I sat through a memorable showing of Showgirls once at Robert Evans‘ Beverly Hills home in the early fall of ’95. In Evans’ legendary rear bungalow, that is, behind his egg-shaped pool in the backyard of his French chateau-styled place on Woodland Avenue. With Jack Nicholson of all people, as well as Bryan Singer, Chris McQuarrie, Tom DeSanto and two or three others. With everyone hating it but sitting through the damn thing anyway because Nicholson had come over to see it and nobody wanted to be contrary.
All that ended when Nicholson, who was sitting right under the projection window against the rear wall, stretched his arms and put his two hands right in front of the lamp. The resulting hand-silhouette on top of Elizabeth Berkeley and her grinding costars conveyed his opinion well enough, and suddenly everyone felt at liberty to talk and groan and make cracks and leave for cigarette breaks. Nicholson and Singer ducked out at one point, and I joined them. (I had recently seen Paul Verhoeven‘s film and had no desire to suffer a second time.)
I was Evans’ journalist pal that year. I had written a big piece about Hollywood Republicans earlier that year for Los Angeles magazine, and Evans had been a very helpful source. As a favor I’d arranged for him to meet some just-emerging GenX filmmakers — Owen Wilson, Don Murphy, Jane Hamsher, et. al. — so that maybe, just maybe, he could possibly talk about making films with them down the road.
Anyway, it was sometime in late September and Evans, myself, Singer, DeSanto and McQuarrie were having dinner in the back house, and Evans was doing a superb job of not asking the younger guys anything about themselves. He spoke only about his past, his lore, his legend. But the food was excellent and the vibe was cool and settled.
Then out of the blue (or out of the black of night) a window opened and Nicholson, wearing his trademark shades, popped his head in and announced to everyone without saying hello that “you guys should finish…don’t worry, don’t hurry or anything…we’ll just be in the house…take your time.”
What? Singer, McQuarrie and DeSanto glanced at each other. Did that just happen? Evans told us that Nicholson was there to watch Showgirls, which they’d made arrangements for much earlier. He invited us stay and watch if we wanted. Nobody wanted to sit through Showgirls — the word was out on it — but missing out on the Nicholson schmooze time was, of course, out of the question.
There was a little talk after it ended. I recall DeSanto (Apt Pupil, X-Men, X2, Transformers) introducing himself to Nicholson and Jack, who had brought two women with him, saying, “And it’s very nice to meet you, Tom.” Gesturing towards Girl #1, he then said to DeSanto, “And I’d like you to meet Cindy and…” Lethal pause. Nicholson had forgotten the other woman’s name. He recovered by grinning and saying with a certain flourish, “Well, these are the girls!” The woman he’d blanked on gave Nicholson an awful look.
We all said goodbye in the foyer of Evans’ main home. Nicholson’s mood was giddy, silly; he was laughing like a teenaged kid who’d just chugged two 16-ounce cans of beer and didn’t care about anything. I was thinking it must be fun to be able to pretty much follow whatever urge or mood comes to mind, knowing that you probably won’t be turned down or told “no” as long as you use a little charm.