Producer Michael Douglas and screenwriter Bo Goldman, on location at Oregon State Hospital.
On Oct. 6, 2012, 400 film lovers came to Hudson Hall at Willamette University to hear a panel of luminaries speak about the 1975 film One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. The evening was sponsored by Michael Douglas, Cuckoo’s Nest’s producer, and opened with a short letter from him.
In his letter, read by Albert Bendich of Saul Zaentz Company, Douglas gracefully sent his regrets, and saluted those present for supporting Salem’s brand new Museum Of Mental Health.
Ken Nolley, professor of English and Film Studies at Willamette introduced the four speakers:
Louise Fletcher, who played Nurse Ratched
Charles Kiselyak, who directed Completely Cuckoo, the 1997 documentary about the making of Cuckoo’s Nest, and Asylum, a documentary which meditates on the role for which mental hospitals were originally intended.
Antoine De Gaudemar, who directed Once Upon A Time…..One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, a 2011 French tribute to Milos Forman’s contribution to Cuckoo’s Nest
Robert James, who directed Library Of Dust, a 2011 documentary about the cremated remains of 3,500 Oregon State Hospital mental patients, and OSH attempts to find the families of those former patients
Ken Kesey’s novel, which he described as a “Christ allegory set in a looney bin”, was only one year old when Michael Douglas read it in an English class at University of California at Santa Barbara. He’d heard about it before, of course. His dad was starring in the stage adaptation, in San Francisco.
After graduation, Douglas followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming an actor. A series of unremarkable roles in forgettable films, and a looming future on television, drove him to pick up a property which had been sitting on his father’s desk for ten years.
Good call! Cuckoo’s Nest was nominated for nine Oscars. It won five.
Following in Kirk Douglas’ footsteps, Michael Douglas made sure the production was entirely independent. Saul Zaentz put up the whole budget himself – $2.5 million dollars.
Here’s how Pauline Kael described the impact of Kesey’s book: “It preceded the university turmoil, Vietnam, drugs, the counterculture. Yet it contained the prophetic essence of that whole period of revolutionary politics going psychedelic and… has entered the consciousness of many – perhaps most – Americans.”
Ken Kesey’s first novel became the basis for Bo Goldman’s first script for Michael Douglas’ first film (as producer). Except for director Milos Forman, who was more famous in Europe than America, and actor Jack Nicolson, who was Hollywood’s most recently minted star, this was a film made by beginners.
During the question and answer period, Prasanna Pati, one of the OSH psychiatrists who appeared in the film as a young doctor, delivered an impassioned impromptu speech about the damage done by budget cuts to the mental health care system. Several speakers echoed this concern.
Many speakers, both on stage and in the audience, testified to the moral courage of Dean Brooks, the former head of Oregon State Hospital, who cooperated with the filmmakers in the making of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and who appeared in the film as Dr. Spivey.
The evening was a fundraiser for the new Museum Of Mental Health, which is located at 2600 Center Street NE, Salem, Oregon. The documentary films of Charles Kiselyak, Antoine De Gaudemar and Robert James will be available in the museum.