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Quendrith Johnson

Quendrith Johnson is Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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Happy 77th Birthday Jack Nicholson, It's Been A Wild RIde

The photo here is said to be Anjelica Huston's favorite shot of their glory days together as featured from her collection.

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent


When the legend turns 77 on April 22, Jack Nicholson will mark it in his new-found low-key way. But Nicholson's path from New York to Hollywood has been a wild ride. In fact, The Wild Ride (1960), the "B" exploitation racing movie with Georgianna Carter, still holds up. With the dark-haired lothario, then 23, stoicly announcing "I killed Dave," after a car chase ends in his best friend's death. This after he kidnapped (!) the guy's girlfriend. There is even a reference in the movie to Marlon Brando's The Wild Ones (1953) in front of a Ford Fairlane. Wild Ride pretty much set the tone for Jack as we know him, volatile, unpredictable, yet somehow endearing.

According to AMC, the six things most people don't know about Jack include: 1) He loves professional wresting; 2) After buying his idol Marlon Brando's house, he leveled it, root and stem; 3) He once wrote a movie for the Monkees, which has a cameo by Frank Zappa and was actually produced a year after Easy Rider; 4) Jack wanted to be a cartoonist, note the scene in The Departed (2006) where he draws the Rats for DiCaprio; 5) although he backed out of playing Daddy Warbucks in Annie, he was on deck for that role; and 6) improbably, he and Danny DeVito were "childhood friends."

While those six gems are note-worthy, Jack also saved Robert "The Kid Stays in the Picture" Evans house, and he has a complicated path to the numerous children he has sired. But these are not the most interesting thing about Jack Nicholson, either. He is known for a generous heart where his close friends are concerned. From an outside-insider perspective, for years Jack Rumors surfaced in every circumstance. He endowed a screenwriting award at UCLA, and then the word was he'd have his lawyer present to meet the winner. 

What happened during those meetings is speculation. If you consider Jack was rumored to have a lawyer present before he would hit on women, well... To avoid a libel suit, let's say the rumors were just rumors.

And then there's the 2007 Rebecca Broussard imbroglio with her now ex-husband, a person not in the entertainment industry. There were TMZ tales of a multi-car crash, relentless partying, a BUI - that's boating under the influence - some yacht troubles, shall we say. Truth be told the boat was "burned to the ground," according to Celebitchy. The National Enquirer went to town on the brouhaha, but Broussard was cleared of DUI in 2007. (Full disclosure: her then-"sailor husband" is a dear friend.) According to the lore, Broussard was Jack's daughter's best friend, who had a part in the sequel to Chinatown (1974), The Two Jakes (1990). Her resemblance to screen icon Marion Davies is remarkable. Now they are just an extended/blended family like so many others in Hollywood.

All in all, Jack has weathered every crisis and near-miss, even the hit-and-Missus. To this day, he recently told the UK's Telegraph that long-time love Anjelica Huston was the one that got away. Even though Broussard's unexpected pregnancy kiboshed that relationship. (This photo is said to be Anjelica Huston's favorite shot of their glory days together as featured from her collection.)

Followed by another child, while Houston went on to marry the late great Robert Graham. 

Why do we love Jack so much? Is it the pitchfork eyebrows? The shit-eating grin, or do we just want our movie stars to venture to places personally and professionally that we would never dream of going?

Check all the boxes on that one. On screen and off, the man has been unmatched in Hollywood. Even going back to the Golden Era, with the exception of Humphrey Bogart, there has never been another Jack Nicholson. You could look at some of the silent stars, Jean Harlow gone wild or the Bob Mitchum Pot Bust of the 1940's, as a precursor to the party side, but Jack has admitted on the record that "there was a structure" to his partying ways. In other words, he knew his limits, though they may have exceeded anyone else's.

Today, you have Sean Penn, an unlikable Bad Boy, Chris Hemsworth, a tasty superhero that Jack could eat for breakfast, and even a complicated newcomer like Oscar Issac lacks the saltiness or range of Nicholson. Ryan Gosling, with his comedic timing, also a no-go on the Jack Meter. Veteran Tom Cruise is lunch, and even Al Pacino and Robert De Niro lack the scope of Jack's emotional elasticity on screen - from the Joker in Batman (1989) to As Good As it Gets (1997) to The Bucket List (2007). He can be a soft touch and a hard ass, or both, and seduce somebody while playing the victim. Think About Schmidt (2002).

So what is he up to now? Aging, apparently, though he has spent healthy years downing green drinks and looking after himself.

Back in 2010, Jack stumped hard for the film How Do You Know. It also stars Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Owen Wilson, a baseball diamond love-triangle feel-good hanky wringer. It was one of the few times a Nicholson picture had trouble with lift-off, though the very capable James L. Brooks helmed it. 

A "dud" is a rare occurrence, an almost-never throughout his One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) career. Most people just come to see Jack, even if he is playing an implausible werewolf in Wolf (1994) or speaking like a tongue-tied Italian flunky, Charley Partana.

Directed by Anjelica Huston's father John Huston, also father of resurgent Wolverine star Danny Huston, Jack Nicholson oddly faltered in Prizzi's Honor (1985) as Partana. Anjelica won the Oscar opposite him as Maerose, a killer performance that is still the best of her career - not counting TV, where she has come back strong. This is one romantic comedy where he made way for the lady, whereas, in Terms of Endearment (1983), he nearly chewed up legend Shirley MacLaine's screen time. They were vying for the limelight in that one. Heartburn, with Meryl Streep, is another odd Jack star turn.

The Shining (1980) is always the signature Jack Nicholson star-on-the-walk-of-fame beacon. Wild-eyed and ready-to-rumble, he seems unaware that he is the lead in a horror movie with his impeccable comedic timing. Stephen King may not have felt the script was faithful to his work, but that movie has a life of its own.

Nicholson is The Last Tycoon (1976), a film he had a role in, kind of that last plank between the living and dead stars - Jack has known the spectrum from Barbara Stanwyck and Lara Flynn Boyle. He's known The Missouri Breaks (1976) with Brando, then into the modern era with Sean Penn in The Crossing Guard (1995) from The Border (1982). Jack even played Jimmy Hoffa in Hoffa (1992). Plus you can see him in seminal media film Broadcast News (1987), a far cry from The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981). He's been on the Andy Griffith show, and rode the TV wave into the present on American Idol. The guy even learned a thing or two in Anger Management (2003), after Mars Attacks! (1996) and before Something's Gotta Give (2003).

In 1981, he played Eugene O'Neill in Warren Beatty's rambling political period piece Reds, and now, for 2015, he is (again "rumored") on board an "Untitled Warren Beatty Project." No, it won't be another 1971 Carnal Knowledge-type or Five Easy Pieces (1970) or Last Detail (1973) movie, those days are gone. But it's nice to know of A Few Good Men (1993) in Hollywood, one man defines the Daryl Van Horne (The Witches of Eastwick (1987)) persona for good... or evil. That's why we go to the movies, to watch somebody else appear to burn down the house just as we pay tickets to get in.

Watch for Warren Beatty's 2015 production with Jack Nicholson to be named later this year. That flick is allegedly shooting now.

Happy Birthday Jack Nicholson, 76 Trombones in the Big Parade, Plus One on April 22, 2014.


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