During filming, a crew member running cables left a second story window open at the Oregon State Mental Hospital and an actual patient climbed through the bars and fell to the ground, injuring himself. The next day The Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon reported the incident with the headline on the front page "One flew OUT of the cuckoo's nest".
Will Sampson (Chief Bromden) was a Park Ranger in Oregon near where the movie was filmed. He was selected for the part, because he was the only Native American the Casting Department could find, who matched the character's incredible size.
Louise Fletcher was so upset with the fact that the other cast members could laugh and be happy, while she had to be so cold and heartless, that near the end of production, she removed her dress, and stood in only her panties, to prove to the cast members she was not "a cold-hearted monster".
Second of only three movies, the other two being It Happened One Night (1934) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991), to win every major Academy Award (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay, Adapted or Original).
Author Ken Kesey was so bitter about the way the filmmakers were "butchering" his story, that he vowed never to watch the completed film, and even sued the movie's producers, because it wasn't shown from Chief Bromden's perspective (as the novel is). Years later, he claimed to be lying in bed flipping through television channels, when he settled onto a late-night movie that looked sort of interesting, only to realize after a few minutes that it was this film. He then changed channels.
Jack Nicholson took a percentage of the profits in lieu of a small salary for a modestly budgeted film. The move paid off when the picture went on to gross well over one hundred twenty million dollars.
The script called for McMurphy to leap on a guard and kiss him when first arriving at the hospital. During filming, Director Milos Forman decided that the guard's reaction wasn't strong enough, and told Jack Nicholson to jump on the other guard instead. This surprised the actor playing the second guard greatly, and in some versions, he can be seen punching Nicholson.
Director Milos Forman relied heavily on reaction shots to pull more characters into scenes. In some group therapy scenes, there were ten minutes of Jack Nicholson's reactions filmed, even if he had very little dialogue. The shot of Louise Fletcher looking icily at Nicholson after he returns from shock therapy, was actually her irritated reaction to a piece of direction from Forman.
With the exception of the fishing segment (which was filmed last), the film was shot in sequence.
Dean R. Brooks was a psychiatrist and director of the Oregon state hospital where the film was made. During filming, Brooks correctly diagnosed William Redfield with the leukemia that would kill him 18 months later.
Many of the cast members stayed in character, even when the cameras weren't rolling.
When filming the fishing scene, all of the cast except Jack Nicholson got seasick. What made it worse for them was it took a whole week to shoot it. Danny DeVito still gets queasy thinking about it.
The film was shown in Swedish cinemas between 1975 and 1987, which was, and still is, a record.
Louise Fletcher was signed a week before filming began, after auditioning repeatedly for over six months. Milos Forman had told her each time that she just wasn't approaching the part correctly, but kept calling her back.
In 1993, the movie was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress, and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
When Louise Fletcher neared the end of her Best Actress Oscar acceptance speech, she finished with a unique touch (a first in American Sign Language): "For my mother and my father, I want to say thank you for teaching me to have a dream. You are seeing my dream come true. Thank you."
A patient hired by the production company had a stutter that he had had all of his life. He was so inspired by his responsibilities while working for the producers, that his stutter was permanently resolved.
The title derives from an American children's folk rhyme. It can be read in its entirety in the novel.
Kirk Douglas, who owned the rights, planned to star in it, but by the time they got around to making the film, he was too old.
This story was based on author Ken Kesey's experiences while working at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Menlo Park, California.
Kirk Douglas first encountered the book in galley form in 1961. He instantly fell in love with it, and secured the rights at the first opportunity.
Kirk Douglas possessed the movie rights for a long time, before his son, Producer Michael Douglas, finally started the project.
Emotionally strained by a demanding shooting schedule that kept him three thousand miles from his future wife, Rhea Perlman, Danny DeVito developed the coping mechanism of an imaginary friend, with whom he would have nightly chats. Concerned that his own sanity might be slipping away, DeVito sought the advice of Dr. Brooks, who assured him that there was no reason to worry, as long as DeVito could still identify the character as fictional.
The cast and crew had to become accustomed to working with extras and supporting crew members who were patients at the Oregon State Mental Hospital; each member of the professional cast and crew inevitably worked closely with at least two or three mental patients.
Mel Lambert (the harbor master) was a local businessman, rather than an actor. He had a strong relationship with Native Americans throughout the area, and it was he who suggested Will Sampson for the role of Chief Bromden.
