The Director of ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘Amadeus,’ both of which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, has died at the age of 86.
Milos Forman, who directed two Academy Award winning films in two different decades, has died at the age of 86:
LOS ANGELES — Milos Forman, a filmmaker who challenged Hollywood with his subversive touch, and twice directed movies that won the Oscar for best picture, died on Friday. He was 86.
His death in Connecticut was confirmed by Dennis Aspland, Mr. Forman’s agent, and by Vlastislav Malek, a representative of his hometown, Caslav, in the Czech Republic.
A native of what was then Czechoslovakia, Mr. Forman came to the United States in the late 1960s as a rebellious young filmmaker whose satirical bent was little welcomed at home in the wake of the 1968 Soviet invasion.
Just a few years later, Mr. Forman’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” — a tragicomic story of revolt and repression in a mental institution — won five Oscars, including those for best director and best picture.
The film put Mr. Forman in the front rank of those who struggled to make big, commercial films with countercultural sensibilities. His sympathy for the odd man out was always apparent, even as his movies grew in scope.
“Amadeus,” a 1984 adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s stage play, presented Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as a genius who undermined authority with his art. Again, Oscars for best director and best picture were among its many honors.
Still, Mr. Forman, by then a United States citizen, said one of his greatest pleasures from the film — which was shot in the Czech Republic — was the chance to return in triumph to his homeland.
“I’ve always done everything in my life to win,” Mr. Forman said of himself in a 1994 biography, which was entitled “Turnaround: A Memoir,” and was written with Jan Novak.
Mr. Forman was caught up in the turmoil of German occupation not many years after his birth, in Caslav, on Feb. 18,1932. Both his mother, born Anna Suabova, and the man he believed to be his father, a teacher named Rudolf Forman, had been separately seized by the Germans and killed in death camps.
For years, Mr. Forman vaguely told interviewers that he believed himself to be half-Jewish, though both parents attended a Protestant church. It was Mr. Novak, in researching “Turnaround,” who ended the mystery.
After the 1964 release of his first feature film, “Black Peter” — about the misadventures of a teenager beginning his work life — Mr. Forman was contacted by a woman who had been with his mother in Auschwitz, Mr. Novak learned and eventually reported. The woman explained that Mr. Forman was actually the son of a Jewish architect with whom Mr. Forman’s mother had an affair. In time, Mr. Forman found his biological father, who survived the war and was living in Peru.
Raised by foster parents, Mr. Forman attended film school in Prague, and first made his mark with his work on a film and theater presentation at the 1958 Brussels World Exhibition. An early feature, “The Loves of a Blonde,” won attention on the international festival circuit in 1965. Another, “The Firemen’s Ball,” two years later, rubbed Czech officials the wrong way with its spoof of the firefighting bureaucracy, though Mr. Forman was already turning his attention to opportunities abroad.
When the Soviets invaded in August of 1968,Mr. Forman was in Paris negotiating to make a Hollywood film. His first American feature, a youth comedy called “Taking Off,” was released by Universal Pictures in 1971. It did so poorly, Mr. Forman later said, that he wound up owing the studio $500.
Through the early 1970s, Mr. Forman — a hearty bon vivant without means for the good life — went through a period of self-described depression. For much of that time, he holed up in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, sleeping through the days and communicating with émigré friends.
By then, he had been married twice, first to an actress, Jana Brejchova, then to another performer, Vera Kresadlova, who had remained in Czechoslovakia with their two sons, Petr and Matej.
In addition to Petr and Matej, he is survived by Martina Formanova, his third wife; and his twin sons, James and Andrew, with Ms. Formanova.
In his memoir, Mr. Forman said the producers of “Cuckoo’s Nest,” Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz, sought him out because “I seemed to be in their price range.” In fact, they had made a perfect match between filmmaker and material, in this case a cult novel by Ken Kesey.
Jack Nicholson was the movie’s star. But Mr. Forman — who liked to coax star performances out of lesser-known actors — did exactly that with Louise Fletcher, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of the dictatorial Nurse Ratched.
“Hair” and “Ragtime,” which came next, left less impression, but kept Mr. Forman on the list of directors whom executives were willing to trust with their more sophisticated projects. In 1978, meanwhile, Mr. Forman joined Frantisek Daniel, another Czech, as co-director of the film program at Columbia University’s school of the arts.
It was for Mr. Zaentz that Mr. Forman next struck gold, with “Amadeus.” The film won eight Oscars, and Mr. Forman later wrote, left him with a bittersweet, and ultimately correct, sense that his career had peaked.
“Valmont,” based on an 18th-century novel by Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos, was overshadowed in 1989 by the previous year’s release of “Dangerous Liaisons,” a film by the director Stephen Frears, which used the same underlying material.
Mr. Forman next made a series of films each of which pushed Hollywood out of its comfort zone.
“The People vs. Larry Flynt” pressed the limits of tolerance for an antihero with its sympathetic portrait of the Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. Released by Columbia Pictures in 1996, it was a box-office bust, with domestic ticket sales of only about $20 million.
In 1999, “Man on the Moon,” Mr. Forman’s complex portrait of the comic Andy Kaufman and his alter-ego Tony Clifton, did only a little better for Universal Pictures. Yet the film left a mark on Mr. Forman’s personal life. Shortly before its release, he married Martina Zborilova, who had worked with him earlier as a production assistant. He became the father of twin sons, whom the couple named Andrew, for Mr. Kaufman, and James, for Jim Carrey, the movie’s star.
More from Variety:
Czech-born director Milos Forman, who won best directing Oscars for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus,” has died. He was 86.
Forman died Friday in the U. S. after a brief illness, his wife, Martina, told the Czech news agency CTK. She said that “his departure was calm, and he was surrounded the whole time by his family and his closest friends.”
Forman was also known for directing “Hair,” “Ragtime” and “The People vs. Larry Flynt.”
Directors’ Guild president Thomas Schlamme said, ”Miloš was truly one of ours. A filmmaker, artist, and champion of artists’ rights. His contribution to the craft of directing has been an undeniable source of inspiration for generations of filmmakers. His directorial vision deftly brought together provocative subject matter, stellar performances and haunting images to tell the stories of the universal struggle for free expression and self-determination that informed so much of his work and his life.
“A member of the DGA’s National Board and a recipient of the DGA’s highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award, Miloš actively championed artist’s rights throughout his career, speaking multiple times before Congress and world audiences about the importance of creative rights and artists’ protections against the violation of those rights. He stood up on behalf of his beloved fellow filmmakers time and again, and he believed with all his heart that creativity and artistic freedom could make a difference in the world. Now it’s up to us to prove him right. We will miss him.”
Having made just one American film at the time, the ironic comedy “Taking Off” (1971), which won critical acclaim but failed to connect with audiences, Forman seemed an unlikely choice to direct the adaptation of Ken Kesey’s countercultural novel “Cuckoo’s Nest.” But he brought a balance and objectivity to the film, which could easily have descended into histrionics. The critically lauded and immensely popular film starring the fast-rising Jack Nicholson struck a nerve in 1975, and on Academy Awards night it became the first film since 1934’s “It Happened One Night” to sweep the top five Oscar prizes: best picture, director, actress, actor and screenplay (adapted).

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