Written By: Ben Cosgrove

Time was that John Joseph Nicholson was merely another Hollywood up and comer. More promising and talented than many, perhaps. Certainly more riveting, as both an artist and as an individual, than most. But still, in the late 1960s, Jack Nicholson was just Jack Nicholson: a guy with some interesting, supporting roles under his belt. The superstar, five-decade career (replete with 12 career Oscar nominations)—had just barely begun.

In September 1969, not long after Nicholson charmed moviegoers and critics with his deceptively easygoing performance as a sweet-natured, booze-sodden, small-town lawyer in Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider, LIFE sent Arthur Schatz to photograph the 32-year-old actor at his new home on Mulholland Drive, overlooking Franklin Canyon in Los Angeles. Here, LIFE.com offers a series of Schatz’s photographs from that shoot that were never published in LIFE.

Typed notes by writer Judy Fayard that accompanied Schatz’s film to the LIFE offices New York, suggest small insights into the man. For example, Fayard recalls that at one point during the shoot, Nicholson—who in 1969 drove a yellow convertible VW bug—stated that “anyone out here who doesn’t drive a Volks is either ostentatious or stupid.”

Ultimately, perhaps the most fascinating aspect of these pictures, more than a half century later, is how recognizably Jack he is in them. The energy, the charisma, the intelligence, the well-known (and so-often lovingly parodied) grin: these are all  familiar traits of a singular figure, now in his 80s, who has given viewers so many unforgettable roles.

Jack Nicholson at home in Los Angeles, 1969.

Jack Nicholson at home in Los Angeles, 1969.

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jack Nicholson at home in Los Angeles, 1969

Jack Nicholson at home in Los Angeles, 1969

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jack Nicholson at home in 1969

Jack Nicholson at home in 1969

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jack Nicholson plays with his daughter, Jennifer, on the deck of his home overlooking Franklin Canyon, Los Angeles, 1969.

Jack Nicholson played with his daughter, Jennifer, on the deck of his home overlooking Franklin Canyon, Los Angeles, 1969.

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jack Nicholson and his daughter, Jennifer, on the deck of his home overlooking Franklin Canyon, Los Angeles, 1969.

Jack Nicholson and his daughter, Jennifer, on the deck of his home overlooking Franklin Canyon, Los Angeles, 1969.

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jack Nicholson and director Bob Rafelson chat on the deck of Nicholson's home, Los Angeles, 1969.

Jack Nicholson and director Bob Rafelson chatted on the deck of Nicholson’s home, Los Angeles, 1969.

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jack Nicholson looks at film negatives at his home, Los Angeles, 1969.

Jack Nicholson looked at film negatives at his home, Los Angeles, 1969.

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jack Nicholson clowns around at his home with a picture of his friend, the film director Bob Rafelson, Los Angeles, 1969.

Jack Nicholson clowned around at his home with a picture of his friend, the film director Bob Rafelson, Los Angeles, 1969.

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jack Nicholson and his daughter, Jennifer, on the deck of his home overlooking Franklin Canyon, Los Angeles, 1969.

Jack Nicholson and his daughter, Jennifer, on the deck of his home overlooking Franklin Canyon, Los Angeles, 1969.

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jack Nicholson at home in 1969, taking his first piano lesson with teacher Josef Pacholczyk, prior to starring as a classical pianist-turned-roughneck in the 1970 classic, Five Easy Pieces.

Jack Nicholson at home in 1969, took his first piano lesson with teacher Josef Pacholczyk, before starring as a classical pianist-turned-roughneck in the 1970 classic, Five Easy Pieces.

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jack Nicholson at home in 1969, taking his first piano lesson with teacher Josef Pacholczyk

Jack Nicholson at home in 1969, during his first piano lesson with teacher Josef Pacholczyk

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jack Nicholson at home in 1969, taking his first piano lesson with teacher Josef Pacholczyk

Jack Nicholson at home in 1969, during his first piano lesson with teacher Josef Pacholczyk

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jack Nicholson driving his Volkswagen convertible in 1969

Jack Nicholson driving his Volkswagen convertible in 1969

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jack Nicholson driving his Volkswagen convertible in 1969

Jack Nicholson in his Volkswagen convertible, 1969

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jack Nicholson drives his Volkswagen Convertible in 1969

Jack Nicholson in his Volkswagen Convertible, 969

Arthur Schatz The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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