Christopher Fryer and Robert Crane were USC

students in 1971 when they decided to write their term thesis on “the

emergence of the anti-hero in American cinema” — and set out to

interview Mr. Anti-Hero himself, Jack Nicholson. Hubris isn't exactly

rare in college students; what separates Fryer and Crane from the masses

is that they actually got the interview. And then another interview.

And then access to Nicholson's friends and collaborators. The resulting

book, Nicholson: The Early Years, was published in 1975.


Fryer and Crane write in their foreword to the new edition, released

last month by University Press of Kentucky, they initially promised

Nicholson the interview would not be published. Then something happened

that seems inconceivable in 2012. “We began bumping into Jack around

town, a Lakers game, an antiwar rally at UCLA, a Rolling Stones concert,

a fundraiser for George McGovern,” they write. “Because Jack's body of

work was fast becoming unequaled, at least in our considered opinions,

we casually floated the idea to him of doing a book about his films.”

Nicholson said yes; to date, Fryer and Crane's is the only book written

with his blessing.

It was a different time. The enterprising

students tracked down Nicholson without an agent or a manager — he

answered his own phone. The actor's house on Mulholland Drive, which

shared a driveway with Marlon Brando's, didn't even have a gate.

“Sitting down with Jack Nicholson to talk about filmmaking felt perfectly natural,” Fryer tells the Weekly.

“It was a time when people talked about movies — about the ideas, the

filmmaking and the acting. How many films have you seen this year that

sparked debate? In the early '70s, there were a couple of films every

week in Westwood that created that conversational buzz.”

Even so,

Crane admits, they knew the access they were getting was kind of crazy.

“But Chris and I were in our early 20s and we were so full of ourselves

that the word 'no' wasn't part of our vocabulary.”

The interviews

are illuminating. Ann-Margret tells the authors that Nicholson is a

“secure man, who's gone through a lot of insecurities to get that way.”

Bruce Dern tells them, “He brags about a lot more pussy than he's ever

gotten.” (Dern also tells the authors that Peter Fonda “just doesn't

have a clue.”) Nicholson himself talks about film, women and how much

his film with Barbra Streisand, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, sucked.

“Looking back on it,” Fryer observes, “Jack's candor does as much to obscure his personality as it does to enlighten it.”

Fryer and Crane will do a reading at Book Soup June 26 at 7 p.m. Crane also will read from his new book, My Life as a Mankiewicz,

co-written by the late Tom Mankiewicz. Son of legendary writer-producer

Joseph L., Tom Mankiewicz was a respected script doctor who died of

pancreatic cancer in 2010.

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