Copyright (c) Eve Berliner 2001. All Rights Reserved. [Terms and Conditions.]
Young Jack Nicholson: Auspicious Beginnings
By Eve Berliner
By Eve Berliner
The conception took place in an ocean town along windswept New Jersey shores, an accident of fate between lovers, Neptune, the god of the sea, peering down on the passionate occurrence on that sultry July noon of 1936.
And thus, Jack Nicholson came into his spectacular existence.
His birth remains an enigma.
There is, in fact, no Certificate of Birth, only a Certificate of a Delayed Report of Birth, filed on May 24, 1954, when Jack was 17 years of age. Issued by the New Jersey State Department of Health, State Registrar of Vital Statistics, the document reports that John Joseph Nicholson, Jr. was born on April 22, 1937 to Ethel M. and John Joseph Nicholson in the Township and City of Neptune, County of Monmouth.
Name of Hospital or Institution where the birth occurred: None.
Location of Birth: 1410 Sixth Avenue.
The signature of the affiant is Ethel M. Nicholson, age 56 -- Relationship to Child: Mother -- whose own address at the time of birth is reported as 1410 Sixth Avenue, Neptune, New Jersey.
The document attests that her infant son, John Joseph Nicholson, Jr., was born at home.
In point of fact, John Joseph Nicholson, Jr. was born at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City and since no record of this event is to be found in New York City birth archives, it is likely that he was born, his father was to speculate, under a cousin's name.
For the record, Jack Nicholson does not exist.
* * *
She was at a scintillating peak that spring of 1936 with her beautiful Irish fire, June Nicholson, at 17 years of age, a showgirl with the renowned Earl Carroll Dancers, and imbued with a dark, mesmerizing older man.
And as the steaming locomotive pulled out of Pennsylvania Station, travelling south to Washington, D.C., on across to Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and ending up in Dallas, Texas, June changing trains six times, the stream of love letters begin and the love affair unfolds:
Mr. Don Furcillo, Heck Avenue, Ocean Grove, May 13, 1936:
"Don, have just a moment but want you to know I'm thinking of you. Love Dink."
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
"Left New York at 12:00 p.m. Reached Washington at 7 a.m. Miss you terribly, will write later...Love, Dinky"
And on the elegant, silken stationery of the Melrose Hotel, Oak Lawn and Cedar Springs, Dallas, Texas, May 14, 1936. Thursday morning:
"Donnie Dear....The people we are working for are just grand. They are paying all our expenses until we open which is May 27th and I mean they are treating us really fine....The club where we are working is one of the swankiest here in Dallas.
"So all in all there's only one thing missing and that's you. I miss you so much Snooky Puss....
"How is mother, Don? Please go up and see her and make her feel good for my sake once in awhile as she loves to see you. Do this for me and also keep your eye on Lorraine."
French Casino, Dallas, Texas:
"Dear Don: Who is she anyway? Do I know her? Could you at least make an excuse and take time out to drop me a line once in awhile?
"Have you been over to see Mother? Write and tell me exactly how she is.... I didn't want to miss a day dropping you a line so that you will have to answer. Lots of love for you. June."
Melrose Hotel, May 12, 1936:
"My Dearest Snookypuss: I was thinking of you all day and just imagining what we would have been doing if I were home....
"We have been rehearsing very hard as the opening is drawing near....It is very sweet of you to keep my mother happy as by her letters I judge that she would like me home."
Melrose Hotel, May 26:
"Well tomorrow night is the big night and Dallas is going to see the biggest, best, classiest stuff it has ever seen....and when that show opens we're going to give them excitement that they'll never forget.
"Everybody is just all in working day and night....We have a dress rehearsal tonight which means we'll be up all night and no sleep so thought I had better get this off while I'm still alive.
"As always, Dink."
* * *
Don Furcillo, with his carved Neapolitan face, powerful eyes, Italian nobility in his blood, and it showed in his bearing, his dark magnetism. June spotted him dancing at the Whitesville Fire Company with several other women and she was smitten.
At age 27, Don Furcillo, a young entrepreneur and amateur vaudevillian himself, was married to but separated from Anne Born, a minister's daughter, as they awaited an annulment of their marriage -- for some years to come -- from the Catholic Church.
It was just after his return from Florida, the separation now for almost a year, that Don fell madly for June. Don assumed naturally that she was a young woman in her twenties, her career well established -- the Earl Carroll Vanities acclaimed worldwide. June had also been on the road with Moe Morton and His Revue, and even played straight lady to the comic slapstick of Pinky Lee.
Western Union! Collect from Ft. Wayne, Indiana to Don Furcillo.
"Need thirty dollars immediately to get home. Don't mention anything to Mud. Will explain when I get home. You are the only one I can turn to. Wire on Western Union, Hotel Baltes, Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Love, Dink"
Receipt for Telegraphic Money Order, June 27, 1936.
