Greg White recalls his brief meeting with the legendary Jack Nicholson via a mutual and legendary friend.
If you watch the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly, when the beautiful creature flutters off you might think you have seen the whole story. But that butterfly still has a journey. I try to keep my eyes on one as it dances from bush to bush with the rapidity of a carny swapping out shells. Even when it’s gone, the privilege of seeing that butterfly stays with me.
Ice skating superstar Tai Babilonia never puts her skates in the closet, as if she’s keeping her wings ready for a new flight. She has floated across the ice with her partner Randy Gardner since 1968, won the 1979 World Championship and competed in two Olympics. Not one to rest on her laurels, she breezes through life honestly, accepting challenges and personal hardships with the same grace as she celebrates triumphs.
Her latest fun endeavor is sugar-coated—a new confectionery line: Tai Treats.
I’ve known Tai & Randy for over twenty years. They are fun and wonderful to watch on and off the ice. That they still loyally and proudly skate together is a touching testament to dedication. My great-grandmother taught me that you have to dance with the one that brung you. After all of these years hoisting her over his head while on razor sharp blades and on thin ice, I imagine him whispering tenderly into her ear as he is about to lift: You better help….
Once, after a spectacular show at the LA Forum where they dazzled everyone, I, along with ten friends including actors David Youse and Jack Nicholson , was waiting in the Green Room for Tai & Randy to slip into something a little less sequined and come out and grab our roses. We were all chatting with each other, Jack included, about the show and their skating and that Julie Newmar had so sweetly and practically carried her very excited son, who has Down’s syndrome, to his seat so they both could clap and cheer.
For that entire half hour we waited backstage we talked with Jack as if he were part of our posse, and he responded as such, but safely hidden behind his omnipresent dark glasses, clamped on his head as a cloaking shield of scoundrelocity. The moment Tai walked in the room, Jack jumped up, extended his right hand and at the same time his left hand flew up to sweep the sunglasses off of his face like he was revealing the Wizard: a legend meeting a legend, a gentleman meeting a lady. He dropped us like a hot rock, and flirted Tai into privately coaching his young daughter to skate.
Time flies beautifully by when you are gliding on the ice. The TV movie about her life was in 1991, now she’s working on a new book that will bring us up to speed. You can take a sneak peek into her latest chapter, with the debut of new a line of hand-made chocolates called Tai Treats.
The candies are made by Frank Sheftel, owner of The Candy Factory, Los Angeles’ own Willy Wonka. He is famous for, among other creations, the life-is-a-box-of-chocolates that were held out by Forrest Gump.
Tai is still going for the gold, literally, since the Candy Factory’s Oompa Loompas sprinkle some of the candies with 24K dust. She puts her own hands in the chocolate, overseeing and approving everything. As a young athlete she wasn’t allowed this kind of decadence, so now she’s a grown up kid in a candy store.
Few of us know what it’s like to be a professional competitive athlete like Tai; however, we all race through our own, one life. I certainly believe in endurance as I try to remember when eating a long meal, that I live a marathon not a sprint.
She did coach Jack’s daughter, Lorraine, now a working actress. That Lorraine Nicholson followed in her father’s footprints-in-cement rather than flee the Hollywood scene means that she liked what she saw in her own father’s career. You’ve seen him transform into a role and play delightfully devilish characters, but you don’t know Jack. The one part we didn’t see him play was the one I saw him prep for that day he met Tai, and the one we all probably have a hard time imagining. Jack, lacing up his five-year old daughter’s skates, beaming as she learned to skate.
Every time she took to the ice, Tai Babilonia’s intent was to skate her best. With this latest endeavor she is proving that her life is a gold medal inside a box of chocolates.
A butterfly can’t fly unless she opens her wings.