enjoying the View
by Arthur Marx
When meeting Jack Nicholson for the first time,
you can't help but wonder just who he actually is: the boozy Southern
lawyer of Easy Rider? the short-tempered former concert pianist of
Five Easy Pieces? the sexual jock of Carnal Knowledge? the cynical
private eye of Chinatown? the con-artist mental patient of One Flew
Over the Cuckoo's Nest? the slow-witted Mafia hit man of Prizzi's
Honor? the philandering Washington journalist of Heartburn? the
cigar-chomping Marine commander of A Few Good Men? the out-of-shape
astronaut of Terms of Endearment? the Joker of Batman? the book
editor-turned-werewolf of Wolf? or perhaps the vengeance-driven father
in his upcoming film, The Crossing Guard?
Or perhaps Nicholson is the freethinking, rebellious Hollywood legend
who thus far in his career has garnered two Oscars, 13 Academy Award
nominations and a half-dozen Golden Globe awards, and who is presently
commanding so much money per film that it's absolutely indecent.
It's a pleasantly warm Southern California afternoon when Nicholson
makes a slightly belated entrance into the living room of his modest
eight-room home, a house that sits atop a mountain overlooking Beverly
Dressed casually in slacks, a pale green polo shirt and a sleeveless
sweater, Jack looks less the internationally known millionaire movie
idol than an assistant golf pro at a driving range in Cucamonga. He
has a trim physique, thinning brown hair, sleepy eyes and, at 58, a
still somewhat boyish face. He strides into the dining room and sits
down at the end of a long wooden table to munch on a chicken sandwich
and talk about his life as a superstar, a concerned Los Angeles
citizen and, not incidentally, a cigar smoker.
Although he's been a cigar smoker for most of his life and grew up
around cigar smokers, Nicholson didn't become a devotee until about
four years ago.
"I used to smoke a lot of cigarettes," he confesses. "Too many, in
fact. That's one of the reasons I took up cigar smoking seriously. I
figured the only way to break a bad habit was to replace it with a
better habit. I started smoking when I was a kid, and I smoked until I
got married to Sandra [Knight] in 1962. We both decided to quit
smoking, and I did for about 10 years."
But in 1973, Nicholson starred in The Last Detail. "I wanted the petty
officer character I played to be a cigar smoker," he says. "So I
smoked cigars while we were filming the picture--real Cuban cigars,
which, of course, are the best. The only cigar, in fact. I could get
them in Canada where we shot the picture. And that started me smoking
cigarettes again, until about four years ago when I took up golf.
"I'm so nervous when I play that I found I was smoking a half a pack
of cigarettes during a round," he says. "So in order to cut down, I
got in the habit of lighting a cigar around the fifth hole and smoking
nothing but cigars for the rest of the round. That succeeded in
calming me. And I'm now down to a 12 handicap." He takes another bite
of his sandwich and adds, "I guess I am not the only golfer who smokes
cigars. Larry Laoretti keeps one in his mouth the whole time in a
tournament--even when he's putting. There must be something to it. He
won the Senior Open."
One thing that's evident after a few minutes with Nicholson is that he
can speak intelligently on almost any subject--ancient history, art,
politics, women, sports, food, publishing, basketball, movies, Chinese
philosophy, how cigars are made, in what province the best Cuban
tobacco is grown and how the cigar got its name.
"I read a lot. I may not be an expert on a given subject, but I can
hold a conversation on just about everything," he teasingly boasts.
Nicholson is not only a voracious reader, but one glance around his
home tells you that he has exquisite taste in art, literature and
furniture. The bookshelves are filled with novels, plays and works of
nonfiction with well-worn covers that look as if they have actually
been read rather than put there for ornamental purposes. Mixed in with
the books are two gleaming Oscar statuettes, which Nicholson picked up
for Best Actor in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Best Actor in a
Supporting Role for his work in Terms of Endearment. Also on the shelf
are five Golden Globe trophies.
Along with these awards stand silver-framed photographs of Anjelica
Huston, with whom he shared his house for many years; his daughter,
Jennifer--by his former (and only) wife, Sandra Knight--as a
toddler; and his two most recent progeny, five-year-old Lorraine and
three-year-old Ray, whom he fathered with actress Rebecca
Broussard. He refuses to categorize Broussard as his "girlfriend"; she
lives in a house just down the canyon from his own place.
