Copyright (c) Eve Berliner 2001. All Rights Reserved. [Terms and Conditions.]
Young Jack Nicholson: Auspicious Beginnings
By Eve Berliner
There was only the acknowledgment in that first stunned conversation in 1974 when the ringing of the telephone slashed the silence of 37 years, l:00 or 2:00 a.m., Don aroused from deep sleep, and a familiar voice, as if from the depths of his dream, intoned, "I understand you're family."
"Yes, I am your father," uttered Don.
And then on the day of Shorty Smith's funeral, June l985, passing surreally near the Asbury Park Carousel, Don unknown to Jack, seized with sudden paralysis, unable to approach, to speak, Jack who loved Shorty very much, walking slowly through the ghosts of his childhood with Annie Marshall, his secretary, and Anjelica Huston, his love, his father appearing before him, an apparition on the boardwalk, passing imperceptibly in the sunlight.
And again, the second telephone call, misconstrued, 1983:
Jack: "Did you leave a message for me to call you?"
"No, I didn't call you," stammered Don as he pulled himself awake. "I didn't leave a message."
And a groping goodbye.
These the only contacts between father and son in a lifetime, the rest lost to the web of silence.
Don Furcillo Rose departed this earth in the summer of 1997 having spent a lifetime yearning for the son that eluded him. The final siege of cancer was a terrible one and in the end, in his morphine delirium, to ease his passage, his beautiful wife, Dorothy and daughter, Donna, told him that Jack had come to see him.
"He kissed your forehead," Dorothy whispered tenderly.
"Yes," he said.
"What did you say to him?" a hospice nurse asked.
"I said, 'What the hell took you so long?'"
They were his final words.
* * *
Don Furcillo Rose, the father Jack had
never known, a vaudevillian dreamer, a player upon the stage, a colorful
figure in his own right, his eyesight stolen away by misdiagnosed glaucoma,
his wife Dorothy, his eyes -- imposing still at 80 years of age. Sitting on
the porch of his tiny Victorian home in
"I was stunned. It was the middle of the night. 'Hello, I understand you're family.' I don't understand what you're talking about! Yes, I'm your father. Whether anyone likes it or not, that's it!
"He was extremely pleasant. No one could be nicer. Very, very nice. Extremely nice. Asked if he could do anything for me. 'Can I do anything for you?' I responded. 'If you need anything you let me know.'
"It was the one time in my life I was lost for words. Finally, we broke off the conversation. 'I don't understand why you don't know these things, why they didn't tell you.' He said something like he didn't want to get too close to anyone. It breaks him up. He wouldn't want to get too close to me. Wouldn't want to go through that again.
"And then we were lost for conversation, lost for words. Asked if I needed anything. Anything I can do for you? he said.
"I should have said I'd like to explain a few things but with a call, it's such a shock to you. There was no bitterness. I was taken aback. I had nothing to explain to him in the middle of the night. You don't know what to say. Am I family?
"I got the impression that he didn't want to go back. It was a torment to him, finding out about his mother. It really broke him up. He didn't want to get too close to me."
* * *
The reminiscences of each other ran so deep -- in the characteristic expressions of face, the brooding, deep hazel eyes, the dynamic electricity of the smile, the flaring of the nostrils, the receding path of the hairline, the build, the brow, the lines around the mouth and nose -- and in certain subtle madnesses of countenance known to grace the Nicholson visage that would appear surreptitiously on his father's face.
So that one who knew both men could see them eerily reflected in each other, a resemblance that strongly intensifies as age takes its undaunting hold on Jack.
Only the prominent Neapolitan proboscis on his father's face, his mediterranean nose, sharply differentiated the two.
