Was Jack Nicholson’s Father Jewish?

I interviewed Dennis McDougal last week. He mentioned that Jack Nicholson’s father was Jewish.

Khunrum emails: "Reminds me of that story when Groucho Marx’s daughter was not allowed to use the Beverly Hills Tennis Club pool. Groucho phoned up and asked why. The mgt. said, ‘Because she’s Jewish’ to which Groucho replied, ‘She’s only half Jewish, can she go in up to her waist?’"

Dennis responds Feb. 11, 2008 to my inquiry: "Luke – As you will see in this exchange, I overstepped myself in our conversation – I’m still awaiting the concrete proof and being as much a stickler for truth as you and your readers are, I have to admit to only strong circumstantial and anecdotal assertions at the moment. I renewed my FOIA request over the weekend. I’ll keep you posted. I’m sorry if I caused you any trouble."

Dennis responds Feb. 8 to an inquiry by a Jewish journalist (not the Yisroel bloke a few graphs below) who read our interview:

Seeing as how you’ve asked…

The first suggestion I had that Jack’s father might have been Jewish came from one of his oldest and closest friends over lunch at Nate ‘n Al’s just a little over 2 years ago. While the conversation wasn’t off the record, I did not take notes and my understanding was that the source – who remains very close to Jack and still works as a Hollywood screenwriter — did not want me quoting him directly. What he told me was that Jack’s birth name was Emmanuel, the same as that of the actor Edward G. Robinson, and that if I were to look deep enough, I would find that Jack’s father was a tummler who snuck into the country aboard a Latvian cruise ship.

Because Jack’s search for his true parents (first, his mother, and later, his father) is a central theme of “Five Easy Decades,” I pursued what leads I had, including old newspaper files that reported in some detail the State Department attempts to deport Eddie King in 1937. Jack was born that year out of wedlock in a Manhattan hospital to his “sister,” June Nicholson. I did speak with Eddie King Jr. and his late sister, both of whom confirmed that their father was, indeed, Jack’s father, and that Eddie Kirschfeld had come to the U.S. illegally as a teen member of a dance band aboard a cruise ship in 1920. Neither of them knew much beyond that about their father’s origins. I spent weeks tracing genealogy through the internet and got to know a lot about Riga and Russian history, but little more about the Latvian Kirschfelds. My next hope was Eddie King’s deportation file. I filed an FOIA request in the summer of 2006 with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, only to get shunted around to Homeland Security which now has jurisdiction over such records. I was told I would get a response eventually, but that it might take months. True to their word, it has indeed taken months and now, more than a year has passed and still nothing has arrived in the mail. The deadline for my book came and went and because I could not say with absolute certainty Eddie was Jewish, I did not include it in the book.

I remain convinced however that it is true and accounts in part for Jack’s determined silence on the subject of his father. I can’t fathom why he won’t address it at this late date, but he always sidesteps the question if he dignifies it with an answer at all. Both your interest in this as well as Luke’s, have reignited my own, however, and I expect to get off a letter to Homeland Security in the next day or two to find out the status of my FOIA request. If you want me to do so, I’ll keep you posted.

Yisroel emails (starting Feb. 8 and runing through Feb. 10):

Luke,

Does McDougal’s book actually say: "Jack Nicholson is half Jewish."

In the McDougal interview on your website, this statement is conveniently attributed by McDougal to and unnamed "old time publicist pal of mine" [of McDougal]. What bullshit hype! Did he (McDougal) even make that statement to you himself, or did you just make up that qoute to spice up the interview? If you didn’t make it up and McDougal actually said it, is it possible he was misleading you as to what his book actually says on this issue?

McDougal does kind of say it himself in the interview, but only by implication in a rhetorical question: "Who knew that I was going to find out that Jack Nicholson was half-Jewish?"

Did McDougal ever flatly tell you, speaking for himself, that "Jack Nicholson is half Jewish"? Yes or no? If it’s in the interview, I missed it when I quickly re-read it.

Does the word "Jewish" even appear in his book? I’ve been discussing this with another source.

…Luke,

I realize he’s not Chaim Amalek (sp?), but you told me once before that you made up something…a whole item about some hooligans or something that I had responded to, I think.

I’m only questioning your veracity here because my other source so strongly denies the accuracy of this claim.

