As a film and television character actress with more than 40 years in front of the camera, Lorna Thayer largely flew under the show-business...
LOS ANGELES — As a film and television character actress with more than 40 years in front of the camera, Lorna Thayer largely flew under the show-business radar — with one notable exception that made film history.
Ms. Thayer was the waitress who memorably refused to bend the rules for Jack Nicholson in the 1970 film drama “Five Easy Pieces.”
Ms. Thayer, who died June 4 at age 85 at the Motion Picture and Television Fund retirement home in Los Angeles after battling Alzheimer’s disease for five years, had a long and varied career.
She appeared on stage in Los Angeles and New York, made guest appearances on countless television shows and had small parts in movies such as “The Lusty Men,” “Texas City” and “Frankie and Johnny.” She even co-starred in the 1956 horror film “The Beast with a Million Eyes,” a low-budget cult favorite.
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But then came “Five Easy Pieces,” directed by Bob Rafelson with a script by Carole Eastman under the name Adrien Joyce: a small but high-profile role that earned Thayer a prominent position in the pantheon of memorable movie waitresses.
As the voice of authority opposite Nicholson’s rebellious Bobby Dupea, a classical pianist-turned-oil-rigger, the middle-aged Thayer proved to be a formidable foil for the young Nicholson in what has come to be known as the “chicken salad scene.”
Dupea: “I’d like a plain omelet, no potatoes, tomatoes instead. A cup of coffee and toast.”
Waitress, pointing to his menu: “No substitutions.”
And so it goes as Nicholson tries to get around the “no substitutions” policy and creatively come up with a way to get a side order of wheat toast.
“I don’t make the rules,” the increasingly annoyed waitress says at one point.
Dupea: “OK, I’ll make it as easy for you as I can. I’d like an omelet, plain. And a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast. No mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce. And a cup of coffee.”
Waitress: “A No. 2, chicken sal sand. Hold the butter, the lettuce and the mayonnaise. And a cup of coffee. Anything else?”
Dupea: “Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich and you haven’t broken any rules.”
Waitress: “You want me to hold the chicken, huh?”
Dupea: “I want you to hold it between your knees.”
Waitress, pointing to the right-to-serve sign: “Do you see that sign, sir? I guess you’ll all have to leave. I’m not taking any more of your smartness and sarcasm.”
Dupea, having calmly put on his sunglasses and picked up his gloves: “Do you see this sign?”
In a sudden burst, he sweeps his arm across the table, sending the water glasses, silverware and menus flying.
The scene, which is considered quintessential Nicholson, has had a long afterlife; no Nicholson tribute or compilation of memorable Hollywood lines does without it.
In playing the part, Ms. Thayer tapped into some of the waitresses she had encountered on the road as an actress, her daughter Adrienne Cataldo told the Los Angeles Times this week.
“Most waitresses are wonderful, but we’ve all encountered a waitress that kind of grates on you,” Cataldo said. “She just kind of went in with that attitude.”