Oscar Actors: Adams, Nick–Nominee, Twilight of Honor, Background, Career, Awards

Research in Progress (April 23, 2021)

Career Summary:

Occupational inheritance: No

Religion: father Ukrainian

Social Class: working class; father coal miner


Inspiration: advice from Jack Palance and Henry Fonda

Stage debut:

Broadway debut:

TV: The Rebel, 1959; aged 27

Film debut: Somebody Loves Me, 1952; 21

Oscar nom: Twilight of Honor, 1963; aged 32

Other awards:

Career span:

Last film:

Death: 37 (drug overdose)

Born as Nicholas Adamshock on July 10, 1931 in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania; he died in 1968.

Nick Adams played leads and supporting parts in films of the 1950s and 1960s, often as a restive young man, but he was best known to American audiences for “The Rebel” TV series.

Adams was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in Twilight of Honor (1963).

His 1968 death was caused by an overdose of drugs he was taking for nervous disorder.

Oscar Alert

In 1963, Adams competed for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar with Bobby Darin in “Captain Newman, M.D.,” Melvyn Douglas (who won) in “Hud,” Hugh Griffith in “Tom Jones,” and John Huston in “The Cardinal.”

Nick Adams (born Nicholas Aloysius Adamshock, July 10, 1931) was noted for his roles in Hollywood films during the 1950s and 1960s along with his starring role in the ABC television series “The Rebel” (1959).

Decades after Adams’ death from drug overdose at age 36, his friendships with James Dean and Elvis Presley would stir speculation about his private life and dying circumstances.

Adams was born in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania, to Catherine (Kutz) and Peter Adamshock, an anthracite coal miner. His parents were both of Ukrainian descent.

The family left when he was 5 after Adams’ uncle was killed in mining accident.  His father started driving, and ran out of gas and money in Jersey City, New Jersey at Audubon Park. Adams’ father was given a job as janitor of an apartment building along with basement apartment. Eventually, they moved to Van Nostrand Avenue between Ocean Avenue and Rutgers Avenue. His mother worked for Western Electric in Kearny, New Jersey.

He was a successful athlete at Henry Snyder High School but failed to get a part in the school play. While still in high school Adams was offered a playing position in minor league baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals, but he turned it down because of the low pay. He briefly worked as a bat boy for the Jersey City Giants, a local minor league team.

Advice and Help from Jack Palance and Henry Fonda

In 1948, while visiting New York, Adams, 17, wandered into audition for Seán O’Casey’s play The Silver Tassie and met Jack Palance (understudying for Brando in Streetcar Named Desire). When Palance, whose father was also a Ukrainian coal miner from Northeastern Pennsylvania, asked why he wanted to act, Adams replied, “For the money.”

Palance introduced him to the director of The Silver Tassie as Nick Adams. After the director declined to hire him as extra, Palance sent Adams to a nearby junior theater group where he got his first acting job playing the role of Muff Potter in Tom Sawyer.

While trying to get a role in the play Mister Roberts, Adams met with Henry Fonda. who advised him to get some training as actor.

Adams’ friends teased him about his acting ambitions. “Everybody thought I was crazy”, he recalled. “My father said, ‘Nick, get a trade, be a barber or something.’ I said, ‘But, Pop, I want to do something where I can make lots of money. You can’t make lots of money with just a trade.'” After a year of unpaid acting in New York, Adams hitchhiked to Los Angeles.

Doorman and Usher

Adams was avid reader of fan magazines, and hoped to meet agents and directors by being seen at the Warners Theater in Beverly Hills. He got a job there as doorman, usher, and maintenance man, which included changing notices on the theater marquee. He was fired after he put his own name up as a publicity stunt.

Adams first paying acting job in Los Angeles was a stage role at the Las Palmas Theater in the comedy “Mr. Big Shot.” Although he was paid about $60 a week, Adams had to pay $175 for membership in Actors’ Equity Association. He also earned $25 one night at the Mocambo nightclub, filling in for Pearl Bailey who had fallen ill.

After three years of struggle and self-promotion, his first film role came in 1951, an uncredited one-liner as a Western Union delivery boy in George Seaton’s Somebody Loves Me (1952).

This allowed him to join the Screen Actors Guild, but he was unable to find steady work, even when “creatively” claiming he had appeared with Palance in The Silver Tassie in New York. Undaunted, Adams joined a theater workshop run by Arthur Kennedy. In January 1952, Adams enlisted in the United States Coast Guard.

In June 1954, his ship docked in Long Beach harbor and, after a brash audition for director John Ford during which Adams did impressions of James Cagney and other celebrities while dressed in his Coast Guard uniform, he took his accumulated leave and appeared as Seaman Reber in the 1955 film version of Mister Roberts.

Adams then completed his military service, returned to Los Angeles and, at the age of 23, based on his work in Mister Roberts, secured a powerful agent, and signed with Warner Bros.

Adams had a small role (as Chick) in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and played the role of “Bomber” the paper boy in the popular film adaptation of Picnic (1955), which was mostly filmed on location in Kansas, and starred William Holden, Kim Novak, and Susan Strasberg.

During the late 1950s, Adams had supporting roles in several successful TV productions, including one episode of Wanted Dead or Alive (1958) starring Steve McQueen, and films such as Our Miss Brooks (1956), No Time for Sergeants (1958), Teacher’s Pet (1958), and Pillow Talk (1959).

Adams met James Dean in December 1950 while jitterbugging for a soft drink commercial filmed at Griffith Park.

Adams spent three years in the Coast Guard between the time this commercial was shot in late 1950 and the start of filming for Rebel Without a Cause in March 1955.

Friendship with James Dean

Actor Jack Grinnage, who played Moose, recalled, “Off the set, Nick, Dennis Hopper, and the others would go out together — almost like the gang we portrayed — but Jimmy and Corey Allen … were not a part of that.” They became friends during filming. During breaks, Dean and Adams entertained cast and crew with impersonations of Marlon Brando and Elia Kazan (who had directed Dean in East of Eden).

A 1955 Warner press release quoted Dean as saying, “I shall be busy for the rest of 1955, and Nick will be doing film work for the next six months. Come 1956, however, I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself with Adams doing a two-a-night nightclub routine — or acting in a comedy by William Shakespeare.”

When production was wrapped, Dean said in another press release, “I now regard Natalie (Wood), Nick, and Sal (Mineo) as co-workers; I regard them as friends … about the only friends I have in this town. And I hope we all work together again soon.”

After Dean’s 1955 death in a car accident, Adams overdubbed some of Dean’s lines for the film Giant (Jett Rink’s speech at the hotel) and dated co-star Natalie Wood.

Adams tried to capitalize on Dean’s fame through various publicity stunts, including a claim he was being stalked by a crazed female Dean fan, allowing himself to be photographed at Dean’s grave in a contemplative pose, holding flowers, and surrounded by mourning, teenaged female fans along with writing articles and doing interviews about Dean for fan magazines.

He also claimed to have developed Dean’s affection for fast cars: “I became a highway delinquent. I was arrested 9 times in one year. They put me on probation, but I kept on racing … nowhere.”