American Icons: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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This is the story of America’s fight against authority.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Studio 360 American Icons

 Ken Kesey had worked in a mental hospital, but his first novel was really a parable of what happens when you stand up to the Man — a counterculture fable that doesn’t end well. Despite his far-reaching influence, Kesey was shut out by filmmakers who turned the story into an Oscar-sweeping phenomenon. Cuckoo’s Nest changed how many people thought about mental illness and institutions. Sherman Alexie debunks the myth of the silent Indian; we visit Oregon State Hospital, where the director played himself on screen; a psychiatrist explains how the movie gave mental hospitals a bad name, with tragic consequences; and actress Louise Fletcher takes us into the mind of one of the most fearsome movie villains, the sweet-faced Nurse Ratched. “She doesn’t see her behavior as it really is. Who does? Who sees that they’re really evil?”

Passages from the audiobook narrated by Ken Kesey were provided courtesy of HighBridge Audio.

Bonus Track: Kurt Andersen's full interview with Louise Fletcher

Hear Kurt's entire conversation with Fletcher, including why "no studio in town would touch this movie," and how she was cast in the role for which she won an Oscar.

 

Behind-the-scenes of the film 

Nurse Ratched

 

Jack Nicholson and another actor play a scene while director Milos Forman watches.

 

Jack Nicholson as R.P. McMurphy, a new patient in the Oregon State Mental Hospital.

 

 

Louise Fletcher on the set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with the cast and director Milos Forman (at right).

 

 

Music Playlist

  1. Suite for Violin and American Gamelan

    Artist: Lou Harrison
    Album: La Koro Sutro
    Label: New Albion Records
  2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Opening Theme)

    Artist: Jack Nitzsche
    Album: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
    Label: Fantasy
  3. Why Don'tcha Do Me Right

    Artist: Frank Zappa
    Album: Absolutely Free
    Label: Zappa Records
  4. Act of Love

    Artist: Jack Nitzsche
    Album: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
    Label: Fantasy
  5. I-6

    Artist: Bun-Ching Lam
    Album: Like Water
    Label: Tzadik
  6. Emergency Room

    Artist: Mychael Danna
    Album: Girl, Interrupted (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
    Label: Tvt
  7. The Ward

    Artist: Mychael Danna
    Album: Girl, Interrupted (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
    Label: Tvt
  8. Rock Me to Sleep

    Artist: Henry Mancini
    Album: Touch of Evil (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
    Label: Varese Sarabande
  9. Vizio Di Uccidere

    Artist: Ennio Morricone
    Album: For A Fistful of Dollars (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
    Label: Razor & Tie
  10. Per Un Pugno Di Dollari (Titoli)"

    Artist: Ennio Morricone
    Album: For A Fistful of Dollars (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
    Label: Razor & Tie
  11. Charmaine

    Artist: Jack Nitzsche
    Album: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
    Label: Fantasy
  12. O' Venezia Venaga Venusia

    Artist: Nino Rota
    Album: Il Casanova di Feferico Fellini (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
    Label: CAM
  13. Late Anthropocene

    Artist: Brian Eno
    Album: Small Craft on a Milk Sea
    Label: Warp Records
  14. Daddy's Money

    Artist: Mychael Danna
    Album: Girl, Interrupted (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
    Label: Tvt
  15. Four-Day Interval

    Artist: Tortoise
    Album: TNT
    Label: Thrill Jockey
  16. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Closing Theme)

    Artist: Jack Nitzsche
    Album: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
    Label: Fantasy

The original movie poster for the 1975 adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

( © 1975 The Saul Zaentz Company, All Rights Reserved. )

The novel is told through the eyes of Chief Bromden. When One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was adapted into a film, the Chief becomes a silent secondary character (portrayed here by Will Sampson). 

( © 1975 The Saul Zaentz Company, All Rights Reserved. )

Jack Nicholson as R.P. McMurphy, a new patient in the Oregon State Mental Hospital.

( © 1975 The Saul Zaentz Company, All Rights Reserved. )

Jack Nicholson and another actor play a scene while director Milos Forman watches. 

( © 1975 The Saul Zaentz Company, All Rights Reserved. )

Louise Fletcher plays Nurse Ratched, a "perversion of feminity" according to scholar Leslie Horst who sees the character as a warning about "the danger of women who have power." Fletcher won an Oscar for her performance in the film. 

( © 1975 The Saul Zaentz Company, All Rights Reserved. )

Louise Fletcher on the set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with the cast and director Milos Forman (at right). 

( © 1975 The Saul Zaentz Company, All Rights Reserved. )

The October 6, 2012 opening of the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health. From left to right: Dr. Dean Brooks (in wheelchair), Louise Fletcher, Board President Hazel Patton, Salem mayor Anna Peterson, and State Representative Vicki Berger.  

( Courtesy of the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health (Ron Cooper) )

An exhibit from the museum: a psychiatrist's couch, lobotomy table, a photograph (on the left) of Dr. Brooks teaching, and (on the right) a surgical suite. The stand on the far right of the photo holds surgical and anesthesia instruments.

( Courtesy of the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health (Ron Cooper) )

The original cover from the 1962 publication of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. 

( Courtesy of Viking )

A 1999 cover that plays on the themes of imprisonment and confinement in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. 

( Courtesy of Penguin )

The 2002 cover in paperback, still available today. 

( Courtesy of Penguin )

A 2007 edition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest from a series where Penguin commissioned comic artists to draw new covers for classic novels. This edition was illustrated by Joe Sacco.

( Courtesy of Penguin )
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