One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest: Ten Things To Know About The Movie

Here are 10 trivia facts about One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest from 1975, which originally appeared as our Mystery Movie Quiz on our Facebook page. There are hundreds of pieces of behind-the-scenes information about this movie. Please feel free to comment and add more trivia we might have missed.

1. The book on which the movie is based took three years to get published.

Although Ken Kesey wrote his novel in 1959, it was not until 1962 when it was published by Viking Press and Signet books. A Broadway play was produced much quicker, only one year later in 1963, and has been revived twice since, once in 1971 and again in 2001.

2. An Oscar-winning actress is an extra in this movie.

Angelica Huston appears (uncredited) as one of the crowd standing on the pier when the boat returns from the fishing trip. Huston had been romantically linked to Jack Nicholson for a 16-year period from 1973 to 1989 and they appeared in other films together, most notably her Academy Award-winning performance co-starring in 1985′s Prizzi’s Honor.

3. This movie was the film debut for a popular actor in a TV sitcom.

Christopher Lloyd‘s role as the State Hospital patient was his first credited screen role. He had an uncredited bit part five years earlier in Airport. Danny DeVito, Lloyd’s co-star in the long running TV series Taxi, also appeared in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest without much previous screen credit. DeVito, however, had a prior connection to the movie, since he played his part in the off-Broadway revival version of the play in 1971.

4. This was the female lead’s first major film role.

Filming was just about ready to start with only a week to go when Louise Fletcher found out she got the part of Nurse Ratched. Milos Forman had auditioned her many times but told her he didn’t think she was getting the right feel of her character, yet he continued to call her back. At the time, Louise was set to join the cast of Robert Altman’s Nashville and Lily Tomlin was already preparing to play Nurse Ratched, but ultimately both directors agreed the roles in the two films should be reversed.

Other more experienced actresses were all offered the role before Fletcher, including Ellen Burstyn, Anne Bancroft, Geraldine Page, Colleen Dewhurst, Angela Lansbury and Jane Fonda, all of whom would have done an excellent job as the cold-hearted nurse. It is said that Louise Fletcher had no idea that the role of Nurse Ratched was so coveted until a reporter casually mentioned it.

When the film wrapped, Louise, who had been so unhappy during filming that all of the other cast members were able to joke around and be frivilous contrasted to her required icy demeanor, took off her clothes down to her skivvies just to show her fellow actors that she was not a monster and did in fact have a humorous side. Hmmm, are there any photos of that?

5. The author of the original novel never watched the completed movie version.

Ken Kesey based his novel on what he experienced first hand at a veterans hospital in Palo Alto, California. After selling the rights, he became embittered because he felt the story was being butchered. He was so incensed, he brought a law suit against the film’s producers because the movie was so far from the novel’s intent. Kesey claims that many years later, while he was channel surfing, he stopped to watch a movie which seemed like one he might like, and after a few minutes recognized his movie… he quickly changed the station and hasn’t seen it since.

6. Only one other film reached this Oscar achievement before this one.

A “grand slam” of the Oscars is when a film wins Academy Awards in each of the five major categories and although it is rare in Hollywood, it does happen.

The first movie to win all five awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress was It Happened One Night in 1934. Not until 41 years later did it happen again with One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975.

The third time it happened was 15 years later, with 1990′s  Silence Of The Lambs. As of 2010, it hasn’t happened since.

7. Two of the producers are film stars — and are also related.

The film rights were owned by Kirk Douglas, having made the purchase many years before when he starred as McMurphy in the 1963 Broadway version. That play also starred William Daniels, Gene Wilder and Ed Ames (as Chief Bromden). Douglas bought the rights planning on starring in the movie himself, but as the years passed and after every major movie studio turned down the project, he realized he was past the age for the part. Douglas met Milos Forman in Prague and had the feeling that he would be the ideal director for his movie. Eventually he assigned the rights to his son Michael Douglas who jointly produced the film with his dad and Saul Zaentz. The screenplay was originally written by the author Ken Kesey, but Forman and Kesey could never see eye to eye on the production and Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman were brought in.

