Jack Nicholson achieved his breakthrough with the cult film “Easy Rider,” in the role of an alcoholic lawyer named George Hanson. In one of the most iconic scenes of the film, he meets the two bikers depicted by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in front of the local police station after spending a night with them in the town jail. While the bikers are gearing up to hit the road, Nicholson takes out a bottle of Jim Beam and declares, “Here’s the first of the day, fellows,” before taking a swig. A twist in his face is accompanied by an unexpected reaction as he lifts an elbow and starts flapping his arm like a chicken’s wing while cackling an enigmatic: “Nik Nik Nik…”
With this role, Nicholson earned one of the 12 Oscar nominations of his career – which makes him the most nominated male actor in Academy Awards history. If he’s known by everyone as an actor, it is often forgotten that he has also worked as a producer, scriptwriter and director too.
Trained by Roger Corman
Born on April 22, 1937, in New York, Nicholson grew up in New Jersey. He started acting in school, where he was the class clown.
In 1954, he followed his mother to Los Angeles. Nicholson took an office job at MGM studios, all the while training to become an actor.
His first appearance on screen came with the TV series “NBC Matinee Theater,” in 1956. Two years later, Jack Nicholson met independent film director and producer Roger Corman. It turned out to be a decisive meeting, as Corman was about to start filming a series of B-movies.
Among them was the 1960 black comedy horror film “The Little Shop of Horrors,” in which Nicholson played a dentist’s masochistic patient. The movie about a plant that feeds on human flesh became a cult hit. From then on, Nicholson was part of Corman’s cinematic family, acting with stars such as Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Peter Lorre. He also co-directed for the first time with Corman on “The Terror” (1963), on which he also had a lead role.
In the mid-1960s, Nicholson also started writing for the screen and one of his scripts, “The Trip” (1967), directed by Corman, became one of the first films ever to depict LSD trips.
As a friend of the actors Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, he was invited to jump on a Harley with them for “Easy Rider” in 1969. He was also one of the executive producers of the landmark work and, according to producer Bert Schneider, he also made sure Fonda and Hopper didn’t kill each other during the shoot. “Easy Rider” became the most successful film of the New Hollywood period defined by young, innovative directors. Nicholson’s image of the unshaven anti-hero perfectly fit into the spirit of that era.
One of the faces of New Hollywood
Still, Nicholson’s name didn’t guarantee a film’s success yet. The very sociable actor was always ready to help out friends by acting in their average projects. He was therefore always busy shooting, but for…