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The Religious Affiliation of
Sandra Knight
actress who was married to Jack Nicholson


From: Peter Thompson, Jack Nicholson: The Life and Times of an Actor on the Edge, Birch Lane Press/Carol Publishing Group: Secaucus, New Jersey (1997), pages 76-77:
Days of wine and roses and wild, wild parties with Devlin, Gittes, and fellow night owl Harry Dean Stanton became temporarily less important to him after [Jack Nicholson's] wedding in 1962 [to Sandra Knight]. For a couple of years, he settled into the life of a happily married man with Sandra, who was seemingly intent on becoming the loving, homemaking wife. A year later, she produced his only legitimate child, a daughter whom they christened Jennifer, which Nicholson immediately shortened to Jenny. In between minor television roles in series like Divorce Court, Jack took to practicing scriptwriting while waiting for work. Nothing came along, and a couple of lean years were in store. Sandra had virtuallygiven up her career to devote herself to the task of keeping house and raising a family, though in that respect the relationship did not mature as she had hoped. The studious intensity of learning a craft together, the long and fanciful discussions about the philosophies of life, and the unorthodoxy of their nightlife did not easily transfer to a happy family home. They grew apart.

Some blamed Jack for wanting to continue the way he had before marriage, which, of course, meant occasional flings with the abundance of available women. It was also in this period of the early sixties that he experimented with LSD. He and Sandra consulted a psychiatrist who recommended treatment with the mind-expanding acid. "The therapist didn't really understand LSD. He had never taken it himself," said Jack. "He gave it to Sandra first, in conjunction with a five-hour therapeutic session, but he gave her the maximum dosage. At one point, she looked at me and saw a demon, a totally demonic figure. For whatever reason, either because it's true about me, or because of her own grasping at something, it was pretty bad."

Jack himself spent four hours with the same therapist who administed the drug to him, and he remained under its hallucinatory influence for a further five hours at home... At one point, he was screaming at the top of his voice; he also relived his own birth, met his fears of homosexuality, and had the most terrifying fright... He said it was all highly graphic visually, especially the part when he was inside his mother's womb...

Nicholson said he found the trip "enlightening," but the experience terrified Sandra, who turned to religion and became fixed to what he called a firm, mystical path. God was not a subject he could handle with any real heart, nor compete with. Her religious leanings and slightly Presbyterian view of life did not match Jack's own. "I'm not an athiest," he said, "but I'm not really a believer either." He had, however, opened the doors of perception and was vastly intrigued by the landscape.

Toward the end of the marriage, Jack was trying many things in his efforts to bolster his career, writing furiously and looking hard for the elusive break. The marriage had been good, he said, for two or three years, and then they drifted toward the rocks until they agreed on only one thing, their incompatibility. A mirror image of the way their marriage had developed was captured in that typically frightening Nicholson scene in The Shining, in 1980. [Writer/director Stanley Kubrick based the scene on what Jack told him about his actual marriage.]

His [Jack Nicholson's] behavior became so bizarre that Sandra felt compelled to ask him to leave the house. The formal separation was dated April 1, 1967, and the following year they had a "good divorce--nonviolent and nontumultuous..."

The following section is slightly confusing. The author discusses the marriage of Jack Nicholson to Sandra Knight, stating that the ceremony was peformed by a Unitarian Universalist minister. Other sources, including Shepherd (page 40) state that a Unitarian Universalist minister performed this marriage ceremony. But then McGilligan uses a few sentences to describe the Universal Life Church, which is an organization completely separate from Unitarian Universalists. One must wonder if the author simply made a mistake when writing this paragraph, and accidentally looked up information about the Universal Life Church in order to fill out the paragraph. From: Patrick McGilligan, Jack's Life: A Biography of Jack Nicholson, W.W. Norton & Company: New York (1994), page 129:
The courtship was whirlwind, and Sandra Knight and Jack Nicholson were married on June 17, 1962. The best man was Harry Dean Stanton and best lady Millie Perkins, who had been married to--and divorced from--Dean Stockwell since they all met. The marriage certificate shows that the young couple were already cohabiting in a clapboard house at 7507 Lexington, around the corner from Jack's onetime bachelor digs on Fountain Avenue.

In a nontraditional gesture, the ceremony was performed by a Unitarian Universalist minister. Less than a year old, the Universal Life Church was an eclectic religion founded by a former Baptist minister out of his garage in Modesto, California. Among other concepts, the religion embraced world peace and reincarnation. Ordination was open to anyone.

"We wrote our own ceremony, long before that became the 'in' thing to do," Nicholson recalled in one interview. "I don't remember it anymore, but we inserted some quotes and I think we threw out the word 'obey.'"

McGilligan, pages 164-165:
Sandra wanted a traditional marriage. Jack wanted to push his career. Their priorities clashed. The relationship became "total animus," in Jack's words. "I couldn't take the arguments," Nicholson said in later, published interviews. "They bored me."

Underlying the tensions was Sandra's suspicion that when Jack was off in the Philippines or Paris, it was as much playtime as career...

When Nicholson first took marriage vows, he told Time magazine some years later, he had felt a "secret inner pressure about monogamy." Now, on the verge of turning thirty, Jack found himself, for the first time in his life, able to act upon bottled-up impulses. He was not the first Nicholson male to drift away from fatherhood and family.

