Today is legendary film star Jack Nicholson’s 79th birthday! Before you bust out the cake and start toasting his health, let’s take a moment to see what other Hollywood legends have to say about the life of the A-lister (the following opinions are excerpted from Jack Nicholson: The Early Years by Robert Crane and Christopher Fryer):
Roger Corman – The film director credited with discovering Nicholson
Question: Can you tell us how you first discovered Jack Nicholson?
Roger Corman: As a director I enrolled in an acting class of Jeff Corey’s,feeling I wanted to know a little bit more about acting. I wasn’t trying to be an actor, but just to add to my working background as a director, and Jack was in the class and I was very much impressed by his work. So Jack and I became friends, and we worked together in a number of films. This was about ten or twelve years ago [side note: this book was originally published in 1975].
Question: Where do you think Jack Nicholson ranks among American actors today?
Corman: I think he’s one of the most important American actors for this reason: he’s one of the few leading men who will take a chance on extremely unusual and offbeat material, and I think that’s one of the reasons he will probably stay a major actor for most of his life, or as long as he wants to work. He will not run the danger of being typecast and tossed aside when that particular type of film fades from favor. His willingness, if not eagerness, to go to offbeat material will stand him in good stead. I think somewhere along the line he will make a mistake, and one or two of those films will be unfortunate choices, but I think this is the nature of the game.
Bruce Dern – Well-known Hollywood actor and close friend of Nicholson
Question: Do you think at this point you could pick out one performance and call it his best?
Dern: Easy Rider.
Dern: It was the first time that we’d seen him. He was definitely the character. He was more a deep part of Jack than what we’ve seen before. Now his overall performance in Five Easy Pieces was outstanding, but it was closer to Jack. He didn’t have to reach as far. I think probably the years will tell us that the work in Five Easy Pieces was greater than Easy Rider. But for me, Easy Rider was the World Series for him, and he won the car. I mean, that’s what it’s all about. For me, Marvin Gardens is the World Series, and I won the car. They may not know I won the car, but I won the car, because I know I was great in the film. I’ve never done as good work in my life. And we’re talking about two guys that always do great work, but somehow the thing that’s the most gratifying is when a guy does it under the pressure of knowing that this is his shot. A guy like Redford will always have a shot, that’s why his work ain’t never worth a shit. He’s good; he’s always good, but he ain’t never great. Beatty’s the same way, only I think Redford is a good deal better actor than Beatty is. He’s always Warren Beatty. He’ll give you a couple of variations, but Jack was not just Jack in Easy Rider, nor was he in Five Easy Pieces, and there’s no way he’s Jack in this, and there’s no way I’m Bruce in this. But there’ll be a whole new flock of fans that will see this movie and say, “That’s Jack Nicholson, and that’s Bruce Dern.” That’s why I think Easy Rider was the best thing.
What Jack Nicholson had to say about himself:
Question: How important were your early films to the advancement of your career?
Nicholson: Very important. Any work that you do as an actor is important to you as an actor in learning it. This is how you develop; you have to work. Very few actors have been any good in movies before they’ve done a few. What’s happened in the commercial marketplace is that only the young people are pulling the people into the theaters right now. John Wayne, or any of these guys, aren’t really pulling people. This has caused the young actor to be more prominent than he would be normally. I always felt that I was lucky to be doing all those movies, even though I felt that at least half of them were really stinky. A lot of actors are having to learn—like I was having a conversation with Warren Beatty, and it’s hard for someone like Warren to have to learn the acting while doing it at a very important commercial level. It’s a painful and difficult experience—one that I’m glad I didn’t really have to go through. Warren did it very well, I think. He did mostly good, interesting films.Question: Can you characterize Jack Nicholson in one sentence?
Nicholson: He just wanted to make it nice.
We sincerely hope Mr. Nicholson has an enjoyable birthday today. If you would like to learn more about his life, be sure to check out the only biography he has actively taken a part in, Jack Nicholson: The Early Years.