Lorna Thayer

Actress who held Jack Nicholson's chicken
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The Independent Online

Lorna Thayer, a veteran actress of some 80 film and television roles, famously played the waitress in the chicken-salad-sandwich scene with Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces (1970). Befriended by a younger waitress, Rayette (Karen Black), she has easily the best lines, and her dialogue with Rayette's boyfriend Robert Dupea (Jack Nicholson) has been included in selections of the 100 best movie lines of all time:

Lorna Thayer, actress: born Boston, Massachusetts 10 March 1919; married 1950 Arthur Dowling (deceased; two daughters); died Woodland Hills, California 4 June 2005.

Lorna Thayer, a veteran actress of some 80 film and television roles, famously played the waitress in the chicken-salad-sandwich scene with Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces (1970). Befriended by a younger waitress, Rayette (Karen Black), she has easily the best lines, and her dialogue with Rayette's boyfriend Robert Dupea (Jack Nicholson) has been included in selections of the 100 best movie lines of all time:

Lorna Thayer (Waitress): You want me to hold the chicken, huh?
Jack Nicholson (Bobby): I want you to hold it between your knees.

Thayer was born in Boston in 1919, moving to Hollywood with her mother, the silent-film actress Louise Gibney, after she split from Lorna's father, a set-builder at Universal Studios. Her mother looked every inch the movie star, copying the bee-stung-lips look from Mae Murray and Gloria Swanson's silk turbans. The problem was that Gibney lacked the confidence of her contemporaries and sank into depression and drink. But this all changed on the birth of Lorna and by the time she was five she had been enrolled into dance classes.

Lorna Thayer attended Immaculate Heart College, in Los Angeles, launching her acting career in the Players' Ring production of Street Scene (1946), followed by Berkeley Square with Thomas Beck at the Geary Theatre in San Francisco. On Broadway, she was a stand-in for the much older Judith Anderson before taking over for the actress in Comes a Day with George C. Scott and Larry Hagman.

Despite a few bit parts during the 1940s in MGM musicals, it was not until the early 1950s that she made any headway in Hollywood. She had parts in the western Texas City (1952), the action drama The Lusty Men (1952) and the thriller Jennifer (1953), and took the lead opposite Paul Birch in The Beast with a Million Eyes (1958), in which an alien spacecraft lands in the desert and its inhabitants plan a campaign of terror on local people, ultimately taking over their minds. Filmed on a zero budget, the film had many of the clichés found in sci-fi of the era, rubber-faced monsters and screaming blondes and blurred stock footage of reptiles at LA's zoo. Despite this it became a cult favourite.

The majority of Thayer roles in the 1950s and early 1960s were made for the "drive-in-movie" crowd. The dialogue was simple, the plots were straightforward and the leads easy on the eye - for example, the follow-up to Mutiny on the Bounty entitled The Women of Pitcairn Island (1956). But she was also in I Want to Live! (1958), about Barbara Graham going to the electric chair, and, one of her better films, Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round (1966).

Thayer, who married in the 1950s and had two daughters, jumped between movie and theatre parts. She enjoyed the live audience and no matter how small the part or how bad the pay sought out as much theatre work as she could muster. One of her plays was the critically acclaimed Broadway hit Never Live Over a Pretzel Factory (1964).

After Five Easy Pieces, she had small parts in numerous films, as well as television shows such as General Hospital and CHiPs. She made her last film, Frankie and Johnny, in 1991 as a favour to her friend Al Pacino.

Austin Mutti-Mewse



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