8. Many extras used in the filming were from the actual filming location.

The film was shot on location at the Oregon State Mental Hospital. Many of the extras seen in the movie were actual patients from that hospital. The mental patients and the cast members as well as the crew all learned to get along with each other and it became a professional working environment. During production, a window was left open on the second floor by one of the crew resulting in a patient falling to the ground and getting injured. A local newspaper, The Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon, carried the story the next day about what happened featuring the front page headline, “ONE FLEW OUT OF THE CUCKOO’S NEST.”

9. This was the first Oscar win for the director of this film.

Having directed only 19 movies as of 2010, Milos Forman has an amazing track record, having been nominated for three Academy Awards. He won two Oscars for Best Director: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975 and Amadeus in 1984. He was nominated again in 1997 for The People vs. Larry Flynt, but didn’t win. His list of accomplishments is filled with such popular films as Loves Of A Blonde, Ragtime, Hair, Visions of Eight and Valmont.

10. The star of the film is an avid basketball fan.

It is well-known that Jack Nicholson is an avid Los Angeles Lakers fan and tries to never miss a home game. When on a movie shoot, the producers of his film projects understand they need to coordinate shooting schedules around the Lakers’ season. At the games, Jack is usually seated next to his pal Lou Adler, legendary ’60s and ’70s music producer. (Adler is probably best known to movie fans for bringing The Rocky Horror Picture Show to theaters). Jack likes baseball, too, and is a diehard New York Yankees fan. Oddly enough, although attending games keeps Nicholson very much in the public eye, he shys away from interviews and hasn’t done a talk show since 1971.

And some more casting trivia — according to Hollywood scuttlebut, Oscar winners Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando were both offered the part of R.P. McMurphy before it was given to Jack Nicholson, and it’s been said that director Milos Forman really wanted Burt Reynolds over all of them. After seeing the movie, can anyone envision someone other than Jack as McMurphy?

Now take a look at Jack Nicholson’s Oscar-winning performance in the theatrical trailer from 1975:

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  • Tom

    Wow I didn’t know that Gene Hackman and William Daniels were in the original play. I’ll have to look up the details and see what parts they played. I love them. And Ed Ames and Kirk Douglas too. Man what a show that would have been to see live.

  • Nina

    Many of the extras were PATIENTS at the hospital, not inmates!
    This was a very interesting article,thanks.

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com Jerry Frebowitz

    Nina has a good point and it will be corrected. Thanks Nina.

  • Steve

    Kirk Douglas writes extensively on his thoughts and experiences with the rights and eventual film in his book “Ragman’s Son” A book film lovers won’t be able to stop reading!

  • Jim Adams

    Although pre-frontal trans-orbital lobotomies are no longer practiced in the U.S. The zombi-like post-operative behaviour shown in the film is not inevitable. My best friend underwent the operation, and lived a long, productive, brilliant life afterward. The mercy killing in the movie was hasty, to say the least.

  • Bill

    I found the above article with its 10 items quite interesting, but was slightly disappointed due to not seeing anything written about the “Chief”. The chief meaning Will Sampson the tall indian who played the almost mute guy. One of the funniest scenes in the movie was when McMurphy (Nicholson) gave the chief a piece of gum with the chief then thanking him and finally speaking after being completely silent through the whole film. And the ending of the movie when the chief picked up the bathroom sink and threw it through the window in a symbolic gesture indicating freedom, was in my opinion one hell of a way to end the movie.

  • http://www.moviesunlimited.com Jerry Frebowitz

    Good point about Chief Bromden. Originally, it was thought that one of the clues would have been “Gambling is part of the plot,” but felt it was sort of misleading. The answer of course would have been that after McMurphy teaches the guys about gambling, he says that he bets the chief couldn’t pick up this sink and throw it through the window. At which point, one of the patients says, I’ll bet a dime!”