After lunch, Nicholson moves into the living room, where he drops into
a massive armchair of dark blue leather. The room is tastefully done
in contemporary furnishings. Mixed in with the furniture are some Art
Deco floor lamps with serpentine brass bases, a huge
aluminum-and-smoked-glass Museum of Modern Art coffee table and a
massive blue leather couch.
Nicholson pulls a long, fat Montecristo from his pocket and attempts
to light it with a wooden match.
He seems to be having difficulty; the matches keep going out. "With
all this cigar culture stuff," he says, tossing the bad match into an
Art Deco ashtray and trying another one, "when are they going to make
a decent match in America again? You can't light a cigar with one
At least not the way he's trying to do it.
He's running the flame around the edge of the tip of the cigar,
instead of just applying the flame to the middle of the tip and
drawing on it.
Nicholson explains, "It's the proper way to light a cigar. Roman
showed me that--Roman Polanski. He told me that to get the best flavor
you have to run the flame all around the cigar tip, like you see me
doing. Then when the cigar tip is on fire, you first blow the smoke
out. Then you draw on it the regular way."
After four matches, he finally succeeds using the Polanski method. He
blows out on the cigar, then sucks the smoke back into his mouth,
savoring the fragrant odor with flaring nostrils. "Now there was a
time," he goes on, "when if I saw somebody lighting a cigar like that,
I'd say to myself, 'What's wrong with you? Why don't you just light
the damn thing?' But now that Roman showed me the proper way, I
realize he knew what he was talking about. I've tried it both ways,
comparing them, and his way really does make a difference in the
flavor. Just as real Cuban cigars do."
As he puffs contentedly on his Montecristo, Nicholson says that he
can't really remember the first cigar he ever smoked. "The first
cigars I remember, however, were all smoked by Shorty's father--Big
Al--and all those other people playing pinochle with him back in
Jersey. Shorty was my brother-in-law, married to my sister
Lorraine. He and his card-playing cronies used to use ivory cigar
holders. They smoked either Muriels or White Owls, I don't remember
which. Maybe both."
Nicholson's favorite cigars today are Romeo y Julietas, Cohiba
robustos and Montecristos, but he says the Macanudo maduros are
smokable. "I don't think they are from Cuba. I think they are either
Dominican or Jamaican. But they are smokable, in my opinion. But I'm
not really a connoisseur. I just know I love Montecristos, Cohibas and
Romeo y Julietas."
Of course, Cuban cigars are difficult to get in America. "And they're
expensive when you are able to pick them up in this country," he
says. "At 15 bucks a piece for them, you can bet there's about a
600-percent markup. We ought to recognize Cuba, just to give American
cigar smokers a break and keep them from going broke. But until we do,
you can bet some enterprising young man's out there in a boat,
smuggling them in."
Nicholson doesn't encourage that sort of thing. He says he buys most
of his Cuban cigars when he's out of the United States. "I also have
friends who bring them back to me when they go abroad, if I ask them
to. I have a good place to store them, over there in the corner,
behind the dining table. Someone gave me a large, professional
humidor, with a motor-driven humidifier that can keep cigars fresh for
years. I can load up on them when I have the opportunity, and they
won't get stale.
"When I went back to cigar smoking four years ago, after a long
layoff, I found my cigars I'd keep in that humidor were as fresh as
the day I had bought them. Of course, I don't smoke that many a day,
so a few boxes last me a long time. I'm no George Burns, with his 15 a
As much as Nicholson enjoys smoking cigars and is pleased about
today's revived cigar culture, he maintains that he's very considerate
of people who don't smoke. "I don't smoke around my babies, for
instance, and if I want to smoke around a lady friend, I always ask
for permission before I light up."
He concedes, however, that he's not crazy about the antismoking
movement. "But I don't let any mass movements bother me--it's such a
waste of time. Of course, it's killing the restaurant business, but
that doesn't bother me, either, since I don't own a
restaurant. Moreover, I don't eat out much. Of course, the Monkey Bar,
a private club I belong to, lets you smoke, but generally I just go to
a restaurant to eat. I smoke after I leave. I don't drink, so I don't
have to smoke while I'm drinking, which a lot of people do."
