Though not primarily known for his work in film noir, Jack Nicholson is best known in the genre for his portrayal of Jake Gittes in Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974), and for his performance in the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981). Nicholson was born April 22, 1937 in Neptune, New Jersey. He graduated from high school in New Jersey at age 17, and shortly after moved to Los Angeles. There he worked as an office boy at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer before making his screen debut in Roger Corman's The Cry Baby Killer in 1958. Nicholson went on to work with Corman on several more films during the next few years, including Little Shop of Horrors (1959) and The Raven (1963). In the follow-up to the later film, The Terror (1963), he worked with a then-unknown Francis Ford Coppola.
A brief appearance in the exploitation tale Hell's Angels on Wheels (1966) followed before Nicholson wrote the acid-culture drama The Trip, which co-starred Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda. He also penned 1968's Head, a psychedelic saga starring the television pop group the Monkees which was directed by Bob Rafelson, and he wrote and co-starred in Psych-Out (1968). After rejecting a role in Bonnie and Clyde, Nicholson was approached by Hopper and Fonda to star in their 1969 counterculture epic Easy Rider (1968). The film gave Nicholson his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and was his breakthrough role.
Nicholson earned another Oscar nomination as detective Jake Gittes in Roman Polanski's brilliant noir film Chinatown (1974), universally hailed among the decade's greatest motion pictures. But he finally won his first Academy Award, for Best Actor as rebellious asylum patient Randall Patrick McMurphy in Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), the first film to win all the major Academy Awards since It Happened One Night (1934). The film earned over $60 million and firmly established Nicholson as the screen's most popular star--so popular, in fact, that he was able to turn down roles in projects including The Sting, The Godfather and Apocalypse Now without suffering any ill effects.
Nicholson did agree to co-star in The Missouri Breaks (1977) for the opportunity to work with his hero, Marlon Brando; despite their combined drawing power, however, the film was not a hit. Nor was his next directorial effort, Goin' South (1978). Nicholson started the 80's on a high note with a terrifying performance in Stanley Kubrick's film adaption of Stephen King's novel The Shining (1980), and a year later he starred in Rafelson's remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) He received an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in Warren Beatty's Reds (1981) and won for Best Supporting Actor in Terms of Endearment (1983), playing a retired astronaut who has an affair with Aurora, played by Shirley MacLaine.
During the second half of the decade still more Oscar nominations were to come, for his portrayal of a mobster in love, in John Huston's Prizzi's Honor (1985), opposite Kathleen Turner, and one for his performance in Ironweel (1987), opposite Meryl Streep. In 1987 Nicholson starred as the Devil in the hit The Witches of Eastwick--a role few denied he was born to play. In 1989, he starred as the Joker in a wildly over-the-top performance in Tim Burton's blockbuster Batman. The 1990s began with the long-awaited and often-delayed Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes (1990), which Nicholson also directed. More films followed, including the biopic Hoffa (1992), A Few Good Men (1992), and another Best Supporting Actor nomination for Mike Nichols' Wolf (1994), where he plays a book editor who is bitten by a wolf, a perfect Nicholson part.
In 1997, Nicholson enjoyed a sort of career renaissance with James L. Brooks' As Good As it Gets, an enormously successful film that netted a third Oscar (for Best Actor) for Nicholson, as well as a Best Actress Oscar for his co-star Helen Hunt. Nicholson and Hunt also picked up Golden Globes for their performances, two of many awards lavished upon the film. Then, after taking a four-year exile from film, Nicholson stepped back in front of the camera under the direction of actor-turned-director Sean Penn for the police drama The Pledge (2001), and in Alexander Payne's drama About Schmidt (2002).
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