Never a Borrower or a Lender Be--Especially in Hollywood
She is dueling a man who is as close to a deity as you get in this town. He is blessed with talent, admirers and a devilish mystique. Oh, and money. Lots of money. With the flick of a pen on a personal check, he can make things go away. Just like that. Sue him for breaking your windshield with a golf club? There, a little cash ought to cover it. Bye-bye, lawsuit. So long, criminal charges.
You almost have to wonder what was going through Susan Anspach’s head when she filed a lawsuit against Jack Nicholson last year, alleging that he and his business manager fraudulently led her to believe that she would not have to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans.
This is, after all, a man with a fortune that could keep an army of lawyers employed indefinitely and a temper that has been described as “legendary.” And even if he were not someone who seems exempt from the rules that govern life for the rest of us, he has a promissory note from Anspach in the form of a second trust deed on her house. She owes Nicholson about $600,000.
He’s mad at her and he intends to collect.
These days, Anspach earns her keep writing and teaching acting. Her hair is short and very blond, her eyes intensely blue, her body trim. A beautiful woman, but a 56-year-old woman. She no longer receives the kinds of jobs or paychecks that seem to flow to so many of her leading men: Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Woody Allen, Michael Douglas, Harvey Keitel, Robert Duvall, Richard Dreyfuss, Jon Voight, Rip Torn.
“There’s not one of them that is not a millionaire, if not a superstar,” she says.
When Nicholson lent Anspach money between 1988 and 1994, he said in a March 1 deposition, “my spirit was simply to help a friend.” And though he said he feels “mild antipathy” toward Anspach, he made the loans because “I’m a humanitarian. . . . I believe in being good and charitable to my fellow man. . . .”
Anspach says he lent her the money because he is the father of her 25-year-old son, Caleb Goddard, conceived in 1969 when she and Nicholson were making “Five Easy Pieces.”
In her suit, she claims Nicholson promised that if she could not repay the loans, she would not lose her home. Had she known he intended to collect, she says, she would have sold the house in 1989 at a profit of about a million dollars. Instead, her son urged her to keep the family home. So, she says, she turned to his father.
“Unfortunately for Anspach the law is straightforward,” responded Nicholson’s attorneys in court papers. “When you borrow money, eventually you have to pay it back.”
By the time he met Nicholson, Caleb was well into adolescence. But, according to Anspach’s lawsuit, the actor had provided information to doctors when Caleb had a medical problem around age 10. Nicholson also put Caleb through college. If Nicholson has ever publicly acknowledged Caleb as his own, though, I can find no record of it.
“That is the torture of it,” Anspach says. “Jack would say, ‘I didn’t have a father and I’m a superstar. It didn’t hurt me.’ And I would say, ‘But you didn’t have to see your father on every corner. You are ever-present, ubiquitous. You are too famous to do this. It’s unkind.’ ”
Question: Susan Anspach has a 13-year-old son she claims you fathered. . . . Is he your child?
Answer: She says that all the time. But because of the way she’s been toward me, I’ve never been allowed a real avenue to find out about it.
Q: So you’re not convinced that this is not your son?
A: No, I’m not. . . . And I guess I like the idea in a certain way.
Q: The idea of her son being your child?
A: Yeah, if it were true. Hey, I’m ready to meet anybody.
--Nicholson in Rolling Stone,
March 29, 1984
There is a mistake in your recent article regarding Jack Nicholson. Jack’s son, Raymond, is his younger son and youngest child. Our son, Caleb, is Jack’s older son and second oldest child. . . . I have asked Jack about this oversight and his response to me is that he doesn’t really want to talk about his children in interviews. . . . Since Jack and Caleb have a very warm relationship, and because Jack loves Caleb, I’m sure he would want me to have you make this correction.
--Letter by Anspach in
Vanity Fair, June 1994
I told Ms. Anspach in no uncertain terms that this is a catastrophic approach to life, making public protestations and all that.
--Nicholson in the New York
Times, June 12, 1994
In January 1995, Nicholson’s company began the process of foreclosing on Anspach’s home.
” . . . We felt it was time to take the collateral,” the 59-year-old actor said in his deposition.
Legal maneuvering has forestalled the sale of the home. A motion by Nicholson to dismiss the lawsuit is to be heard June 17. If he prevails, Anspach’s lawyer says she will appeal. Without a settlement, the case will drag on.
And the courts or a jury may ultimately decide whether the matter is an easily enforceable commercial transaction, as though between a bank and a borrower, or something much more complex, involving broken promises, moral obligations and misplaced trust between a Hollywood god and the mother of his child.
* Robin Abcarian’s column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. Readers may write to her at the Los Angeles Times, Life & Style, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.