Jack Nicholson's Post-Breakup Gift Left Anjelica Huston Both "Charmed and Furious"

The actors dated on-and-off for 17 years.

Jack Nicholson & Anjelica Huston at Oscars
Photo: Fotos International/Getty Images

Who: Three-time Oscar-winning actor Jack Nicholson, 83, and Oscar-winning actress Anjelica Huston, 68.

How They Met: In April of 1973, Huston attended Nicholson’s birthday party at his home on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. As described by Huston in her memoir Watch Me, she and Nicholson danced for hours, and she proceeded to spend the night with the actor. They moved in together shortly after, while Nicholson was filming Chinatown. But after years spent best known as “Jack Nicholson’s girlfriend” or “John Huston’s daughter,” Huston decided to make a name for herself separate from that of the men in her life.

After a serious car accident in 1980, Huston moved out of Nicholson’s home, bought her own house, and enrolled in acting classes. ''I had a good life living with Jack,'' she told the New York Times in 1985, ''but it was necessary to remove myself from the entourage a career like his engenders. I had never lived alone. I didn't even know what color I liked my coffee in the morning.’'

Huston was also frustrated by arbitrary restrictions enforced by Nicholson. She was told, through third parties, not to draw on the telephone pads in their home. “Why can’t I draw on the telephone pads in my own house!” she said to The Guardian. “Those are the things that crop up when you move in with a man of a certain notoriety or fame. They’ve got people around to do stuff for them, so it’s not even as though I could fit into the role of housewife, or even flower arranger. There was no role, except to be on his arm.”

Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston
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She still kept a room in Nicholson’s home and the two would reportedly speak on the phone “constantly” when they were apart. Six years after making the move, though, Huston won her first Oscar — and yes, it was for Prizzi’s Honor, a film that was directed by her father and starring her boyfriend, but she was the only one among them to secure the Academy’s highest honor. Later that year, Nicholson told Rolling Stone he’d “never had a greater moment” than watching Huston win the award.

The topic of marriage was broached often in their 17 years together, but Nicholson told People they just didn’t “get around to it,” explaining, “I ask her to get married all the time. Sometimes she turns me down, sometimes she says yes.” As Huston recalled, the idea was presented to her “at various times” by Nicholson’s business manager and lawyer, “possibly because they saw this as a way to save Jack a lot of money in taxes,” which she found “strictly unromantic.”

Still, the pair tried to have children. “That was a certain moment where I was trying to get pregnant, which didn’t really work out,” Huston told Vulture in 2019. “But the truth is, I could never imagine [being a mother]. I can imagine lots of things, but I could never imagine carrying a baby.”

Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston - 38th Annual Directors Guild of America Awards - March 8, 1986
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Why We Loved Them: Though it’s easy to be distracted by the more glamorous aspects of their relationship — Nicholson once reportedly gifted Huston with an elephant for her birthday (she’d previously expressed her desire to keep one, noting “but they’re so hard to transport”) — there was a lot to be said for their moments of normalcy. Nicholson showed his affection through nicknames (which Houston insists he had “for most people”). To him, she was “Fab,” derived from “the Big Fabulous,” which evolved into “Ze Big Fabuliss,” and so on … In 2014, Huston told Watch What Happens Live host Andy Cohen that her favorite nickname from the actor was “Toots.”

When They Peaked: In the decades that followed Huston and Nicholson’s split, the former grew more and more candid when discussing the relationship. When asked to describe Nicholson as a lover during a visit to Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen in 2019, she turned to fellow guest RuPaul and said, “What is that D-thing?” To which he deadpanned, “Dick.” Elaborating, she added “very big.” OK, that’s something we know now.

The Breakup: Nicholson’s infidelity was never exactly a secret. In 1980 he called Huston “the love of my life,” in an interview with People, adding that “there are other women in my life who are simply friends of mine. Most of the credit for our wonderfully successful relationship has to do with her flexibility.”

Despite his reputation, Huston later wrote that Nicholson was “actually quite discreet” and she didn’t initially realize the scope of his indiscretions. “Occasionally, I’d find a piece of female apparel,” she wrote, “once a jacket of mine turned up on a girl in 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.”

Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston 1977
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In 1989, the spell was lifted. Nicholson took Huston out for dinner and told her “someone is gonna have a baby” (that someone being his mistress, Rebecca Broussard).

“There’s only room for one of us women in this picture, and I am going to retire from it,” Houston recalled telling Nicholson.

Intensifying the betrayal, Huston was notified shortly after that Playboy had published an article in which a woman described Nicholson spanking her with a Ping-Pong paddle.

After learning the news, Huston confronted Nicholson home. “He was coming out of the bathroom when I attacked him,” she wrote. “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.”

“I was in a quandary,” Nicholson said of the situation nearly two decades later, in an interview with Parade. “I knew having a child was a boon to my life, but I was in a wonderful relationship with Anjelica. It was as good as it gets. I immediately told her what was up, and she made the decision for us. Anjelica’s first response was, ‘You have to support this woman,’ Her second response was to come down to my job and beat the hell out of me. She really beat me up, I tell you.”

Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston 1984
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Still, a kinship remained between the two. That Christmas, Nicholson sent Huston a pearl-and-diamond bracelet that had previously been gifted to Ava Gardner from Frank Sinatra. “These pearls from your swine. With happiest wishes for the holidays—Enjoy—Yr Jack,” the card read.

“I was totally charmed.” Huston told The Guardian of Nicholson’s overture. “Totally charmed and furious, all of it. His signing, ‘Your Jack,’ was the one thing he never was. But that’s the nature of a charmer — to make you think you’ve made tracks. Charm is the worst. And you can’t deny it, and you can’t pretend that it’s not there and it’s not happening. It’s a dangerous element, charm.”

When asked during WWHL in 2019 what her biggest pet peeve was with Nicholson while they lived together, Huston picked pulled at an unexpectedly heartbreaking thread: “That he wasn’t as obsessed with me as I was with him.”

Where They Are Now:

Huston wed sculptor Robert “Bob” Graham in 1992. They remained together until his death in 2008.

After splitting from Broussard, with whom he welcomed a second child in 1992, Nicholson went on to date many women, including Lara Flynn Boyle.

#TBT: Check in every Thursday as we throw it back to some of our favorite celebrity couples of all time.

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