Anyway, my other source contends that Jewish paternity is not explicitly mentioned in the book, but only by potential implication because one of the two possible fathers cited in the book originally had a Jewish-sounding name in Europe.

Dear Levi,

You say: "yes, mcdougal and the book say nicholson is half-jewish."

You were, shall I say, somewhat hyped, it seems. Trust me: You did not dig deep enough on this issue.

Good Shabbos.

Yisroel (aka Moshe Rabbenu, aka Deep Throat)

Luke,

Your McDougal print interview prompted me initially to send the email below, with what I now believe was an apparently false subject line that says: "actor Jack Nicholson is half Jewish, book says". (Because you mentioned it, I’ll point out FYI that the audio of that interview is not yet available on your site: "Sorry, this article is not available yet.".)

I am told on apparently good authority that the book doesn’t say that.

It seems that McDougal’s supposed "old time publicist pal" is the only "person" who says "Jack Nicholson is half Jewish" in your published print interview. That "pal" may in fact be McDougal’s version of Chaim Amalek, if you follow me.

The book itself does not say it, Luke; at least that’s what I am told.

Ask McDougal directly if you don’t believe me; or better yet, buy the book and read it yourself. If you find the part that says "Jack Nicholson is half Jewish", or that "his father was Jewish", let me know and I’ll send you 50 bucks so you can upgrade the hovel. Be sure to photocopy the page pages that say that and send them to me as proof, if you want the money.

What McDougal says himself in your print interview, speaking for himself and not his "publicist pal" is this: "Who knew that I was going to find out that Jack Nicholson was half-Jewish?" That’s a question, Luke, not a statement.

Anyway, this reply by you to me is apparently not accurate, based on additional info. I have received: "yes, mcdougal and the book say nicholson is half-jewish." That may be why you earned this dubious praise from McDougal: "And by God, you’re telling it!" Emphasis on "you’re" the one who’s telling it — not him! McDougal claims he told his (possibly imaginary or fictitious) "pal": "You know how the game is played." Luke, you too should know "how the game is played," but you let your guard down on this one, it seems.

You also told me: "check the wikipedia entry on nicholson".

Here’s what wikipedia says, in relevant part (please find the word "Jewish" here for me, because I don’t see it):

Early life Nicholson was born at the then Fitkin Hospital in Neptune, New Jersey, the son of a showgirl, June Frances Nicholson (stage name June Nilson).[1] June had married Italian American showman Donald Furcillo (stage name Donald Rose) six months earlier in Elkton, Maryland, on October 16, 1936.[2] Elkton was a town known for its "quickie" marriages. Furcillo however, was already married, and, although he offered to take care of the child, June’s mother Ethel insisted that she bring up the baby, partly so that June could pursue her dancing career. Although Donald Furcillo claimed to be Nicholson’s father and to have committed bigamy by marrying June, biographer Patrick McGilligan, who wrote Jack’s Life (published in December 1995) asserted that Latvian-born Eddie King (originally Edgar A. Kirschfeld),[3] June’s manager, may be the father and other[4] sources have suggested that June Nicholson was unsure of who the father was. Nicholson has chosen not to have a DNA test or to pursue the matter.

Nicholson was brought up believing that his grandparents, John J. Nicholson (a department store window dresser in Asbury Park, New Jersey) and Ethel May Rhoads (a hairdresser, beautician and amateur artist in Neptune, New Jersey), were his parents. Nicholson only discovered that his parents were actually his grandparents and his sister was in fact his mother in 1974, after being informed by a Time Magazine journalist who was doing a feature on him.[5]By this time, both his mother and grandmother had died (in 1963 and 1970, respectively). Nicholson has stated he does not know who his father is, saying "Only Ethel and June knew and they never told anybody."[5]

Nicholson was raised in his mother’s Catholic religion.[6] Nick, as he was known to his high school friends, attended high school at nearby Manasquan High School where he was voted "class clown" by the Class of 1954. …

…References

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Jack Nicholson Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Jack Nicholson

^ Berliner, Eve. Young Jack Nicholson: Auspicious Beginnings. Evesmag.com. 2001. ^ Berliner, Eve. Marriage certificate of June Nilson and Donald Furcillo. Young Jack Nicholson: Auspicious Beginnings. Evesmag.com. 2001. ^ McDougal, Dennis (2007). Five Easy Decades: How Jack Nicholson Became the Biggest Movie Star in Modern Times. Wiley, 8, 278. ISBN-100471722464. ^ Marx, Arthur. On His Own Terms. Cigar Aficionado.com. ^ a b Collins, Nancy. The Great Seducer: Jack Nicholson. Rolling Stone magazine, 29 March 1984. Scan copy at Jack Nicholson.org. ^ The Religious Affiliation of Jack Nicholson. Adherents.com. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_nicholson

I just found via an Amazon online search that the word "Jewish" appears in the McDougal book on Nicholson not once — but at least 4 times! None of the four instances that the search generated relate to his paternity, however.