An avid sports fan, especially of the Lakers basketball team,
Nicholson tries to go to all their home games at the Forum and playoff
games on the road. But he's not allowed to smoke at the Forum
anymore. "I remember when I used to sit right on the basketball arena
floor and light up, not too long ago," he says. "Then they moved us
smokers out into the hall. Then you couldn't smoke in the entire
building. But I get around it. I sneak into the men's room at
halftime, like when I was in high school, and take my drags there.
"But I'm willing to deal with all that. I don't want to argue with the
antismoking movement, because I can remember when I wasn't smoking. I
wouldn't eat dinner with somebody who smoked at the table. So I
understand where they're coming from."
"You know, there were a lot of things about the Victorian era that I
liked--not that I was around then. The men would excuse themselves
from the dining table after dinner and go into another room to smoke
and drink brandy, to get away from the girls who objected to
cigars. That kind of suggests a life to me that seems nice--and
But, says Nicholson, "at least you can still smoke here--in your
house, that is." Though not a spectacular home by Hollywood standards,
Nicholson's house offers breaktaking views of the canyon below and the
high-rises of downtown Los Angeles in the smoggy distance. He is happy
in his modest home. "I've lived here for 25 years," he says. "I've
never moved. I bought it before I could afford it." Outside the
picture window is a small green lawn, a large rectangular swimming
pool with wooden cantilevered decking and a couple of six-foot-tall
pieces of iron sculpture. "Once I could afford it, I also bought the
house next door, which I use for my office. Now I don't have to worry
about any neighbors next door to me."
From the self-satisfied smile on his face, you get the feeling that
Nicholson is happy to be alone on his mountaintop. "You know, in this
spot, you're in the dead center of Los Angeles," says Nicholson. "The
actual center--like if you were at 55th and Fifth Avenue in New
York. That's where you are here." He waves his hand in the direction
of the mountains and canyon. "Only that ain't the Frick. Where else
could you have all these mountains and desert and still be in the dead
center of one of the greatest metropolitan cities in the United
States? You know, this is the only undeveloped canyon in
L.A. now. Coldwater Canyon. I and the other residents have been
fighting the developers ever since I moved here.
"It would be a shame if these mountains get developed any more than
they are now," he says, looking thoughtful. "We'd be dead. Once the
spine of the Santa Monica Mountains is gone, there really is no Los
Angeles any longer. This is what makes the difference between here and
55th and Fifth--this desert/mountain/land-by-the-ocean look. It's what
gives it what it has. That's what Chinatown was basically about."
Nicholson was born not far from 55th and Fifth, at Bellevue Hospital
in Manhattan, on April 22, 1937. Although Nicholson's family lived at
the Jersey shore, 50 miles to the south, they chose Bellevue due to
circumstances that are somewhat confusing.
The people he believed to be his parents, John and Ethel May
Nicholson, were actually his grandparents. John dressed department
store windows in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and Ethel May, a
hairdresser, was also an artist of considerable talent from whom,
Nicholson explains, he acquired his appreciation of art. (In fact,
today he has several of Ethel May's oil paintings hanging in the
Nicholson's real mother, whom he believed to be his sister June, was
John and Ethel May's eldest daughter. Jack didn't find out the truth
about his parents until 10 years after his real mother died of cancer
June was somewhat independent-minded for 1935. At 16, she flew the
coop for the Big Apple in pursuit of a theatrical career. She landed a
job as an Earl Carroll dancer, but her career was cut short when she
became pregnant. Forced to return home, June not only had to make the
shameful admission that she was pregnant, but that she didn't know for
sure who the father was (though Don Furcillo-Rose, an ex-boyfriend of
June's during the mid-1930s and later a New Jersey businessman,
claimed in the 1970s that he was the father).
June gave birth to Nicholson in New York City because her family
evidently felt it was far enough away from friends and neighbors in
Neptune, New Jersey, for them to be able to keep the whole episode a
In 1937, it was tantamount to having leprosy for an unwed girl to give
birth. As a result, Ethel May took over the raising of her grandson,
passing him off as her own for the rest of her life, and swearing the
others in the family to secrecy. Thus, June slipped quietly into the
role of being Nicholson's older "sister."
Since June died before Nicholson ever learned the family secret, he
was never able to have a mother/son relationship with her or to even
talk to her about it.
Nicholson first learned of the cover-up in 1974, when a Time magazine
reporter, who was doing a cover story about him, confronted him with
the facts. At Nicholson's request, the reporter promised not to
divulge the truth to his readers. But columnist Walter Scott revealed
it in Parade magazine in 1977.
