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Did Jack Nicholson’s ‘Knead’ for Bread from Schenectady Begin in 1980s While Filming William Kennedy’s ‘Ironweed’?

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Filming Ironweed in Albany, NY
Courtesy of William Kennedy

Have you heard the story of Jack Nicholson and his love for Perreca’s bread? The story of how he loves it so much that he has it shipped to his home in California from the Schenectady Bakery?

The origins of the story go back to the 1980s when Ironweed was being filmed in the area. The movie was based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Averill Park resident and Albany native William Kennedy. You can see WMHT’s new documentary about William Kennedy on-air Monday, June 26 at 9pm.

William Kennedy’s novel Ironweed followed a windy path to publication. It took years and multiple publishing houses. But the 1983 novel became an international success and received the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Kennedy’s work was listed on the Modern Library list of the 100 Best Novels written in the 20th century.

Kennedy, who is also known for his work on Prohibition and gangster “Legs” Diamond, wrote the screenplay for the 1987 film that was set during the Great Depression. Major portions of the film were shot in Albany, including along Lark Street, Albany Rural Cemetery and the former Miss Albany Diner.

Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep were in the region for the movie. As it turns out, Nicholson’s driver during that time was from Schenectady and he showed the Oscar winning actor all of the local food spots – Perreca’s, an Electric City staple since 1913, was one of those stops.

“Jack was hooked immediately on the bread,” said Maria Papa, who co-owns the bakery in the city’s Little Italy. “His driver would buy the bread every day and bring it to the set.”

Nicholson also came into the store once or twice, but no one knew about it until years later. Maria’s mother, who is still alive at the age of 92, did not make a big deal about it and so people did not learn that she had met the actor until much later.

“Of course, she barely knew who he was. She loved him for loving our bread,” said Maria, who was also featured in WMHT’s Italian Americans project.

But, to this day, people will come into the bakery – especially around track season - and say they are “friends of Jack’s.”

“We’ll get friends of Jack Nicholson’s coming through Schenectady, on their way back to Los Angeles, to get bread so he can have it on the same day,” Maria said. “They say the bread is going to Jack Nicholson. It’s usually a neighbor or a friend. And they say they’re told ‘not to come back without the bread.’”

Jack Nicholson’s driver, Paul DiCocco, moved to LA and would also sometimes come back to Schenectady and bring bread back for the actor.

“Jack guards that bread. He puts it in the freezer and guards it like nothing else. Even if important producers visit. He has said ‘I would rather give them money than the bread,’” said Maria, relating what she has been told by DiCocco.

Other famous visitors to the bakery: Kathleen Turner, Meryl Streep (also while filming Ironweed), David Letterman (who was one of the people told to bring fresh bread back) and Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric.

Both Nicholson and Streep were nominated for Academy Awards for their roles in Ironweed.

You can watch WMHT’s new documentary about William Kennedy online at: