Jack Nicholson as Bobby Dupea, aimless oil worker and classical piano prodigy
Bakersfield, CA, to Puget Sound, Fall to Winter 1970
Film: Five Easy Pieces
Release Date: September 12, 1970
Director: Bob Rafelson
Wardrobe Credit: Bucky Rous
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Happy birthday, Jack Nicholson! The prolific actor was born 82 years ago today on April 22, 1937.
Five Easy Pieces remains among my favorite of Nicholson’s extensive filmography. His performance as Bobby Dupea—”a man condemned to search for the meaning of his life,” according to director Bob Rafelson—earned the actor his second of 12 Academy Award nominations.
The shiftless Bobby rejected his roots and refined upbringing by a musically oriented, educated Puget Sound family to reinvent himself as a hard-drinking, easy-living oil rig worker living a blue-collar life outside of Bakersfield with his co-dependent, Tammy Wynette-obsessed girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black, in a deservedly Oscar-nominated performance) who works in a local greasy spoon. Unlike his family’s cadre of classically trained musicians and philosophical professors, Bobby’s circle includes his ex-con co-worker Elton (Billy “Green” Bush), Elton’s TV-obsessed wife Stoney (Fannie Flagg), and a couple of local floozies (Sally Struthers and Marlena MacGuire) that he picked up in a bowling alley.
Seemingly content but hardly pleased with his life, Bobby’s past comes calling when a visit with his sister Partita (Lois Smith) reveals that his father is sick. Bobby gets home, tosses his suitcase onto the bed where Rayette is silently sobbing into a pillow, and tells her that he’s leaving for a few weeks as he packs his shirts. Believing that he will never return to her, the distressed waitress hints at suicide and soon finds herself next to him in the passenger seat of their ’63 Mercury, blissfully singing along to Tammy Wynette (who else?) as they make their way up the coast. Along the way, Bobby stops to help two women in distress: the filth-obsessed Palm Apodaca (Helena Kallianiotes, though Jack originally wanted Janis Joplin for the role) and her passive partner
Terry Gross Terry Grouse (Toni Basil…yes, the singer of “Mickey”) on their way up to Alaska.
Palm: Alaska’s very clean. It appeared to look very white to me. Don’t you think?
Bobby: Yep. That was before the big thaw.
Palm: Before the what?
The foursome stops at a diner to grab a bite to eat for the now-famous scene where Bobby verbally spars with a waitress (Lorna Thayer) who refuses to accommodate his meal request due to the restaurant’s strict “no substitutions” policy.
Everyone remembers the famous exchange between the waitress, who retorts Bobby’s sarcasm with “You want me to hold the chicken, huh?” only for him to respond “I want you to hold it between your knees,” which was included on a list of The 100 Greatest Movie Lines by Premiere in 2007. While very entertaining in its own right, the scene also sums up the quandaries of Bobby’s rootless existence. In my opinion, the most significant line comes earlier when Bobby responds to the waitress’ insistence that he orders directly off the menu with: “I know what it comes with, but it’s not what I want.”
Palm, the most countercultural character we meet in Five Easy Pieces, is ebullient with praise for Bobby’s defiant handling of the situation, though he’s more cynical as he actually wasn’t successful in obtaining what he ultimately wanted—in this case, his breakfast. As much as he tries to game the system and figure out his own path, he’ll never be truly satisfied.
Yeah, well, I didn’t get it, did I?
Bob Rafelson recalls that screenwriter Carole Eastman (credited as Adrien Joyce) enhanced the scene as he had originally envisioned it by concluding it with Bobby sweeping the glasses off the table…something she had seen Jack Nicholson do in real life.
“We all hung out in a coffee shop called Poopy’s up on the Strip,” recalled Jack Nicholson in 2009. “We were actors, so we’d go and sit there all day lookin’ at people. And I came late at the end of the afternoon, and I ordered up my coffee, but they’d been there three or four hours. And I’m sipping the coffee, and Mrs. Poopy came over and she took my coffee away… ‘You people have to get out of here’ and so forth, and I said ‘Oh, really?’ and I went like this and I just cleared the table… and I said, ‘Really? How ’bout that, Mrs. Poopy? This was my cup of coffee.'”
Although the scene survived all of Bob Rafelson’s original drafts for the movie that would become Five Easy Pieces, the director has expressed disappointment that this scene has become such a memorable moment from the movie as he feels it’s disconnected from the rest of the story, instead preferring the dinner scene around the Dupea family table after the “disruption” of Rayette’s arrival.