"Such is the price of fame," says Nicholson with a sigh. "People start
poking around in your private life, and the next thing you know your
sister is actually your mother."
That a perceptive and highly sensitive man such as Nicholson could be
kept in the dark all those years about his mother's true identity
seems like something out of Oliver Twist. How could such a thing
happen in the twentieth century? But Nicholson insists that 1974 was
actually the first time he ever learned of it.
Nicholson's low-key reaction to the so-called scandal is typical of
him. "I'd say it was a pretty dramatic event, but it wasn't what I'd
call traumatizing. After all, by the time I found out who my mother
was I was pretty well psychologically formed. As a matter of fact, it
made quite a few things clearer to me. If anything, I felt
grateful. About the only lasting effect it had on me [was that] it
sort of polarized my feelings about abortion. I think it would be
comically incorrect for someone in my position to be for abortion. But
I am pro-choice. People always say, 'How can you be pro-choice and
against abortion?' Well, I tell them, this is one of the ways."
After graduating at 16 ("about a year ahead of my peers") from
Manasquan (N. J.) High School, having grown up in nearby Spring
Lake, Nicholson had a choice of directions to take. He could do
nothing for a year and have some fun while waiting for his
contemporaries to catch up with him, or he could go to college.
He had the grades for a partial scholarship at a local college, but
that would have meant "studying hard and working 20 hours a day
earning tuition money. And, frankly, I was too lazy for that. I wasn't
filled with a burning desire to make something of myself in those
days. And since I was only 16, I figured I had plenty of time to go to
college later, if I wanted. I certainly didn't want to be a lawyer or
a bookkeeper. So I hung around Jersey for about a year. I made a
little money at the racetrack, and I worked as a lifeguard at the
beach one summer."
Then, in 1954, he moved to Southern California and lived for a while
in a small apartment with the woman he believed to be his sister,
June. She had given up show business and had moved to Inglewood. "I
wanted to get as far away from the rest of my family as possible,"
admits Nicholson. "But I still had no aspirations of becoming an
actor." According to Nicholson, he supported himself by playing the
horses at Hollywood Park by day and shooting pool at a neighborhood
pool emporium by night. He bought his first car--a used '47
Studebaker--with his track winnings. He also worked part-time in a toy
store. At June's insistence, he started looking around for a more
secure way of earning a living, and he eventually found a job running
errands in the animation section at MGM Studios. At the studio he
became friendly with William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, creators of the
Tom & Jerry cartoons.
At the time, Nicholson's looks were maturing. He had lost his baby fat
and had developed into the prototype of a handsome young acting
juvenile of the kind MGM liked to feature in its Mickey Rooney-Judy
Garland-Debbie Reynolds "let's-do-a-show" musicals. Notwithstanding,
Nicholson had never given any thought to becoming an actor until
producer Joe Pasternak spotted him one day while Nicholson was making
his mail rounds.
A successful producer of MGM musicals, Pasternak liked Nicholson's
looks and asked him if he would like to be in pictures. But first,
Nicholson needed acting lessons. Hanna and Barbera used their
influence to get him an apprenticeship at a small but respected
theater in Hollywood called The Players Ring. It wasn't long before he
found himself in Jeff Corey's renowned acting class, along with three
other hopefuls who would later give him some important boosts at
critical junctures in his career--Bob Towne (who wrote the script for
Chinatown); Carole Eastman (who wrote Five Easy Pieces); and Roger
Corman (who became a successful producer/director of low-budget
Nicholson's training and the contacts he made at The Players Ring led
to his being cast in his first film role, The Cry Baby Killer, in
1958. It was a low-budget film, and Nicholson only made a few hundred
dollars as its star. In it, he played a teenager who got in trouble
with the law for shooting a couple of other teenagers in
self-defense. Although the money was short, Nicholson accredited
himself nobly as an actor. One movie critic singled him out as a
After that, Nicholson worked fairly regularly in low-budget "monster
and biker" films, sometimes not only appearing in them, but writing
and directing as well. The money in those films was small by today's
salaries, but he was earning enough to marry a young actress named
Sandra Knight in 1962. The following year, they had a baby named
Nicholson enjoyed playing daddy to baby Jennifer, but his lack of
responsibility led to friction. He and Sandra consulted a
psychiatrist, who tried an unusual psychedelic drug treatment. The
experience terrified Sandra, who quickly gave up the psychiatrist and
sought happiness and peace of mind in religion. But Nicholson found
the drug "enlightening" and stayed with the treatment. When he refused
to give it up, Sandra kicked him out of the house, thus ending the
marriage. The divorce was finalized in 1968.
