Peter B.: I feel I haven’t sat down with you in thirty years.
Jack N.: Well, we haven’t sat down in a while. We’ve had a lot of talks, though, brief, but they always retained serious content.
You’re looking good, Jack.
I’m feeling pretty good. I’m feeling the old Pickford-Fairbanks... Am I too old to be in movies? I’m feeling that part of it. That’s what I feel about longevity.
So when did you first think you were going to get involved in writing or directing or acting in movies?
You know, I came to California at 16, out of school, kind of thinking I would go back to college after taking a half a semester off. I come from a non - affluent background - no help, no connections - so therefore I was a typical teenager wondering what in the name of God am I going to do to make my way in life. I wasn’t clear enough, being an adolescent, to know that I sort of always hoped to do this, as people who love the movies do, anyway.
You did - you mean, even when you were much younger?
Yeah, I was an assistant manager of a theater in my home town, the Rivoli in Belmar.
A movie theater.
Yeah. And always loved the movies. So when I got my job at MGM, the front part of my head was saying a very honest thing. I wanted to see movie stars, ‘cause I’m a big fan. I was ready to go back - I actually had my ticket-I bought it on my birthday. I didn’t get this job that I applied for at MGM first time around.
What year was this?
This was 1955. In fact, I got my job in the movies through the only door that wasn’t inside a studio wall in all of Hollywood. Labor Relations at MGM - you know how you walk by the gate there, and then turn and go into the Thalberg building. Well, over that spiked gate was this one door - didn’t even have a step - Labor Relations. That’s where I applied and that’s where I started in Hollywood. I was an office pinkie in the cartoon department.
I read somewhere that you grew up thinking that your grandmother was your mother, and that your real mother was your sister.
Yes, she was also a dancer in show business. She was an easy novel to write the story of my sister/mother’s life. But I didn’t find that out until way into my 30s and they had both passed on. By then, I was a supposed introspective artist. I understood it - I know exactly what my initial reaction was-gratitude.
Absolutely. Well, you know, you get it in a moment. It’s a real moment. And I am that kind of person-what do I feel-and had the tools to know what I feel. Gratitude. I’ve often said about them: Show me any women today who could keep a secret, confidence, or an intimacy to that degree, you got my kind of gal.
Didn’t that information overwhelm you in some way?
Well, it definitely overwhelmed you. It got my attention.
To think about it?
That was the first thought. I had many other thoughts. One of the toughest ones about being grateful was: I didn’t have to deal with it with them. They were dead. You don’t like to admit you’re happy in any way that two of the people you loved the most in your entire life had passed on. But that was one of the reactions. Look, it’s why I can’t be my normally liberal self totally pro-abortion. In today’s world, I wouldn’t exist - you understand what I mean?
You mean you would have been aborted?
Yes. June [his mother] was only 16 - she was having a good career herself - chances are... You know, it’s one of those things you think you’ll never change your mind on in life and I changed my mind on it - not for logic, but for karma.
Did you ever know your father?
Do you know who he was?
I’m pretty sure he’s deceased, but within the family unit it is still a somewhat open discussion. But not that open. A pretty good guy - I talked to him - when I found this out on the phone. But I didn’t want to get to know him. I didn’t have the urge - to see what this is all about. In my 30s, psychologically I’m formed. No, I didn’t see any real reason for it. And there were plenty of reasons to go into it.
Not to talk to your dad?
To re-include this - what’s normally a cardinal relationship in your life - under those circumstances.
Did knowledge of the truth make you have to reexamine your childhood? Go back and rethink it?
Well, it did clarify a lot of things, because in either event my grandmother was a single parent. So somewhere in there you start thinking about everything - I always thought it was interesting that my supposed parents’ relationship broke up kind of congruent with my birth, and as deep as an 11- to 14-year-old mind can go, I thought, “I wonder if there’s something... This seems strange to me.” It verified certain very murmuring intuitions. I didn’t invest in it. It wasn’t like, “Oh, this might have happened.” It was just that it had gone through my mind. Other things it clarified: the nature of my sister/mother and my grandmother’s relationship. They were Irish warriors and powerful women. This is ideal. I had a father-figure, Shorty Smith, still one of the greatest people that ever lived in my opinion.
Who was he?
He was my other sister’s husband.
Not the sister who was your mother?
Not that sister.
There’s another sister.
June and Lorraine. Incidentally, I found this out through Buck’s friend when they did that Time cover on me.
Yeah. His girlfriend was an editor at Time and they got the information -