04/24/2012 07:57 am ET Updated Jun 24, 2012

Open Letter to Jack Nicholson: Happy Birthday - and Thanks!

Jack Nicholson, one of the great screen actors of all time, turned 75 this week and, in honor of that milestone, I wanted to publicly say:

Thank you, Jack Nicholson.

Thank you for being so perfect and unpredictable and bold as an actor.

Thank you for having taste in choosing scripts that so often led to memorable quality films.

Thanks for being one of the actors whose films defined the 1970s and 1980s. You were part of a coterie I think of as the post-Brando generation, an outstanding set of actors that included Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Warren Beatty, Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman.

What made you stand out was your wild-card quality. It was shared by Pacino, Hoffman and De Niro, all of whom could be quite funny early on, but who ultimately focused on more serious roles. But you, Jack, understood the value of comedy -- and how to find serious material that injected comedy as both leavening and relief.

Hoffman, De Niro and Pacino conveyed an unmistakable ethnicity in their onscreen personas. Beatty was eternally WASP-like; Hackman could portray blue-collar grit or white-collar hauteur.

But Nicholson was always different. His performances have an insinuating quality, a slyness, a canniness that practically oozes from his pores, whether he's plays a slickster like Jake Gittes in Chinatown or a fair-minded knuckle-dragger like Bad-Ass Buddusky in The Last Detail. With his characters, it was never a question of whether he had an angle; it was which of the several angles was he going to play.

I'd also say thanks for Nicholson's willingness to work with a wide variety of directors in material that called for him to be unlikable, threatening and just plain bad news.

This commentary continues on my website.