But while the treatment was no balm to the marriage, it served to
introduce Nicholson to the Los Angeles counterculture scene in the
late '60s and early '70s. This in turn led to a blossoming of
Nicholson's friendship with Peter Fonda.
Around this period Fonda and Dennis Hopper were hard at work trying to
produce a screenplay they had collaborated on--Easy Rider. Unable to
get it off the ground with just their names attached to the script,
they brought in novelist Terry Southern (who scripted the film
Dr. Strangelove) to add his reputation to the project. With
Southern's name on the script, producer Bert Schneider agreed to
produce the film, with Fonda and Hopper acting the roles of the two
footloose, antiestablishment, drug-crazed bikers. Rip Torn was the
first choice for the third part--that of George Hanson, the boozy
Southern lawyer--but he turned it down, claiming it to be just another
Schneider then offered the part to Nicholson (Nicholson had just
produced and directed one of his low-budget films). Hopper didn't
want Nicholson, saying the newcomer lacked the Southern accent needed
for the role. Schneider, however, insisted on Nicholson because he
felt he would have a steadying influence on the other two. This was
important to Schneider because so much of the film was scheduled to be
filmed in New Mexico, away from his watchful eye. For some reason, he
trusted Nicholson to hold the whole thing together and to act as
overseer, in addition to playing the role of Hanson.
The rest is history. Nicholson history.
Nicholson not only stole the picture as the middle-aged, disillusioned
lawyer, but the film turned out to be a runaway hit exceeding all
expectations. Nicholson received his first nomination from the Motion
Picture Academy for Best Performance in a Supporting Role.
Although Nicholson didn't win the Oscar (losing to Gig Young),
Easy Rider did something for his career that none of his dozen or so
previous horror and action films had accomplished: He became a cult
The antiestablishment B-flick underground dug him because he was
proof that something good can come out of all that garbage Hollywood
had been grinding out for years. And the over-30 crowd dug him,
too. When they saw Easy Rider, Nicholson was the character the average
fan identified with. In the words of critic Rex Reed, "There was
something so touching about his alcoholic Southern aristocracy,
searching for a philosophical grass-roots identity with the new hip
and the new cool in his faded fifties Ole Miss football jersey, that
made them want to revel in their own squareness. There's a nice guy
squareness about Jack Nicholson, too."
Nicholson was on his way to wealth and superstardom, but it was the
restaurant scene in Five Easy Pieces that had even the most jaded
moviegoers rolling in the aisles. For those fans whose memories need
refreshing, the young pianist, played by Nicholson, was in a diner,
trying to order toast. Plain toast. The waitress, played beautifully
by Karen Black, said she couldn't give him toast because it was past
the hour when breakfast was being served. The punch line, delivered
after he asks for a tuna sandwhich on toast without the tuna and she
asks what should she do with the tuna--"Stick it between your
legs"--has gone down in film history.
Acknowledging that it was one of his favorite movie bits, Nicholson
explains that no writer could have made that scene up. It actually
happened to him and some friends in a pastry shop on the Sunset Strip
called Pupi's. They told Five Easy Pieces screenwriter Carole Eastman
about the incident, and she put it in the script.
The thing Nicholson is best at, of course, is acting. Not only has he
been Oscar-nominated 13 times, not only has he won two Oscars and
numerous other tributes, but in 1994, The American Film Institute gave
him its Lifetime Achievement award. He loves acting. But what he
enjoys most about his career is that he's never been typecast, as so
many stars of past and present have been. Sylvester Stallone as
Rambo. Gary Cooper as a cowboy. Humphrey Bogart as a tough guy with a
heart of gold. And Robert Redford as every woman's sexual fantasy.
Nicholson's roles have been so varied that there's no way anyone can
pigeonhole him. Whatever or whomever he portrays, whether it is such
widely disparate characters as the Joker in the comic-book inspired
Batman or the sexually driven Jonathan in Carnal Knowledge, he brings
to the role his inimitable, special quality, and he always seems to
pull it off with consummate ease.