In later interviews, Louise Fletcher said that she found ways to make her character human, yet remain unsympathetic, ultimately deciding that Nurse Ratched actually did care about the patients, and felt she was doing what was best for them, but was ultimately misguided and drunk on her own power.
Louise Fletcher was so disturbed by her own performance, that she couldn't watch the film for years.
Co-Producer Michael Douglas scouted various west coast locations, and chose Oregon State Hospital, because Superintendent Dr. Dean R. Brooks, M.D. agreed to give the filmmakers unlimited access.
Milos Forman wanted a star in the lead role, surrounded by a cast of unknown actors. That made it more likely they would adopt him as their leader.
Film debuts of Brad Dourif (who received a Best Actor in a Supporting Role Academy Award nomination), Christopher Lloyd, and Will Sampson, as well as Tom McCall (former governor of Oregon) and Dr. Dean R. Brooks, Superintendent of the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, the film's main shooting location.
Rumors that production shut down because Jack Nicholson had hair plugs implanted are false (this can be verified by actually looking at his scalp). The story, as related by Production Designer Paul Sylbert, was that Nicholson and Milos Forman had very different ideas about how the narrative should play out. For example, Forman thought that the ward should be in bedlam when McMurphy showed up, and Nicholson posited that his character would have absolutely no effect on the mental patients if they were already riled up, which would have negated the purpose of his character, and therefore much of the plot. Nicholson and Forman refused to give an inch, each believing he was right, and the other was wrong. The "two months" that Nicholson was supposed to have disappeared, was actually closer to two weeks, and he didn't "disappear". In actuality, Nicholson spearheaded a coup among the other cast members, and refused to let Forman run rehearsals, running them himself instead. During production, Nicholson and Forman spoke to each other through the cinematographer, but faked a friendly relationship when the media and studio personnel would show up to the set. This is one explanation why Nicholson doesn't appear on any of the DVD special features.
The character Ellis is shown to have had a lobotomy in a deleted scene, which is why he's withdrawn throughout the movie.
Milos Forman said he directed the movie in a naturalistic style, significantly contrasting with the "totally stupid socialist rallies and movies" which were common in his native Czechoslovakia. "I was fascinated just to see real faces on the screen", he said. "That's what cinema verite (like Titicut Follies (1967)) taught me."
During most of the film's shooting, William Redfield was ill. He died after the film was completed, on August 17, 1976.
During the electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) scene, McMurphy says "a little dab will do ya" as the nurse is putting conductor gel on the side of his head. This phrase, not in the original script, is a reference to the advertising jingle of Brylcreem hair cream, which was a popular hair care product for men in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the novel, Nurse Ratched's first name is never revealed. In the film, when the hospital committee meets to discuss McMurphy's behavior, Dr. Spivey calls her "Mildred". Also, when McMurphy returns from electroconvulsive therapy and sits down at the group therapy session, he calls her "Mildred".
This was the second film to win the grand slam of the Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director (Milos Forman), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress. The first was It Happened One Night (1934).
Toward the end of the film, when Harding (William Redfield) and Martini (Danny DeVito) are playing cards, both use the word "hovno", Harding echoing Martini. "Hovno" is a word in Czech, Milos Forman's mother tongue, meaning "shit".
The casting of Chief proved hugely difficult, as there simply weren't any giant Native Americans. The producers were on the verge of giving up the search, when Will Sampson was discovered.
The musical theme by Jack Nitzsche played during the opening and closing was based on the chord structure of the song "Please Release Me".
Most of the major studios turned down the film. One of the reasons being that it took so long to get made.
Louise Fletcher was in preparation to begin filming Nashville (1975), while Lily Tomlin was set to play Nurse Ratched. Ultimately, the two actresses switched their roles in the two films.
According to Michael Douglas, Jack Nicholson arrived on-set sporting a large bushy beard believing his character needed it.
The play opened on Broadway, in New York City, on November 13, 1963, and closed on January 25, 1964, after eighty-two performances. The opening night cast included Kirk Douglas as R.P. McMurphy, William Daniels as Dale Harding, and Gene Wilder as Billy Bibbit.
Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, and Vincent Schiavelli play the inmates of an asylum. All three ended up as villains in Tim Burton's Batman films: Nicholson was the Joker in Batman (1989), DeVito and Schiavelli were the Penguin and the Organ Grinder, respectively, in Batman Returns (1992).