Meanwhile, Sandra had started down "an extremely firm mystical path," in Nicholson's words. Mysticism was the vogue in Hollywood. You encountered it, in various forms, at the best dinner parties -- at the home of actress Jennifer Jones, Robert Walker, Jr.'s, mother, where Nicholson was an occasional guest -- as well as out of the mouths of sidewalk prophets, shoving pamphlets at tourists on Sunset Strip.

In the interests of the marriage, Nicholson gave mysticism a sincere try. He went up to see the Indian-born Jiddu Krishnamurti utter pleasant truisms about death and love, time and eternity, at his Oak Grove headquarters in Ojai, north of Los Angeles. Others in Jack's circle dabbled in mysticism too, and some were very taken with Krishnamurti or Alan Watts, Zen philosophy or the Human Potential movement.

But Nicholson was too self-motivated, and too much the lapsed Catholic, to give himself over to Eastern spirituality. He was not one of the ones hynotized by Krishnamurti. And being pragmatic, Jack sought more immediate solutions to his marital problems.

Nicholson suggested he and Sandra take some LSD together under medical guidance. His wife agreed.

"This therapist didn't really understand LSD. He had never taken it himself," Nicholson recalled in a published interview. "He gave it to Sandra first, in conjunction with a five-hour therapeutic session, but he gave her the maximum dosage. At one point, she looked at me and saw a demon, a totally demonic figure. For whatever reason, either because it's true about me or because of her own grasping at something, it was pretty bad."

According to the divorce papers, the couple hung in there, trying to save the marriage. The formal separation came on April 1, 1967, less than five years after the wedding date.

Nicholson moved out of the house and into a Laurel Canyon apartment with Harry Dean Stanton.

From: Donald Shepherd, Jack Nicholson: An Unauthorized Biography, St. Martin's Press: New York (1991), page 40:
Jack and Sandra began dating soon after they met in Landau's class. Shortly thereafter, Jack moved out of the place he had been sharing with another actor (probably Harry Dean Stanton) and into one with Sandra. They were very much in love, and on June 17, 1962, after Jack completed his military obligations, they were married in Hollywood by a Unitarian Universalist minister. Jack was twenty-five; Sandra was twenty-two. Harry Dean Stanton was the best man at the ceremony.
Shepherd, pages 53-54:
The topography of Jack [Nicholson]'s career int he late 1960s, like his moods, was one of inconsequential peeks and colossal depressions. A dozen years had passed; he had turned thirty and was considered too old for stardom by Hollywood standards. He had appeared in fourteen films, had coproduced two and had written three. But he was still having to grub even for the exploitation films that he found so professionally, financially, and spiritually withering. He had been away from home very often, had been off to Mexico and then to the Philippines, and then had immersed himself for a year in producing two Westerns, including the two-month location shoot in Utah, followed by the trip to Europe. There had been little time for Sandra. Even when he was home, he was busy searching for solid footing, working on projects by day and writing at night, giving work his undivided attention and feeling unjustly intruded upon whenever Sandra broke his concentration with demands on his time, or complaints, or with even minor domestic problems. "I couldn't take the arguments," Jack said, "they bored me." This put an added strain on the marriage.

Jack and Sandra's problems ultimately caused them to see an analyst together, an event that led directly to the total collapse of their marriage rather than helping them. Part of the analyst's treatment was the administration of the hallucinogen LSD, which alters one's perceptions Jack's experience with the drug was enlightening (it was the time that he reexperienced the impressions of his infancy), but Sandra's experience terrified her. "This therapist didn't really understand LSD," Jack said. "He had never taken it himself. He gave it to Sandra first, in connection with a five-hour therapeutic session, but he gave her the maximum dosage. At one point, the looked at me and saw a demon, a totally demonic figure. For whatever reason, either because it's true about me or because of her own grasping at something, it was pretty bad."

Perhaps owing to her natural inclination and partly to her bad expeience with the drug [LSD], Sandra [Jack Nicholson's wife] turned to religion for solace. "She became stimulated in a mystical area," Jack said, "and I couldn't get with that. I didn't want to get caught in a situation where I was in competition with God, or something like that, and I felt that I would be and that I would do it myself, because I felt the strength of this new flow into [her] life." Jack claims that he isn't at all religious. He says the only time he ever prayed was when, at Bruce Dern's suggestion, he took up long-distance running to keep in shape. He often prayed while running, yet he doesn't know why he did so.

Sandra was horrified when Jack continued to experiment with the drug [LSD]. She finally ordered him from the house and told him not to return. Their divorce became final in 1968 and ended with mutual respect and without rancor. They remained friends. Sandra eventually moved to Hawaii with Jennifer [their daughter together], but as Jennifer grew up, she spent part ofher summer vacactions with her father.

David Downing, Jack Nicholson: A Biography, Stein and Day Publishers: New York (1984), pages 43-45:
...1966... the new lifestyle, for those who could afford it, seemed so full of self-righteous sense. Why not expand your mind with drugs, soft or hallucinogenic? Why restrict yourself to one sexual partner when all the world was love? Why not let it all hang out? Across California, in these years, you could hear the egos bursting out.

...Nicholson, radically-inclined in any case, was more at home in this new world than his marriage, which reportedly expired, amicably, when his and Sandra's life-priorities began to diverge. His career was influenced just as dramatically. The film industry, and particularly [Roger] Corman, soon came alive to the enormous possibilities inherent in the 'youth revolution'...

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