Of the many parts he has played, he refuses to select one as his
favorite. "I don't make lists or categorize things," he declares
adamantly. He doesn't even care to speculate on which of the myriad
roles he has played comes closest to being the real Jack
Nicholson. When pressed, he grudgingly admits, "Actually, I'm none of
them and all of them. There's a little bit of me, I suppose, in every
part I play. As an actor you can't help inserting yourself, especially
if you love acting."
What appeals to Nicholson as much as acting is directing. "You have so
many people on the set fawning all over you. How could you not like
it?" he asks.
He directed the 1978 film Goin' South. If he's forced to choose a
favorite, he would pick that one, despite its lack of big bucks at the
box office. The appeal of directing moved him, in 1989, to take on the
unenviable task of not only starring in The Two Jakes, the sequel to
the critically acclaimed Chinatown, but directing it as well. It
turned into a disaster, and Nicholson's irascible behavior on the set
touched off rumors of drug abuse. The Two Jakes, released in 1990, was
received badly by the critics, and still represents one of the few
unsuccessful ventures in Nicholson's long career.
Nonetheless, Nicholson has a philosophy about his work that only
someone as rich and famous as he is can afford to live by. He prefers
to do pictures that will stimulate him intellectually, even if they're
not necessarily going to be blockbusters.
That rules out some of the action films turned out by Arnold
Schwarzenegger, Stallone and others. "I'm not knocking those people,
but that's pyrotechnics!" Nicholson says. "We're in an era of
moviemaking today when it has more to do with the circus and Ziegfeld
Follies than honest filmmaking, like we had in the late '60s and early
'70s. That's when the great foreign filmmakers like Fellini and
Kurosawa and Antonioni were active. Every week a quality film would
come out. That's what my peers and I were weaned on. I prefer quality
to explosions. That's for kids. I've kept the license to be able to
pick and choose. That's why I wanted to support Sean [Penn] in my
The Crossing Guard, in which he co-stars with Anjelica Huston, is
about a family disaster...a drunk driver and vengeance. "I play the
father of a young girl who gets run over and killed by a drunken hit
and run driver. I can't get it out of my head. Six years later, I try
to exact vengeance on the perpetrator. Sean Penn wrote the script and
directed the film. And it's brilliant.
"Robin Wright, a wonderful little actress, is also in it. She played
Forrest Gump's girlfriend in Gump and, in my opinion, should have been
nominated this year for her performance. Anjelica plays my
ex-wife. There's a young man in it, too--David Morse. He's at least
six-foot-five and he's going to be a big star, and I'm not talking
about his height. Rarely do I predict a picture will do that for
someone, but in this case I'm going out on a limb. It's a wonderful
Since he is so high on the film, the possibility of it grabbing an
Oscar for Best Picture is something those connected with it can't help
speculating about. Nicholson, however, recoils from making
predictions. "Let's just say I think it's brilliant," he says with a
The subject of the Oscars immediately brings to mind a question posed
by many people in the entertainment business--especially those who've
never won one: Is there really such a thing as a film or an actor or a
director actually being "best"? Aren't all nominees good in their own
"Of course they are all good," avers Nicholson. "Let's say there is
such a thing as 'best,' and let it go at that. How many different
opinions do you think there are on the subject, anyway?" After a
thoughtful puff or two on his Montecristo, he answers his own
question. "I've only heard two opinions on the subject of Academy
Awards that stick in my mind. Lao-tze, the great Chinese philosopher,
once said, 'All tribute is false.' And then there's what my old and
good friend John Huston used to say about it. He said he supported the
Awards out of respect for 'all others who have gone before us.' "
Pause. More pungent smoke drifting from the end of his cigar. "I
always say about John, for a certain period of time I had the great
good fortune to know the best guy alive. A beautiful man. I miss
him.... Of course, there are a great too many awards being handed out
today, on television. They're just gimmicks to promote television,
which is really a competitive medium to the movies. But the movie
people don't realize this, just as they are unaware of cancer until it
eats them up alive."