The later dinner scene is soon followed by arguably the movie’s most powerful sequence. Following a conversation with Catherine (Susan Anspach), Bobby wheels his father’s wheelchair out near the shoreline and crouches in front of him for a remorseful confession and apology where he hopes to make amends for his abandonment of his family and his father’s expectations for his talented son.
What’d He Wear?
We first meet Bobby Dupea while he’s wearing this casual red nylon jacket, driving home with a case of Lucky Lager to the sounds of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man”, an anthem frequently played by his girlfriend Rayette. This jacket, invariably worn with cowboy boots and jeans, features in many of Five Easy Pieces‘ most significant scenes from Bobby’s road trip and diner stop to his climactic apology to his father.
With its insulated nylon construction and knit collar, cuffs, and hem, Bobby’s blouson jacket clearly takes some style cues from the famous MA-1 bomber jacket developed for the U.S. military and popularized during the 1950s, though it’s more of a fashion-oriented piece in its bolder crimson shade of red and fold-over short shawl collar. The jacket has a silver-toned YKK zip front, set-in sleeves, and slanted welt hand pockets.
Unlike many bomber-style jackets where the knitted portions are similarly colored with the jacket, the short fold-over shawl collar, cuffs, and hem are a dark charcoal ribbed knit wool that contrasts with the rest of the garment.
The contrasting fold-over shawl collar makes the jacket particularly unique, though many retailers—such as Levi’s and Rothco—offer their own variants of the classic MA-1 in bright red for a Bobby Dupea-inspired look in a pinch, though this also means the military-inspired sleeve pocket and pocket flaps.
For a more subdued approach, burgundy jackets are also a possibility, though they go in a different direction than the brown-ish cast of the Five Easy Pieces jacket. The fast-fashion experts at H&M developed this burgundy nylon-blend lightweight jacket for an affordable $34.99, though it still lacks the contrasting knit details and adds a breast pocket that removes from the clean-looking chest of Nicholson’s jacket.
We get a little closer with these burgundy-colored bomber jackets with black contrasting knit pieces:
- G-Style Contrast Lightweight Bomber Jacket in burgundy polyester, $34.95
- Masorini Maximilian Bomber Jacket in wine red polyester, spandex, and cotton, $60
An interesting and fashion-forward alternative to the above options is The Kooples Nylon Flight Jacket in burgundy with contrasting knit accents on the extended collar, cuffs, and hem. It carries a hefty price tag of $575 from Bloomingdale’s and the details still differ from what we saw with Nicholson’s jacket on-screen, but a commentor on the Bloomingdale’s site mentioned that it’s a warm jacket which would better serve the fall-to-winter weather of Jack’s drive than the lighter weight options of the discount purveyors above.
About two years ago, I purchased a lightweight burgundy nylon zip-up blouson from Gap with a gray ribbed-knit collar, cuffs, and hem. Introduced in November 2016 according to the manufacturer’s tag, this jacket has become a staple for road trips for its water resistance, versatility, and comfort.
Five Easy Looks
Bobby wears this jacket with five different shirts, creating five easy looks for wearing this jacket with Lee jeans and cowboy boots.
The opening sequence finds Bobby driving home through Bakersfield, eventually settling in front of the TV with a beer before Rayette drags him into the bedroom to talk about their plans for the night. He wears a classic light blue chambray snap-front shirt from Wrangler, evident by the signature “W” stitching on both chest pockets. Each patch pocket closes with a single snap on a pointed flap. The shirt has a slim spread collar, pointed yokes, and triple-snap cuffs.
Bobby changes into a more casual T-shirt for a night at the bowling alley. (“In the gutter, isn’t that wonderful?” he comments on Rayette’s bowling ability.) The body of this cotton crew-neck T-shirt is ivory white with long green set-in sleeves. Contrasting sleeves are a feature of the “baseball T”, though most frequently with raglan 3/4-length sleeves like this shirt.
Bobby’s loud floral-patterned shirt makes a few welcome appearances, first in Bakersfield when stopping in to visit Rayette at work after an argument and again in Puget Sound when chatting with Catherine after her day of horseback riding:
Riding? That’s dangerous, you know. You play the piano all day then jump on a horse, you could get cramps.
With its yellow and orange flowers on a mustard-sage ground, this Western-yoked shirt is arguably the trendiest item of his wardrobe, consistent with both the colors and styles that emerged as hallmarks of 1970s fashion. The shirt has a spread collar, front placket with white sew-through plastic buttons, and two-button cuffs. There are two small chest pockets, each a pointed-bottom patch with a reinforced pointed patch at the top of each pocket.
