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Film

When Jack Nicholson collaborated with The Monkees

Jack Nicholson has secured his place in the pantheon of great actors with unforgettable performances in countless iconic productions. Ranging from his haunting portrayal of insanity and homicidal rage in The Shining to his later work in fantastic films such as Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, Nicholson’s extensive legacy is almost unparalleled.

However, there was a time when the young artist felt as if his acting career would not go anywhere. At that point, Nicholson thought that he would have to remain satisfied with a role behind the camera. Instead of dreaming about making it as a big-time actor, he decided to venture into the realm of directing and writing projects.

Nicholson received a lot of recognition when he penned the screenplay for the 1967 psychedelic film The Trip starring the likes of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. Of course, Nicholson would later collaborate with both of them on the seminal road film Easy Rider but The Trip contains a lot of precursors to Nicholson’s artistic sensibilities as a writer.

Although the film wasn’t nearly as great as Easy Rider, both Fonda and producer Roger Corman were deeply impressed by Nicholson’s writing skills. He displayed a flair for screenwriting again when he wrote the screenplay for Bob Rafelson’s 1968 satirical film Head, a cult classic that sought to subvert the public image of The Monkees.

According to some reports, Nicholson actually recorded the conversations of the band members after they got high and turned it into a screenplay. Peter Tork even claimed that there was some basis to the theory that Head was made because Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider wanted to sabotage the band because they were sick of it.

Despite the suspicions, the band members loved Nicholson and Michael Nesmith developed a special friendship with the actor. In an interview, he recalled: “When Jack came on the scene of The Monkees‘ TV production, he was not yet famous and was one of the few people I met who seemed self-aware and grounded.”

While talking about Nicholson’s aura, Nesmith added: “At the same time, his demeanour and sense of humour was exceptional and like catnip for me. I thought he was the coolest guy, and since this was long before the term bromance entered the US lexicon, some people in my crowd of friends thought my fascination with him was beyond the pale.”

Head was completely antithetical to the band’s sitcom which is why it became a commercial failure when it was first released, failing to appeal to the counterculture movement as well. However, its legacy has continued to grow in stature over the years and it is widely recognised as a cult gem by music and film fans all over the world.

Nicholson obviously went on to have an extremely successful career as an actor but he always remained sad about the initial failure of the film. “Nobody ever saw that, man, but I saw it 158 million times,” Nicholson complained to The New York Times in 1970. “I loved it. Filmatically, it’s the best rock ‘n’ roll movie ever made. It’s anti-rock.”

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