By Brad Dison
John Joseph was born in Neptune City, New Jersey on April 22, 1937. He was raised by his parents, Ethel May and John, and sisters June and Lorraine. June was 18 years his senior, and Lorraine was 15 years his senior. June aspired to become a famous entertainer. In the 1930s, June Nilson, as she was known professionally, began her dancing career under the tutelage of dancing teacher Eddie King. She danced in several performances and was featured in the opening of a club called the Pic and Pat club in New York City. She also appeared in several off-Broadway productions. On New Year’s Eve in 1935, she was featured as a specialty tap dancer in Earl Carrol’s Palm Island club in Miami, Florida. Earl Carrol was a controversial figure because his showgirls were usually scantily clad. He was known as “the troubadour of the nude.” At some point, June returned to the family home. In 1941, when John was four years old, June moved again to Miami, Florida to work for Earl Carrol. Her aspirations eventually led her to Hollywood, California.
Perhaps, his sister’s ambitions rubbed off on John. In 1954, John, then 17 years old, moved in with June in Hollywood. John found a job as an office boy in MGM Studios’ animated cartoon department. While at work one day, a producer noticed something special in John. It may have been the way he carried himself, the way he said a certain sentence or phrase, or the way he smiled. At the producer’s recommendation, John began taking acting classes. In 1956, John received his first acting credit for his performance in one episode of a television series called Matinee Theatre. In 1958, he performed in the film The Cry Baby Killer. John’s career as an entertainer had been slow in the late 1950s. In 1960, however, John’s career “took off.” In that year alone, John appeared in four films and two television series. Unlike June, whose Hollywood career never came to fruition, John’s career flourished for the next five decades.
It was through his acting career that John learned a secret. John was scheduled to be interviewed about one of his upcoming films by a writer from Time magazine. As part of the preparation process for the interview, researchers from the magazine began exploring John’s background. It was then that they uncovered John’s family’s secret. Rather than revealing this during the interview, a representative from the magazine revealed the secret to John in a telephone call. John sat in stunned silence while the magazine representative revealed that June and Lorraine were not his sisters, and John and Ethel May were not his parents. The evidence provided made the claims undeniable. John’s family had kept a secret from him his entire life. John and Ethel May died without ever revealing that they were not his parents, as John had always been told, but his grandparents. Lorraine, whom John thought was his sister, was actually his aunt. John’s mother was June. According to the researcher, John’s father was Don Furcillo-Rose. June had gotten pregnant out of wedlock, which would have reflected badly on the whole family in that era. After careful consideration, the family agreed to keep John’s true parentage a secret. They hoped it would remain a secret forever.
John needed to confirm this for himself. John and Ethel May were long dead, and June died in 1963. The only person left alive who could verify or deny the claims of the Time magazine researcher was Lorraine. He called and spoke with Lorraine’s husband whom he affectionately called Short. “A guy calls me on the phone, and says that my father is still alive, and that Ethel May wasn’t really my mother, that June was my mother.” Shorty was in disbelief and handed the phone to Lorraine. John repeated the information. After a moment of silence, Lorraine confirmed that the story was true although she was unaware of the identity of his real father.
John described the discovery as being “a pretty dramatic event, but it wasn’t what I’d call traumatizing. After all, by the time I found out who my mother was, I was pretty well psychologically formed.” He added, “I was very impressed by their ability to keep the secret, if nothing else.” John jokingly referred to June as his “sister-mother.”
John is considered by many to be one of the greatest actors of all time. He has won 3 Oscars and a host of other awards for films such as Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The film for which he was being interviewed when he learned his family’s secret was called Chinatown. You and I know John Joseph Nicholson as Jack Nicholson.
1. Asbury Park Press, January 2, 1936, P. 15.
2. Trey Taylor, “Jack Nicholson Grew Up Believing His Mom Was His Sister,” August 6, 2020. https://www.instyle.com/celebrity/jack-nicholson-mom-sister.
3. Swapnil Dhruv Bose, “When Jack Nicholson discovered that his sister was actually his mother,” April 6, 2022. https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/jack-nicholson-sister-was-his-mother/.
4. Aaron Homer, “How Jack Nicholson Discovered His Sister Was His Mother,” July 18, 2022. https://www.grunge.com/621340/how-jack-nicholson-discovered-his-sister-was-his-mother/
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