The 1970s was a busy and successful decade for Jack Nicholson. After a lucky break from Easy Rider, which earned the actor his first Oscar nomination, Nicholson’s career skyrocketed with his persona-defining role in Five Ease Pieces; the film’s success made him “the new American anti-hero” and got him another Academy Awards nomination. During the filming of the comedy-drama Carnal Knowledge in 1971, Nicholson struck up a lifelong friendship with co-star Art Garfunkel. In 1973, for his performance in Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail, Nicholson won the Cannes Best Actor Award and received his third Oscar nomination.
Nicholson starred in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown in 1974, once again nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor; Polanski, whom Nicholson had long been friends with, would later get arrested at the actor’s home for the sexual assault of a minor in 1977. One of Nicholson’s greatest successes came in 1975 with the comedy-drama One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which was the first film in 41 years to sweep the major Oscar categories, including the first Best Actor win for Nicholson himself.
January 1970. Contact sheet of various portraits of Jack Nicholson, New York. Photo by Jack Robinson.
The actor continued to take more unusual roles after his success. “I like to play people that haven’t existed yet, a ‘cusp character,’ I have that creative yearning.” Nicholson once said. In 1976, he played an unsympathetic role in Arthur Penn’s The Missouri Breaks, particularly to work with Marlon Brando, whom Nicholson had long idolized. In Marc Eliot’s Nicholson: A Biography, the actor said, “Marlon Brando influenced me strongly. Today, it’s hard for people who weren’t there to realize the impact that Brando had on an audience… He’s always been the patron saint of actors.”
Below are 26 photographs capturing Nicholson both on and off set during the 1970s
April 1970. Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper talk at an Academy Awards after party, Los Angeles, California. Michelle Phillips stands in the foreground. Photo by Max Miller.
1971. Jack Nicholson and Michelle Phillips at the 43rd Annual Academy Awards’ Governer’s Ball. Photo by Ron Galella.
1971. Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel in ‘Carnal Knowledge.’ Photo by Corbis.
1973. Jack Nicholson on the set of ‘The Last Detail,’ directed by Hal Ashby. Photo by Corbis.