Don Furcillo Rose, an owner of thoroughbreds, an old song and dance man, a lover of women ("I never said I was an angel"), an astute businessman with a chain of lucrative beauty salons up and down the New Jersey coast, his partners in the horse business, J.J. Machu, the millionaire head of the Breeze Corporation, and Joe Codone, owner of The Montclair Times; Box 142, Monmouth Park, New Jersey Don's personal perch upon the world for 50 years -- Don who loved to ski, a championship golfer, for 20 years author of On the Fairways, a lively golf column for the Asbury Park Press, Jack an avid and powerful skier himself who has been known to spend obsessive hours on the driving range slamming golf balls into oblivion.
So much they could have shared.
He loved her to the end of his days.
"June was wonderful. One of the nicest girls with the biggest heart. She helped a lot of people out. June would do anything for anyone. If you knew June you'd like her. If you didn't like June, you didn't like yourself.
"June was fast, terrific brain, funny. And June was a fantastic dancer. Heart as big as a whale. I know one thing. She was good to everyone. Looked after the family, always a family girl.
* * *
The storm of pregnancy hit their young lives with the fury of the Atlantic seas.
"I told June we had to do something. She was 3-1/2 months pregnant and beginning to show in a two-piece suit. We got to tell your mother about it. We went to the mother. "What's wrong?" she said. "June's pregnant. We're gonna get married."
"'How are you going to get married? she screamed. 'You're already married!' She was beside herself. She was mad. Really blew her stack. 'How could you do this to me?' She couldn't understand it. Threatened to put me in jail. 'They could put you away for life. She's a minor!'
'Stay away from her or I'll have you arrested!'
"I didn't realize it but June was jailbait really. I know one thing. I went through a time when I was afraid of a knock on the door. Some guy going to arrest me for being a bigamist. I didn't come home. After that I got out and went to Lavalette. [NJ] I had to get away from that. It frightened me that the police could come and arrest me. It was frightening to me."
As for the marriage, "The marriage was the more honorable thing. Something we did for ourselves. Just the idea of doing the right thing, not to be a heel, making her feel relieved. People don't realize she was just a kid.
"We never told her mother about it. We wanted to do it and that's that. So you would have it, I told her, just in case, for years to come. June was crying at the time."
* * *
As long as he kept quiet, that was the
credo, the devil's bargain, and Don bore it in silence, watching from afar
the sparkling little boy on Bradley Beach, a photograph slipped to him of
Jack at his Holy Communion, there in the audience at his graduation.
"That's my son," he would tell Dorothy, taking the long drive up to
"I've watched from the vestibules of Jack's life. And when he became a star, I knew I would never be able to get to him. He would always think I'm after something.
* * *
He always loved Jack. That was the sadness of it, the brutality, the love affair with June aborted, the son lost, Jack the final victim of the conspiracy.
"I sent money in tough times. I was paying two people -- Anne Borne, and a few dollars toward June," Don recalling how he would drop his friend Archie D'Angelo at the Nicholson door with an envelope for June, ["Application for Domestic Money Order in the amount of $17.00 to June Nilson sent by Donald Furcillo , 142 Heck Avenue, Ocean Grove," a surviving memento of a monetary gift.]
And old pal Fred Traverso was to deliver fifty bucks to June on several occasions -- whenever their paths would cross -- for later reimbursement by Don. That was their deal.
It is also to be noted that in the early days of their desperation, there were indeed thoughts of abortion, June plunging herself into hot baths, mustard baths, and finally imploring Don to get her pills that would induce miscarriage.
"I certainly wasn't going to go for an abortion. I couldn't do it. I pretended I was trying to help her and gave her headache pills that couldn't do a thing.
"Wasn't for me, she would have had it aborted, I tell you.
"What really hurt was I know I did the right thing. She was pregnant. I knew what to do.
"Last time I saw June I was driving a Packard convertible. 'Can I do anything for you people?" I remember asking. 'No' they replied. 'I'm not going to cause trouble,' I thought to myself.
"You need me, you know how to locate me. She never did. Lost track of her after that. Wanted someone to come up to me with a message from June. No one ever did. They worked it out."
"Afterward, I ran away more or less. I stayed away from here for fifty years.