On His Own Terms
Riding high atop Hollywood's star machine, Jack Nicholson is enjoying the view.
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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 way?
"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 private life.
"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 picture."
"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 relationship."
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 there.
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 present relationship.
"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."
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 by himself.
Arthur Marx is the author of three books and two plays about his father, Groucho.
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