"Received from Don Furcillo Thirty-Five Dollars to be paid to June Nilson at Ft. Wayne, Indiana." [Nilson, June's stage name] - Signed: "The Western Union Telegram Company."
June was coming home. A strike had erupted at the hotel. The booking was cancelled.
It was to be a summer of love in the afternoon -- away from the watchful eye of her mother -- and red hot weekends dancing at the Monterrey Hotel in Asbury Park, her solo tap act a showstopper!
And as fate would have it, something extraordinary occurred. The twosome became a foursome, a wonderful foursome of two brothers and two sisters -- Don and June and Vic and Lorraine -- Lorraine, June's pouty, befreckled kid sister, age 14, and Don's striking younger brother Victor, who would die so tragically, so young, but whose own close relationship with Lorraine was to endure for some years to come.
The summer of '36: The photographs tell the tale. June and Don hugging on Bradley Beach, mugging for the camera. Lorraine and Vic. Two pairs of lovebirds playing affectionately on the beach. The Nicholson women -- Lorraine, Mud (short for Mudder which was short for Mother [Mrs. Nicholson] ( a comic invention of June's) and June, sitting on the sideboard of an imposing automobile of the era. The Nicholson women entwined in Mud's arms on the sands of Bradley Beach.
* * *
By October, the devastating news could no longer be denied. June was three months pregnant!
The marriage was largely a symbolic union, if not ultimately a legal one. Don was by law a married man, subject to the laws of bigamy. June was
underage and utilized a false name on the document.
The Certificate of Marriage, its parchment frayed, yellowed with the passing of time, a delicate floral pattern faintly visible, bears testimony to the union.
"This is to Certify that on the 16th day of October in the year of our Lord 1936, Mr. Donald Furcillo of Ocean Grove, New Jersey and Miss June Nilson of Neptune, New Jersey were by me united in Marriage at 102 Delaware Avenue, Elkton, Maryland, according to the ordinance of God and the laws of the State of Maryland."
Mary Schaeffer and John Crawford, Witnesses.
Rev. Walter Schaeffer officiating.
Elkton, Maryland, like Las Vegas, Nevada, was a town notorious for its quickie marriages. Don paid ten dollars at the local courthouse to a gentleman who put him in touch with the Rev. Schaeffer to whom Don, explaining the circumstances surrounding the nuptials, paid twenty dollars to keep it out of the newspapers. The marriage was performed and effectively buried by Rev. Schaeffer, who saw fit not to file the certificate in Elkton marriage archives (unbeknownst to Don, who feared prosecution for bigamy until the statute of limitations ran out years later).
And If technically Jack Nicholson is a bastard, it was not so in the hearts of his mother and father.
For Mrs. Nicholson, the news of June's pregnancy was a devastation, the overwhelming shame of illegitimacy, the years of hard work and sacrifice dreaming for her daughter, the years of lessons, her own dreams for herself submerged as she fought for her children.
Three days following the marriage, October 19, 1936, on the stationery of the Lord Baltimore Hotel:
"Donny dear, just a short note this morning to let you know I'm thinking of you every minute and that I still love you....
"I am through here Wednesday night and we'll leave immediately after the last show for home...Don't think anything wrong...I shall be thinking of you and missing you terribly. Loads of love, June."
Second communique of the day, State Theatre, Baltimore, Maryland, October 19, 1936:
"Donny dear...I hope you still love me and don't feel bitter about things and nothing can ever change my feelings towards you. I shall always love you because it is something that I didn't realize at first, something that has grown to be a part of me.
"But then there is one obligation I have to fulfill and that is to my mother, Donny, and when that is done then I shall have my life to live.
"Please try to understand my point darling and help me, want me to get ahead for her sake...so until tomorrow, all my love to you, June"
* * *
And so the Nicholson family myth was perpetrated.
Mrs. Nicholson would claim the baby as her own and husband John's.
The child was never to know June was its mother.
The relationship between Don and June would be severed.
June would be quietly dispatched to a cousin's house in New York for the period of gestation and subsequent birth.
And thus, a conspiracy of silence was launched that was not to end until Jack Nicholson was 37 years of age, the year 1974, when Jack, working on the set of The Fortune with his friend Mike Nichols, is summoned to the telephone by a newspaper reporter from The Asbury Park Press, his hometown paper, and the incomprehensible bombshell is dropped that his beloved June is not his sister but his mother, and Ethel Nicholson, is not his mother but his grandmother -- June long gone by this time, having perished at age 44 in 1963, a victim of cancer; Mud gone too, having passed away in January of 1970, just missing Jack's meteoric rise to fame four months hence.
They had taken the secret to their graves.
And the late John Joseph Nicholson, the shadowy figure little Jackie would somehow always address as Jack and never Dad, was in truth his grandfather; his father was a stranger named Don Furcillo Rose.
And so it was to come as a stunning revelation, Jack reeling, still reeling from the deceit, the pain of it, and something broke apart in his heart, Jack grappling still grappling with the shock to this hard day.