Copyright (c) Eve Berliner 2001. All Rights Reserved. [Terms and Conditions.]


Young Jack Nicholson: Auspicious Beginnings  


By Eve Berliner


III. The Contessa 

It was in reality the sign above Siverio Furcillo's business reading "James Rose Real Estate", a sign that Siverio inherited when he bought the building in the early 1900's, and as many immigrant families disguised their origins in business, so too did Siverio who permitted the sign to remain overhead for years to come, Mr. Rose this and Mr. Rose that, and the assumption, of course, that Don and his brothers and sister were all named Rose.

Siverio, a man of old world values and precepts, a devout Italian Catholic, was deeply distressed and angered by the imbroglio his son had gotten himself into.

But for his wife Antoinette, it festered in her her whole life. Her last act on this earth was to claim her grandson before God's eyes.

Inscribed upon the stationery of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Asbury Park, New Jersey, written in the frail, shaky hand of an old woman upon her deathbed, it reads:

"To Rev. Father Marcellino, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Asbury Park.

"Jack Nicholson my grandson. Donald D. Furcillo my son he is the father and his mother she's June Nicholson stage name June Nilson was born in New York at St. Vincent's Hospital. I am very ill. That is the truth." The letter is signed "Mrs. Antoinette A. Furcillo, 142 Heck Avenue, Ocean Grove, New Jersey."

Antoinette Furcillo, known simply as the Contessa to those who knew and loved her, nobility in her line and a great fragile beauty.

It is one of the strange phenomena of this tale that Antoinette Furcillo's mother was to bear the same maiden name of Soma as another rarefied beauty, Enrica Soma Huston, the mother of Anjelica Huston. So that Jack's great grandmother and Anjelica's mother were to share the same last name - (leading to the aberrant speculation that Jack and Anjelica in their heyday were distant cousins!)

It was to be old lady Furcillo who passed away in 1984 at age 98, who was to preserve the historical record. For stuffed behind the sofa in chaotic piles, paper bags, boxes, were a cache of documents.

The record left behind:

The Marriage Certificate of Don and June, the love letters, family letters, precious photographs, a collection of newspaper clippings disclosing her intense interest in Jack from his earliest days, records of moneygrams, an early publicity shot of June Nilson on the Hollywood page of the Sunday Times, Chicago, May 1, 1938, performing at the College Inn Revue.

Chicago, 1938, Jack one year of age:

Air Mail to Victor Furcillo, Murray State College, Vic down in Kentucky on an athletic scholarship with his hometown buddies, Shorty Smith and Gene Slocum, Shorty who was later to marry June's sister, Lorraine!

On the stationery of The Gramere Hotel:

"Dear Vic: ...I'd like to give you a ringside of 'Battlin' Nilson vs. The People of Chicago. She's in the neutral corner at all times but holding her own never fear...I miss "Him" no end and I guess that goes double with him. He writes me regularly and I called him a week ago. (Don't say anything to Lorraine as Mud will find out and I don't want her to know!) We talked for hours it seems and he really sounded bad.

"In a minute I'll be crying on your shoulder and I didn't want to...I get so terribly lonely and have so much time to think and I miss "My Stinky" so much it's not even funny."

Letter from Victor Furcillo to his mother and father:

"Dear Ma and Pa: I'm sorry to hear that Don isn't doing so good...I sure like him no matter what he does, he'll always be my favorite.

"I hope he gathers himself together soon. I know he still loves June. It is too bad. Don't tell him I said that because you know he gets mad anytime anyone mentions her name...."

Vic to Don, undated:

"You sure are a peach of a brother but all kidding aside, if you need that money for yourself I wish you wouldn't send it to me, not that I don't appreciate it.

"Well Eagle, how are the women treating you? Lorraine tells me your son (Jackie) won a baby's beauty contest in Florida. Some stuff, eh? I guess he must look like you because you're handsome. Ha Ha Ha."