Another pregnant pause. He breaks his silence with a surprising
revelation for a man's who's fairly reticent about discussing his
"I suppose everyone would like to know what it was like for me to be
working with Anjelica again after our breakup. You know, I lived with
her for 20 years. But working with her again was fantastic. I hadn't
seen her since we had severed our relationship. She was now a happily
married woman. But it was fantastic fun for both of us. It was good to
see how much we'd grown, and very fine, incidentally, for the
"I'm glad to see her so happy. She's one of the greatest people I've
ever known. And I've known her since she was a little girl. She lived
with her father in Ireland and France when she was growing up. She
didn't come back here to begin her career until she was about
21. [That year] I met her again at a party in this house. I forgot who
brought her. I took one look at her and thought, 'There's a woman of
obvious grace and refinement. She's got class. Real class.' "
Nicholson made his move on her shortly after that, and within months
she was living with him. They stayed together for almost 20
years. Until, as Nicholson put it so circumspectly, "We severed our
Of course, the breakup wasn't as casual and laid-back as Nicholson
makes it out to be.
From the start, Nicholson wanted everyone to believe that his
relationship with Huston was a conventional one, except for the
absence of a marriage license. But this was apparently just another
role he was playing. A 28-year-old auburn-haired Vogue model and
part-time film actress named Karen Mayo-Chandler upset the story by
revealing her year-long affair with Nicholson in the pages of
Playboy's December 1989 issue.
Huston might have loved Nicholson enough to deal with all of the young
model's revelations. But close on the heels of the Playboy article
came news over the wire services that the actor had impregnated
another of his lovers--a little-known but beautiful model and
part-time cocktail waitress named Rebecca Broussard. He couldn't keep
the news from Huston, who, according to him, took it like the "classy
lady" she is, but she nevertheless ended the relationship then and
Nicholson went on to have two children with Broussard--Lorraine, who
was born on April 16, 1990, and Raymond, born on February 20, 1992.
Nicholson and Broussard never wed, though he maintains today that "I
would have preferred that Rebecca and I had married, mostly to do with
the kids. But it just didn't work out." Instead, Nicholson set up
Broussard in a two-bedroom house down the road from his own hilltop
pad. He loves his children very much and enjoys their company. And he
still sees Broussard on occasion, but refuses to categorize their
"It's an unusual arrangement," admits Nicholson, "but the last 25
years have shown me I'm no good at cohabitation."
Despite his lack of a committed partner waiting at home every night,
Nicholson doesn't let work take over. "I try not to let my work
dominate my life, because I think that's dangerous for anyone. We've
done a job on ourselves: Work is God, and everybody who says it isn't
is an amateur and a utopian or both. What's important to me [is that]
everybody needs to build their character and develop social
graces. Otherwise they'll be very lonely in life."
Nicholson has lots of friends of both sexes. It would be difficult for
a star of his magnitude and charm (when he wishes to turn it on) not
to have all that he wants. But he admits to being "almost
reclusive. I'm nocturnal. That's why I like Batman. That's why I like
basketball, night comics and night games. I like high-spirited people,
but I'm nonconfrontational."
Nicholson also loves to watch a good film, "though there haven't been
too many of them of late, I'm sorry to say."
As for friends, he has more now than he has ever had--Danny DeVito,
Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Peter Fonda and a host of
others. Some of his golfing buddies are Joe Pesci and Jim Lampley, the
former CBS sports announcer.
He admits that his relationship with the so-called Hollywood
establishment is a difficult one to categorize. "I have a tremendous
amount of friends in the business. I don't know how to put this
statement to my advantage, but I'm actually older than most of the
studio heads in town. I was here when they got here. I was already a
big star." He grins, puffs on his cigar and adds, "So in a sense, I'm
the establishment. Of course, I socialize with all the studio heads,
but to say I go around with them--well, that's not exactly
accurate. Let's just say they court me."
Recently, Nicholson attended a stag dinner hosted by DeVito in the
banquet room at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. According to
Nicholson, there was no special reason DeVito was throwing the party,
except that he wanted to be with his friends. Among them were Douglas,
De Niro, Pesci, Lampley and a dozen others. Wolfgang Puck, the
illustrious West Coast purveyor of pizzas, showed up to cook
dinner. "After dinner, we all sat around drinking vintage Port and
smoking cigars," Nicholson says. "I had a great time. I think we all
did. Danny's that way. He just wants to show his friends a good time."
Still, there are nights when Nicholson chooses to be alone. If he
can't sleep, he falls back on his habit of playing rock or classical
music (depending on his mood) on his living room stereo so loudly
that it would drive his neighbors away--if he had any neighbors. Then,
he'll light up a Cuban cigar, and in the reflection of the picture
window overlooking the dark canyon below, he'll dance around the room
Arthur Marx is the author of three books and two plays about his
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