On His Own Terms
Riding high atop Hollywood's star machine, Jack Nicholson is enjoying the view.
From the Print Edition:
Jack Nicholson, Summer 95
(continued from page 3)
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 upstairs hallway.)
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 in 1963.
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 dark secret.
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.
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Paul AI — October 2, 2010 9:07pm ET
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