April 22

    Jack Nicholson

    Jack Nicholson

    On this date in 1937, actor Jack Nicholson was born in New Jersey. He appeared in his first movie in 1958. “Five Easy Pieces” (1970) was a breakthrough role. His many notable movies include: “Easy Rider” (1969); “Carnal Knowledge” (1971); “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), for which he won a Best Actor Oscar; “The Shining” (1980); “Terms of Endearment” (1983), for which he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar; “Prizzi’s Honor” (1985); “Heartburn” (1986); “The Witches of Eastwick” (1987), in which he played “the devil;” “Batman” (1989); “A Few Good Men” (1992), “As Good as It Gets” (1997), which won him a second Best Actor Oscar, “About Schmidt” (2002), “The Bucket List” (2007) and “I’m Still Here” (2010).

    Nicholson was raised as a Catholic but stopped attending church in high school. In a 1992 Vanity Fair interview, he said, “I don’t believe in God now.” Twelve years later, in an Esquire magazine interview, he said that he prayed “to something” and had “a God sense. It’s not religious so much as superstitious. It’s part of being human, I guess.”

    PHOTO: Nicholson as a 2001 Kennedy Center honoree; © John Mathew Smith under CC 2.0.

    “I resist all established beliefs. My religion basically is to be immediate, to live in the now. It’s an old cliché, I know, but it’s mine. I envy people of faith. I’m incapable of believing in anything supernatural. So far, at least. Not that I wouldn’t like to.”

    —Nicholson, interview with Esquire magazine (January 2004)
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo by Featureflash, Shutterstock.com

    “Mme. de Stael”

    “Mme. de Stael”

    On this date in 1766, Germaine Necker, later known as “Mme. de Stael,” was born in France. Her mother was pious but her father, who was director-general of finance under King Louis XVI, was more liberal. Germaine started writing political essays at 15. She married the Swedish ambassador, the Baron de Stael, in 1786. They separated after a few years.

    De Stael wrote “Sophie,” a drama, in 1786, studied Rousseau and left Paris in 1792 for long periods of both self-imposed and Napoleon-imposed exiles. During her travels, she wrote a four-volume novel, Delphine, published in 1802. Although the Revolution cooled some of her Voltairean views, she continued to reject Christianity. D. 1817.

    “She spoke much about the preservation of religion, in which, she gave me to understand, she did not herself believe.”

    —American envoy John Q. Adams, writing about de Stael in a letter to his mother dated Nov. 22, 1812; "Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, Vol. xxiii" (1913)

    Robert Patterson

    Robert Patterson

    On this date in 1934, Robert Eugene Patterson was born in Kansas City, Missouri. He attended church with a neighbor until the age of 17, when he began to question the existence of a God. He has rejected religion ever since. A successful businessman, his accomplishments include the development of a police radar gun, which is also the most easily serviced gun used. He is an avid aviator and the owner of several airplanes. He didn’t discover the joy of parrots until later in life and is the proud owner of two blue and gold macaws. He is a longtime member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and treasurer of the Kansas City Community of Reason.

    “Talking to god is crazy. Hearing god is schizophrenia. Acting on it is insanity.”

    —Robert Patterson, quote submitted
    Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo courtesy of Robert Patterson

    Amber Heard

    Amber Heard

    On this date in 1986, actress Amber Laura Heard was born in Austin, Texas, to Patricia Paige and David Heard. She dropped out of high school when her best friend died in a car accident (after which she declared herself an atheist at age 16). She later completed the requirements for a diploma. She started her acting career in television and music videos and began appearing in more substantial roles with “Friday Night Lights” (2004) and the next year in “North Country,” in which she played Charlize Theron‘s character in flashbacks.

    Other roles followed, including “Pineapple Express” (2008), “Zombieland” (2009) and 2011’s “The Rum Diary” opposite Johnny Depp. Heard received a 2008 Young Hollywood Award for what was called a breakthrough comedic performance in “Pineapple Express.” Her increasing popularity was attested to by the 2013 nationwide theater release by The Weinstein Co. of her film “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane,” which premiered at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival. It was announced in early 2016 that she would have starring roles as Queen Mera in the Justice League and Aquaman movies.

    Heard reprised her role as Mera in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (2021), a director’s cut of the 2017 film. It was announced in late 2020 that she would appear in “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” set for release in 2023.

    She came out publicly in 2010 as bisexual, an admission she had resisted because of fears it would hurt her career. She and Depp, 22 years her senior, married in February 2015 and divorced contentiously in 2017. Her daughter, Oonagh Paige Heard, was born in April 2021 via a surrogate mother. After a six-week trial in 2022 on claims and counterclaims of defamation, a jury found Heard libeled Depp in a 2018 op-ed alleging domestic abuse. Depp was awarded $10.35 million in damages. The jury also found one of Depp’s lawyers defamed Heard and awarded her $2 million. The final resolution, in December 2022, awarded $1 million to Depp, who said he would donate it to charity.

    Heard has been involved with LGBT rights, Amnesty International and the United Nations program Girl Up. Her beguiling physicality has also landed her on numerous magazine covers, including Missbehave in April 2008. In that issue, she talked about how being raised in “a strict Catholic environment” led her to know “I will never be a religious person.”

