Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Fans of Jack Nicolson will be thrilled to hear that two biographers are flogging a book on the megastar titled – “Jack Nicholson: The Early Years” – that is a fascinating and hilarious read.
The two authors – Robert Crane and Christopher Fryer – first hatched up the concept for their thesis when they were fellow students (and close friends) in college many moons ago.
Last night at a signing at Book Soup in West Hollywood, the engaging writers noted for the record that once they got the green light from their professor, it was just a matter of getting approval from the academy-award-winning actor.
A piece of cake, right?
“Yeah, right,” they joked.
After all, it did not escape their attention that A-list actors were usually surrounded by handlers – palace guards according to Fryer – hired to run interference with the uncouth masses.
Once they got “Jack’s” telephone number – by way of a chance encounter – it was a different story altogether.
Maybe it was their naiveté which saved them?
“When we got Nicholson on the phone, he invited us over to his house to discuss the project right away,” they beamed.
When they pulled into the dirt driveway – which he shared with neighbor Marlon Brando – they were surprised at the lack of security. At point, they were so excited at the prospect of nabbing Jack's approval that sloppy driving nearly sent their car spinning out-of-control over the side of a cliff in the exclusive enclave.
Jack gave the eager beavers his blessing, but was adamant about one thing.
“I’m real busy. I can’t help you with it.”
Nicholson had just received a lot of acclaim for his role in "Easy Rider" and had recently been thrust into the glare of the spotlight.
Although the actor was no stranger to the film industry – at that point in his life he had about twenty obscure roles under his belt – people were just starting to sit up and take notice.
“Who is this guy?” was the common lament in show-biz circles.
For their thesis, the authors were intent on focusing on anti-heros in film – the image of which – Nicholson had helped shape in their estimation.
The book took about 4 ½ years to pen.
“In those days, there wasn’t any Internet, so it was tough drumming up photographs, facts, and information,” Fryer fessed up.
At one point, they diggered over a still they located which had been taken on the set of the movie "Chinatown".
There were three people in the photograph: Houston, Nicholson, and an unidentified woman (who appeared to be Faye Dunaway).
“Although we weren’t sure, we decided to publish it in the book.”
When a classy bound copy of the coffee-table book was presented to Nicholson, he was inclined to thumb through the crisp pages for a quick glimpse inside, a few years later.
“That isn’t Faye Dunaway,” he scoffed, when he stumbled across the still.
They had taken a gamble and lost.
Today, they chuckle about it.
Whenever the winsome twosome approached an individual close to Nicholson for an interview, there was always one prevailing question put to them, by the way.
“Does Jack know about this?”
Once the individuals learned that the authors got a thumbs up from the star, they relaxed and opened up.
At the event last night one inquisitive guest wondered who they thought knew the actor best.
“Probably Karen Black,” they responded in unison.
Chasing down the actress (who they described as “Kookie”) for an interview was a difficult assignment, too.
But, it was Sally Struthers who was nearly their undoing.
The authors explained that they usually presented a “release” for their subjects to sign, so there would not be any problems with publishing the material.
For some inexplicable reason, they failed to secure one from Sally.
So, they were forced to retrieve one just before publication of the book.
However, Ms. Struthers appeared to be a bit of a slippery character to pin down.
She requested a copy of the transcript first before signing off.
When she came across some negative comments she made about Steve McQueen being “reckless” on the set she balked.
“We can’t publish this,” she wailed.
The incident coined a phrase.
Whenever they double-check an individual for a release, they ask themselves:
Has he or she been "stutherized"?
The book also contains some humorous admissions from the actor.
For instance, when Jack was asked why he agreed to act in a Barbra Streisand flop – “On a Clear Day you can see Forever” - he fessed up.
“I did it for the money. I needed the bread.”
But, he rationalized a bit.
“It was a film about ESP or something.”
So, in view of that, he thought it was okay.
Well, it gave him some wiggle room, anyway!
The authors made quite a revelation last night too in respect to editorial decisions that were made in respect to Nicholson’s childhood and upbringing.
Apparently, they learned early on that Jack was raised by his grandmother.
And, get this, when he was a boy he was under the impression that his true mother was his sister.
Although it was a bit of a shocker, and they would have liked the scoop, they opted to leave out those personal family matters.
Later, a major daily published the story - and subsequently - the facts are a matter of public record now.
Today, they feel good about their decision, though.
“When Jack signed a copy of the book for us, he thanked us for making things nice.”
I expect that the Jack Nicholson biography on his early years will fly off the shelves.
By the way, I was in Jack Nicholson’s presence just once.
When I was residing on Flores Street in West Hollywood years ago, an art gallery owner – by the name of Nicholas Wilder – invited me to an exhibition (David Hockey, I think).
At one point, just before I left, Jack Nicholson casually strode in sporting a Hawaiian shirt, white pants, and loafers (if I recall correctly).
He was polite and low-key.
Curiously, shortly after I started to head home, I had another brief encounter with Truman Capote (who was heading off to Nick’s gallery to also take in the show).
That’s Los Angeles for you!
You never know who you’ll meet – when – or why.
Such is the appeal of the City of “lost” Angeles.