It isn’t until about 40 minutes into Five Easy Pieces that Bobby and Rayette hit the road for Puget Sound. During the chilly but picturesque drive north in their Mercury sedan, Bobby wears a navy blue turtleneck sweater in a heavy wool knit with a ribbed polo neck, cuffs, and hem. He appears to be wearing it over a white undershirt tucked into his jeans, seen as he changes the tire during one of Palm and Terry’s arguments.
The heavier navy turtleneck has a fuller polo neck than the black one that he would wear most frequently with his brown corduroy blazer. April can be a rough time to go shopping for a heavy wool turtleneck in the Northern Hemisphere as most shops are rolling out their summer attire, but Amazon will always have you covered with items like this.
The black cotton turtleneck does make a brief appearance under the red nylon jacket during Bobby’s dramatic outdoor conversation with Catherine, though the jacket is zipped up to the neck and conceals the layers beneath it. If you opt for a lighter weight black turtleneck like Bobby, there are some affordable merino-blend examples on Amazon from Kallspin and Paul Jones.
When not working on the oil fields, Bobby Dupea wears a pair of classic blue selvage denim Lee 101 Rider jeans with the signature “lazy S” back pocket stitching. Lee still offers the 101 Rider as part of its European Collection for $170. You can also find non-Rider Lee jeans on Amazon. Read more about Bobby’s denim in Five Easy Pieces in this exploration by Rope Dye.
Bobby wears a taupe brown leather belt with a rounded brass single-prong buckle, embroidered with “figure-8” contrast stitching. This classic belt design is still easy to find nearly 50 years later (see Amazon.)
Bobby wears a pair of brown leather cowboy boots, not out of professional or cultural necessity, but likely as part of his reimagined self-image.
Amazon’s best-selling Western boot as of April 2019 is the Ariat Rambler, an appropriately named choice given Bobby’s “rambling man” nature. Like Bobby Dupea’s boots, these have pull straps on both sides of the top of the shaft and wide, flat soles.
Under his boots, Bobby wears a pair of classic white ribbed cotton tube socks, best seen when he’s changing out of his low bowling shoes back into his boots.
Bobby wears a plain gold watch with a champagne gold dial on a brown leather Bund strap. The strap consists of a narrow band for the watch that is secured on a broad band, typically wider than the diameter of the timepiece itself. The warmth of a double-layered Bund strap makes it ideal for Bobby’s journey north into cooler climates.
Per Primer’s comprehensive guide to watch straps, the distinctive Bund strap was developed for German aviators during World War II to protect the wearer’s skin from the cold air at extreme altitudes or from scalding metal in a post-crash fire.
Decades before his permanent front-row seats at the Oscars and Lakers games, Jack Nicholson knew how to rock a pair of shades. In this case, it’s a set of perfectly chosen sunglasses with a Jet Age-inspired gold bar across the top of the rimless lenses, dipping over the nose, with slim temples that disappear under Jack’s long hair.
It has been suggested that Bobby wears the venerated Ray-Ban Olympian sunglasses, but the Olympians have full frames that encapsulate the lenses as opposed to Bobby’s shades, which are much closer to the iconic Sol Amor “Nylor” sunglasses.
For his long drive north, Bobby wears a pair of yellow deerskin leather gloves, ideal for work or driving like these Magid gloves available from Amazon for less than $14 as of April 2019.
What to Imbibe
It’s Lucky when you live in California was the original slogan for Bobby Dupea’s brew of choice, Lucky Lager.
Launched in 1934 by General Brewing Company in San Francisco, the beer received its name after a regional contest. Armed with a genuinely high-quality product, rapidly increasing demand, and the storied resources of the McCann-Erickson advertising agency, the brand had aggressive expansion in its sights during the post-WWII era, expanding its footprint as far north as Vancouver, Washington, in 1950, and eventually as far east as Salt Lake City in 1960. By 1962, it was producing more than two million barrels annually and its expanded distribution meant an updated slogan: It’s Lucky when you live in America.
Bobby drinks Lucky Lager like most people drink water, so it makes sense that he would be very precise about his “hangover helper” breakfasts. Sop up after your late night with “a plain omelette” accompanied by health-conscious tomatoes and wheat toast—instead of cottage fries and rolls—and a cup of coffee… as long as your waitress allows it.
Bobby: I’d like a plain omelette, no potatoes, tomatoes instead, a cup of coffee and wheat toast.
Waitress: No substitutions.
Bobby: What do you mean? You don’t have any tomatoes?
Waitress: Only what’s on the menu. You can have a number two—a plain omelette—it comes with cottage fries and rolls.