    In an interview, she recalled students at her Catholic middle school getting extra credit for “community service” by protesting at abortion clinics. “I remember going into the classroom during homeroom and [my classmates] were making these posters with terrifying images, and I remember saying to myself, ‘I would rather be unpopular than do that to another human being.’ ” (net-a-porter.com, Nov. 30, 2018)

    PHOTO: gdcgraphics under CC 2.0

    “I’d like to thank the way I was raised for giving me enough knowledge about organized religion to make the adult decision to live the rest of my life without it. I don’t think you can believe or not believe in anything unless you know a lot about it. I know Christianity, especially Catholicism, like the back of my hand. And my education has given me the freedom to know that it is completely absurd for me to believe it.”

    —Missbehave magazine, April/May 2008
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Vladimir Nabokov

    Vladimir Nabokov

    On this date in 1899, novelist and poet Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, to Yelena Ivanovna (née Rukavishnikova) and Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, both wealthy and socially prominent. He had four younger siblings, one of whom died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945 for denouncing Hitler.

    The family was nominally Russian Orthodox but lacked religious fervor and Nabokov stopped attending church. Of his mother he would later write: “Her intense and pure religiousness took the form of her having equal faith in the existence of another world and in the impossibility of comprehending it in terms of earthly life.” (“Speak, Memory: A Memoir,” 1951)

    English, French and Russian were spoken in the household and Nabokov first learned to read and write in English, disappointing his patriotic father. He published a book of poems in Russian at age 17. During the political ferment of the revolution, the family fled to Crimea and then to England, where Nabokov earned a degree at Trinity College-Cambridge in 1922.

    He then joined his family in Berlin, where his father, a political liberal who had started an émigré newspaper in 1920, would die two years later in an assassination attempt by Russian monarchists on government-in-exile leader Pavel Milyukov. Nabokov would draw on his father’s death repeatedly in his fiction.

    He stayed in Berlin for 15 years, supplementing his meager writing income by teaching languages, tennis and boxing. He married Véra Evseyevna Slonim, a Russian-Jewish woman, in 1925. Their only child, Dmitri, was born in 1934. He wrote nine novels in Russian, and his final work of Russian fiction, the novella “The Enchanter,” was written in Paris in 1939.

    They fled to the U.S. in 1940 and Nabokov joined the faculty of Wellesley College as a lecturer in comparative literature. The position included free time to write creatively and pursue his academic interest in lepidoptery (moths and butterflies). He founded Wellesley’s Russian department and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He left Massachusetts in 1948 to teach Russian and European literature at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where he taught until 1959. Among his Cornell students was future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

    He published steadily and was a substantial force in the literary world until 1955, when his controversial best-selling novel “Lolita” moved him from newspapers’ books pages to front pages. Ranked fourth on the Modern Library’s list of 100 Best Novels in 2007, it detailed the purported memoir of middle-aged literature professor Humbert Humbert (a pseudonym), who is sexually obsessed with “nymphets,” in particular the 12-year-old Dolores Haze. He marries Dolores’ mother Charlotte and seduces her after Charlotte dies in an accident and Dolores tells him she had sex with an older boy at camp the previous summer.

    “And what is most singular is that she, this Lolita, my Lolita, has individualized the writer’s ancient lust, so that above and over everything there is — Lolita,” Humbert writes. In a 1974 analysis, Donald E. Morton wrote: “What makes ‘Lolita’ something more … is the truly shocking fact that Humbert Humbert is a genius who, through the power of his artistry, actually persuades the reader that his memoir is a love story.”

    Frederic Babcock, Chicago Tribune books editor, wrote in 1958: “Lolita is pornography, and we do not plan to review it.” Writer Joyce Carol Oates judged it as “one of our finest American novels, a triumph of style and vision, an unforgettable work, Nabokov’s best (though not most characteristic) work, a wedding of Swiftian satirical vigor with the kind of minute, loving patience that belongs to a man infatuated with the visual mysteries of the world.” (Oates in the Saturday Review of the Arts, January 1973)

    “Lolita” made Nabokov wealthy and spawned several adaptations on stage and screen, including operas and ballets. Stanley Kubrick directed the first film version (1962), starring James Mason as Humbert and Sue Lyon, 14 at the time, as Lolita.

    Nabokov and Véra had moved in 1961 to the Montreux Palace Hotel in Switzerland, where he continued to write and collect butterflies and lived till the end of his life at age 78 in 1977. His last novel was “Look at the Harlequins!” in 1974.

    “I don’t belong to any club or group,” he wrote in “Strong Opinions” (1973). “I don’t fish, cook, dance, endorse books, sign books, co-sign declarations, eat oysters, get drunk, go to church, go to analysts, or take part in demonstrations.” According to Donald Morton, “Nabokov is a self-affirmed agnostic in matters religious, political, and philosophical.”  (D. 1977)

    PHOTO: Nabokov in Berlin in the 1920s.

    “In the 1920s I was clawed at by a certain Mochulski [Konstantin, a literary critic and philosopher] who could never stomach my utter indifference to organized mysticism, to religion, to the church — any church.”

    —Nabokov responding to whether he believed in God. (Playboy magazine interview, January 1964)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

Freedom From Religion Foundation