1-4 of 4 pages with references to Jewish:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0471722464/ref=sib_dp_pt/103-5688403-5544601#

An search in the book on Amazon for Kirschfeld yields one result, but there’s a "Kirschfield" that shows up under "King" search.

You made the leap of faith without proof or even evidence that the name Kirschfeld necessarily = Jewish in this case. That’s not a high enough journalistic standard, IMHO.

Yisroel

Luke,

First of all, it’s Kirschfeld, not Kirschfield.

You ask: "Do you think "Kirschfield" is anything but a Jewish name?"

What difference does it make what I think? There are many people with possibly Jewish- sounding names who aren’t Jewish. Furthermore, it seems the book does not assert or claim that Kirschfeld was Jewish, which is the only real issue here!

McDougal didn’t discover the Kirschfeld angle anyway, as noted in McDougal’s book(!), per wikipedia:

Elkton was a town known for its "quickie" marriages. Furcillo however, was already married, and, although he offered to take care of the child, June’s mother Ethel insisted that she bring up the baby, partly so that June could pursue her dancing career. Although Donald Furcillo claimed to be Nicholson’s father and to have committed bigamy by marrying June, biographer Patrick McGilligan, who wrote Jack’s Life (published in December 1995) asserted that Latvian-born Eddie King (originally Edgar A. Kirschfeld),[3] June’s manager, may be the father and other[4] sources have suggested that June Nicholson was unsure of who the father was. Nicholson has chosen not to have a DNA test or to pursue the matter.

3. McDougal, Dennis (2007). Five Easy Decades: How Jack Nicholson Became the Biggest Movie Star in Modern Times. Wiley, 8, 278. ISBN-100471722464. Also, besides everything else I mentioned below, even if you had proof that Kirschfeld/King was in fact Jewish (which you do not have), you have no proof that he was in fact the father.

Anyway, what you presented in print was apparently a fantasy version of what McDougal’s book actually does in fact say about this issue. He may have told you more in the interview than what he wrote in his book. But it’s misleading, and pure hype, to represent that as what the book says if the book itself doesn’t say it. That should be obvious.

Also Amazon search shows: "-2 of 2 pages with references to conversion:" but not re Kirschfeld/King.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0471722464/ref=sib_dp_pt/103-5688403-5544601#reader-link

I’ll listen to the tapes after I download them, if that’s what those two links you sent me are.

The bottom line, Luke, is that you hyped a book as saying something that it apparently does not say. End of story.

Luke,

At approx. 18:30 to 22:05 of the first audio link is where McDougal says the things that led to this fiasco and which you apparently (but mistakenly) accepted at face value as being both a) true, and b) in the book.

Compare that audio passage with p. 278 of the book online at Amazon.com. Do an online search in book for "Kirschfeld" which brings up a passage on p. 278; then open that full page and read it. The book there does not say what McDougal told you on the audio, and that’s the relevant page, Luke.

Listen to the relevant passage yourself on the audio, and you will see what happened and how it happened.

This took two days of my time to resolve. There is NO evidence of, nor any reason or need for there to be, any conspiracy to suppress this information. There is no Jewish paternity angle in the book. The book simply says Kirschfeld changed his name to King and was an Episcopalian when he died. WOW! SHOCKING! It does NOT say he converted — from Judaism or from anything else, for that matter.

Your print interview and audio interview contains pure hype as compared with the actual content of the book, and the content of the book is all that really matters here.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been chronicled by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, 60 Minutes and Entertainment Tonight. I teach Alexander Technique in Los Angeles (see Alexander90210.com).
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One Response to Was Jack Nicholson’s Father Jewish?

  1. kishke says:

    Who cares? So many words for such an unimportant matter.

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