Bobby: Yeah, I know what it comes with, but it’s not what I want.
Waitress: Well, I’ll come back when you make up your mind.
Bobby: Wait a minute, I have made up my mind. I’d like a plain omelette, no potatoes on the plate, a cup of coffee, and a side order of wheat toast.
Waitress: I’m sorry, we don’t have any side orders of toast. I’ll give you an English muffin or a coffee roll.
Bobby: What do you mean you don’t make side orders of toast? You make sandwiches, don’t you?
Waitress: Would you like to talk to the manager?
Palm: Hey, mac…
Bobby: Shut up. (to the waitress) You’ve got bread and a toaster of some kind?
Waitress: I don’t make the rules.
Bobby: Okay, I’ll make it as easy for you as I can. I’d like an omelette—plain—and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce, and a cup of coffee.
Waitress: A number two, a chicken salad sand. Hold the butter, the lettuce, and the mayonnaise, and a cup of coffee. Anything else?
Bobby: Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a cheque for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven’t broken any rules.
Waitress: You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
Bobby: I want you to hold it between your knees.
Waitress: You see that sign, sir? Yes, you’ll all have to leave! I’m not taking any more of your smartness and sarcasm!
Bobby: You see this sign? (sweeps the glasses off the table onto the floor)
What to Drive
This isn’t BAMF Style’s usual #CarWeek, but it’s still worth celebrating the trusty off-white 1963 Mercury Monterey Breezeway sedan that Bobby and Rayette drive more than a thousand miles north from Bakersfield to Puget Sound.
Mercury first introduced the Monterey model to its lineup in 1952. As the decade continued, Mercury built its full-size line that culminated in 1958 with the premium Montclair, the flagship Park Lane, and the short-lived but stylish Turnpike Cruiser.
Mercury would revive the various model names over the decades to follow, but only the Monterey was still offered as a full-size for the 1963 model year, sharing the full-size banner with the performance-focused S-55 variant as the marque invested in its newer, smaller models like the compact Comet and mid-size Meteor.
The 1963 Monterey introduced the reverse-slanted, power-controlled “Breezeway” rear window, which had already found success with Ford’s station wagons, the third generation Lincoln Continental, and Mercury’s own innovative Turnpike Cruiser. As this unique cosmetic option was added, three engines were dropped—the six-cylinder “Mileage Maker” and the 292 and 352 V8—making the 390 V8 standard with a new, higher-powered 406 V8 option.
The Monterey was the only Mercury of any body style to be produced continuously through the 1960s with the nameplate finally retired after the 1974 model year. It was briefly revived for the Mercury Monterey minivan, which some could consider an insult to the once-stylish nameplate that reigned supreme during the fabulous fifties and swinging sixties.
1963 Mercury Monterey Breezeway
Body Style: 4-door hardtop sedan
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 390 cid (6.4 L) Ford “FE-Series” V8 with 4-barrel carburetor
Power: 300 hp (223.5 kW; 304 PS) @ 4600 rpm
Torque: 427 lb·ft (579 N·m) @ 2800 rpm
Transmission: 3-speed Ford “Cruise-O-Matic” automatic
Wheelbase: 120.0 inches (3050 mm)
Length: 215.0 inches (5461 mm)
Width: 80.0 inches (2032 mm)
Height: 55.5 inches (1410 mm)
Although Bobby’s Monterey is fitted with California license plates (#ARW-633), some IMCDB commentors have suggested that “the lack of chrome trim on the lower beltline” indicates a Canadian-only model, which could be a possibility given that the scenes at the Dupea family home were actually filmed on Vancouver Island in the Canadian province of British Columbia rather than Puget Sound.
How to Get the Look
Jack Nicholson dresses for casual comfort with a red nylon jacket, Lee jeans, and cowboy boots that he adapts for different climates and situations, from a lightweight baseball-style T-shirt for bowling in Bakersfield or a heavy turtleneck for traveling north to see his family.
- Red nylon zip-front bomber-style blouson jacket with charcoal ribbed-knit shawl collar, cuffs, and hem, shoulder pleats, and slanted welt hand pockets
- Navy wool knit turtleneck sweater with ribbed rollneck, cuffs, and hem
- Blue selvedge denim Lee 101 Rider jeans
- Brown tooled leather “figure 8”-stitched belt with round brass single-prong buckle
- Brown leather cowboy boots
- Yellow deerskin leather work gloves
- Sol Amor-style sunglasses with curved gold top bar and rimless green lenses
- Gold wristwatch with champagne gold dial on brown leather bund strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
The best that I can do… is apologize.