  • Publius

    CUCKOO’S NEST I remember very well. I first saw it here in Chicago, and the Theatre Manager even talked about the film with me and my family before we even sat down to see it.
    If one looks really closely one can see a young Danny DiVito eating the MONOPOLY pieces. Also the actor that played the biology teacher in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH also played a small part as the inmate that put the fish’s eye back into the fish after it was dead. I was also priveleged to play a small part in the play when the play was produced by THEATRE NORTHWEST in Palatine, IL. I played Williams, one of the orderlies, and it was one of the first times that I was offered a role without auditioning for it. My friend was cast as Billy Bibbitt and they needed more actors to fill the male roles. As I remember, the director re-wrote parts of the script, and the lead dropped out at the last minute to be replaced by the director for the run of the show. I couldn’t find any absolutely white tennis shoes, so I took acrylic paint and painted over the maroon lines in the shoes; the audience never knew.
    A fine film, and a great stage play; it is a real opportunity for an actor to play with style as in MARAT/SADE.

  • Steve in Sedona

    I saw the play Off-Broadway with Lane Smith as McMurphy. He made the highly overrated Jack Nicholson look sick.

  • Julie Vognar

    When I saw the film, I KNEW I’d never been in a mental institution like this (bedridden together with practically sane, etc.). Can’t watch a baseball game, etc.

    It took me ten years to find out that the BOOK was about an ARMY hospital (which I’ve never been in one of) and the movie, for some reason, never connects the hospital with the military.

    Oh yeah….a Nurse Ratched I HAVE known (practically). Oy–that controlled, constant fury!

  • Christine Harrison

    A few months ago, I watched an episode of the TV series “One Step Beyond” which was made circa 1960. There was a girl playing the part of an artist’s model who looked strangely familiar, but I couldn’t work out who it was. When I saw the cast list at the end of the episode, I found out it was Louise Fletcher. It was really strange to see her in a totally different context from that of Nurse Ratchet. She actually looked quite a glamour girl!

  • Michael

    There are some movies where the ending is the key part of the story. Once you know what that is, watching the movie again is not quite the same. There are other movies where the main enjoyment comes from the story itself, and watching the actors play out their roles. These movies can be watched again and again with no loss of satisfaction. To me, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of those movies.

  • Bill

    Great article, thanks. The Internet Broadway Data Base (idbd.com) shows Kirk, Ed Ames and William Daniels (Harding) in the 1963 Broadway version, but not Gene Hackman. The only other names I quickly recognize are Gene Wilder who played Billy and Gerald S. O’Loughlin (remember him as the lieutenant on The Rookies?) who played Cheswick. The 1971 Off-Broadway version starred William Devane as McMurphy, and Gary Sinise played him in the 2001 Broadway run.

  • Roger Phillips

    For some strange reason I sat through the total piece of crap called “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. It used to mean when a movie won awards that it was actually good. Well, OFOTCN is truly one of the lousiest, most pointless, most sickening films I have ever ever endured. I also have learned to never ever watch any movie starring the human sleezeball Jack Nicholson again. (All of his movie charaacters are as negative and as nasty as the report of him in real life.

  • James A. Kenny

    One big reason that Kesey may have felt that the film production butchered his story is the fact that the plot within the novel is told from Chief Bromden’s point of view. While the film was quite good in spite of that fact, the insider’s perspective offered by the Chief is absent. If Forman had tried it out, there would have been a way to show that cinematically and still keep the focus on Randall McMurphy, but I guess we’ll never know.

    By the way, the last sentence of Point #5 about Kesey never seeing the completed film is certainly true, but the phrase “….he quickly changed the channel and hasn’t seen it since” implies that he might cave in and watch it. Well, only in the afterlife might that be possible, since Ken Kesey died in 2001.

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