Anjelica Huston has excerpted parts of her forthcoming memoir, Watch Me, in the December 2014 issue of Vanity Fair, which chronicle her tumultuous, 16-year relationship with Jack Nicholson from 1973 to 1989. He was a notorious player, of course, but she found some sneaky (if depressing) ways to get even.
When they first met in '73, at a party at his ranch house high atop Mulholland Drive, she writes about being completely enamored of his smile, and staying overnight with him upon that first encounter. She got a glimpse of his cheating ways early on in their relationship when he cancelled a date, and then showed up at the same restaurant as Huston, his ex-girlfriend Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas on his arm. (Huston didn't back down, approaching him with a glass of wine and letting him know he screwed up: "I'm downstairs," she told him, "and I just thought I would come up and say hi.")
As their relationship progressed, and she moved in with him, he didn't stop sleeping around, but she didn't pretend she didn't know, either. She writes:
Even though Warren Beatty was one of his best friends, I didn't recognize Jack as a world-class philanderer at the time. For as prolific as he seems to have been, and as I have heard reported, he was actually quite discreet. Occasionally, I'd find a piece of female apparel—once a jacket of mine turned up on the street—or I'd find some hand cream, or a trinket might get left behind in the soap dish. Sometimes I'd take to wearing the jewelry to see if anybody would come up and claim it, but that never happened.
It's a sad state to be in, and was no doubt harrowing for Huston, but we must also respect her gangster—the women never approached her for their jewelry (understandably!) but surely the fact that she was wearing it made Nicholson uncomfortable, at the least. (Because any cheating dog who goes so far as to keep his affairs even remotely secret will quiver when caught.)
After many years of this state of being, and towards the end of the '80s, Huston writes that she and Nicholson had grown apart, showing up together in public but clearly nearing the end. The true kicker came, however, when Nicholson invited her to dinner to give her some news: he was going to be a father. Ever direct, she asked, "Is it Rebecca Broussard?" Huston then goes on to describe Broussard as "a girl—blonde, sexy, full-lipped and drowsy-eyed—whom I'd seen working at a dance club in Silver Lake." Which is basically the classy equivalent of saying she was basic, so touché.
Huston broke it off, and calmly accepted it—until "not long afterward" an article showed up in Playboy talking about Nicholson's exploits with yet another woman, whom he reportedly spanked with a Ping-Pong paddle. That's when she snapped. She drove to his bungalow at Paramount and things got ugly:
He was coming out of the bathroom when I attacked him. I don't think I kicked him, but I beat him savagely about the head and shoulders. He was ducking and bending, and I was going at him like a prizefighter, raining a vast array of direct punches.
Finally, I was exhausted. We sat down, and I cried. Then, with renewed effort, I attacked him again. And all the while I felt a strange underlying gratitude to him for allowing me to beat the living hell out of him. Later, in the days that followed, I talked to him on the phone and he said, 'Goddamn, Toots, you sure landed some blows on me. I'm bruised all over my body.' And I said, 'You're welcome, Jack—you deserved it.' And we laughed. It was tragic, really.
The Christmas, a package was dropped off for me, from Mulholland Drive. I waited until Christmas Day was over before opening it alone in my bedroom. It was an extraordinary pearl-and-diamond bracelet that Frank Sinatra had once given to Ava Gardner. The card said he hoped I would not find it overbearing. "These pearls from your swine. With happiest wishes for the holidays—Enjoy—Yr Jack."
Damn, son. The whole piece is worth reading, on newsstands now. Watch Me: A Memoir is out December on Scribner.
Image via Somer/Huston/Splash News.