Valentine Greetings by Western Union to Victor Furcillo, 142 Heck Avenue, Ocean Grove:

"Through all the years, come rain or shine, I'll always be your Valentine."

The communication is signed "Lorraine".


* * *


Antoinette Furcillo was a volatile woman. "What's running through his veins is running through mine," she would proclaim and pound the kitchen table with her fist.

Born in Monteforte Irpino, a small town outside of Naples, Italy, her father a large property owner, her brother a doctor, a sense of class distinction marked her being.

"Things happen in the best of families," she would utter.

It was always a heartache, this boy with the same bloodline as she.

His career was of great interest to her and her lady friends dropped by often with clippings and news of Jack.

Asbury Park Press, September 2, 1956. "Jack Nicholson, 19, formerly of Spring Lake, will have a TV role tomorrow afternoon in 'Drama', a Matinee Theatre presentation on WNBT, Ch. 4. The program is scheduled from 3:00 to 3:30 p.m...The Matinee Theatre program will emanate from Hollywood tomorrow."

Asbury Park Press. Manasquan High Actor Jack Nicholson "who played leads in Manasquan High School stage productions a few years ago is taking dramatics more seriously in Hollywood and today Jack starred in his first screen try, the teenage thriller "Cry Baby Killer".

There is an accompanying photograph of the intense and searching countenance of a very young and captivating Jack Nicholson. Inscribed under it in Antoinette's unmistakable immigrant hand: "Donald R.

Furcillo's son." "His father Donald R. Furcillo" she scrawls across the headline. "My son Donald Furcillo."

In the meantime," continues the article, "friends and neighbors who remember Jack and his mother, Mrs. Ethel Nicholson, now a Los Angeles resident..." "Grandmother" slashes Antoinette angrily for the editorial record.

New York Daily News, Friday, June 12, 1970: "That 'Easy Rider' man is here...Jack Nicholson. They terrorized the flesh and blood of America. Their creed: 'If it feels good do it', Rebel Rousers, a four star Excelsior release," saved for posterity by Grandma, a most unlikely motorcycle movie enthusiast.

* * *

The rumor came via Gladys Whatley, a close friend and confidante of Ethel Nicholson, who called Don. "They are thinking of putting the baby up for adoption," said Gladys.

Don called his mother.

Antoinette phoned Ethel Nicholson.

"You bring that child over here and I'll raise him. I want that boy," she told Mrs. Nicholson who sharply informed her that the rumor had no foundation and was absolutely false.

And then there was the episode at Newberry's Department Store, Antoinette walking with Eva Poinsette, suddenly spying little Jackie in the aisle, "There's Don's little boy!" she exclaimed, and walked over to the child, peered deep into his expressive eyes and said: "Hello Jackie, I'm your grandma."

"No, no. You're not my grandma. My grandma's at home," responded the innocent boy.

* * *

Grandma's collection of photographs, gems all:

Little infant Jackie on a swing, finger in mouth, which Grandma has cut and pasted onto a photo of June playing the ukelele on the beach, sister Lorraine standing demurely behind her; Jack, age four, an enchanting little fellow, most adorable, surrounded by no less than five women, including Mud, June and Lorraine (an inclination toward females that is to dog him all his days); cherubic, serious, ponderous Jack, seven or eight years of age, at his Holy Communion; and a photograph of a very sweet young girl named June Nicholson with her graduating class from Whitesville Elementary School.

The ties with Antoinette were to persist, even as the years elapsed.

Undated fragment of a letter from Grandma:

"Dear June...I can't tell you how happy I was to have received the picture of your husband and children. I wish that I could see you and your family in person. I also received the Mother's Day card. I was so happy I had to cry. I hope that God will give you and your family good health and much happiness...."

And a second fragment in frail hand:

"Dear June. I was so happy to receive your children's pictures. Sorry I could not write before. Have been ill and my son Victor is paralyzed and you know how I feel.

"I sure would love to see you and your family. If you go to see your Mother, stop over and see me and all those you hold dear."




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