Before They Were Famous — Two Early Jack Nicholson Movies Show Why He Became A Star

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November 23, 2015 — Jack Nicholson has been famous for so long that it is hard to imagine a time when his face and name were not instantly recognizable. His raised eyebrows and smirk have been part of our consciousness for many years.

Although he had been working as an actor for more than a decade, he first came to almost universal attention with the movie Easy Rider  in 1969. The film, produced by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, was a touchstone in the counterculture movement. It made Nicholson a star.

The next year he would star in Five Easy Pieces, in which he played another rootless, counter culture drifter. He would receive his first Academy Award nomination for the role, which would cement his stardom. 

From there on, roles in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shining, The Last Detail, A Few Good Men, The Witches of Eastwick, The Departed and many other top films would guarantee that he was always a top star. He has 12 Academy Award nominations, more than any other male actor (8 for Best Actor, 4 for Best Supporting actor), and 3 wins. He, Michael Caine, Paul Newman and Laurence Olivier are the only actors to have been nominated in  5 successive decades.

There is some question as to whether the 77 year old  Jack Nicholson is officially retired. He has not made a movie in 5 years; but Robert Downey Jr. has apparently been trying to convince him to make a comeback in the third installment of the Sherlock Holmes franchise. Nothing is set, no announcement has been made. But the rumor mill claims that Downey is going all out to try to convince Nicholson to appear.

Still, back in 1960, Nicholson was a virtual unknown. He did make two movies that year, however; The Wild Ride, in which he starred as a Beat Generation drifter, rebellious, cynical and doomed. The film has a cult following —  this early version of the Jack Nicholson persona as an outsider with an attitude is a large part of the reason.

And Little Shop of Horrors –the original Roger Corman film, not the musical — features Nicholson in a small but excruciating role as the masochistic patient of a sadistic dentist (the dentist would be played by Steve Martin in the musical remake).

Own these two early Nicholson favorites.
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