Kirk Douglas starred in the 1963 Broadway production after buying the film rights prior to publication. He later passed the film rights to his son Michael, but kept a percentage of the profits. Every major studio had declined to make the film during the period he was trying to star in it. Kirk had met Milos Forman in Prague while on a State Department tour, and promised to send him the book after deciding he would be a good director for the film. The book never arrived, probably confiscated by censors of the Czech government, which was Communist at the time. Ken Kesey wrote a screenplay for the production, but Forman rejected it, because Kesey insisted on keeping Chief Bromden's first-person narration.
In the book, Cheswick dies in the swimming pool by drowning, but in the film, he does not die.
When Jack Nicholson first arrived on-set, he was disturbed by how realistic the rest of the cast was. He ran outside and asked, "Do they ever break character?"
Director of Photography Haskell Wexler worked thirty-one days on the film. His replacement, Bill Butler, worked thirty days, and then had to leave to work on another project. That left the door open for William A. Fraker to come on-board and work uncredited on the boat sequence.
This, The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and It Happened One Night (1934), are the only films to sweep the big five academy awards, yet those are the only Oscars they received.
Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, and Steve McQueen were offered the role of McMurphy before Jack Nicholson. Burt Reynolds was also reportedly considered as McMurphy.
The cast and crew were concerned about the behavior of Sydney Lassick. He exhibited increasingly unpredictable and emotionally erratic behavior during his time in character, a pattern that culminated in a tearful outburst during his observation of the final scene between McMurphy and the Chief. Lassick became so overwhelmed during the scene, that he had to be removed from set.
Milos Forman would roll the cameras when the cast members didn't know it, so he could capture the "real moment".
Sydney Lassick got the role of Cheswick, in part, because he wore a rope as a belt to the audition.
According to Michael Douglas, Milos Forman had his heart set on Burt Reynolds to play the part of McMurphy. Reynolds wanted to do it after meeting with Forman, but the studio wanted a more critically acclaimed actor for the role, and chose Jack Nicholson.
Louise Fletcher only realized that the part of Nurse Ratched was a hotly contested role among all the leading actresses of the day, when a reporter visiting the set, happened to casually mention it.
The fishing trip sequence was filmed at Depoe Bay, Oregon, the smallest harbor in the world.
Louise Fletcher said that Nurse Ratched's old-fashioned hair style shows how uptight she is. It's also no coincidence that it resembles the horns of the devil.
Vincent Schiavelli recalled, "You had to be, in this movie, who you would be, if you were insane."
Before shooting began, Milos Forman screened Titicut Follies (1967) for the cast, to help them get a feel for life in a mental institution.
In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #33 Greatest Movie of All Time.
Despite trashing the hospital, the production only had to pay two hundred fifty dollars a day to shoot there.
Dr. Dean R. Brooks read the report on McMurphy for the first time as the cameras were rolling.
According to Michael Douglas, everybody was ready for the party scene."They needed a break. It was a tough, long picture."
Dr. Dean R. Brooks (Dr. Spivey) secured jobs for eighty-nine patients at the Oregon State Hospital. They were used as extras and assistants.
The film crew looked over four mental institutions until they settled on the one in the film.
Milos Forman had considered Shelley Duvall for the role of Candy. While screening Thieves Like Us (1974) to see if she was right for the role, he became interested in Louise Fletcher, who had a supporting role, and decided to cast her as Nurse Ratched. Duvall later enquired about playing the role of Rose, but was turned down.
(At around six minutes and sixteen seconds) When McMurphy first meets the Chief, the Chief must be standing on a lifting box. You can't see his feet in the shot. Jack Nicholson is 5' 10". Will Sampson was 6' 7". In the shot, Nicholson's shoulders appear only to come up to Sampson's elbows. Also, the finished height of most doorways is 6' 8" and Sampson's head appears to extend higher than that in the shot. Even accounting for perspective, he might be on a 5" plus box. Nowhere else in the movie is the height difference so apparent.
A portion of the original NBC Radio broadcast of Game 2 of the 1963 World Series was used for the scene where the orderlies are listening to the game on the radio. Hall of Fame baseball announcer Ernie Harwell can be heard on the broadcast.
Michael Douglas said that bringing some "girls in the picture", was "a breath of fresh air".
Ken Kesey was so upset by the finished film, that he sued Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz for allegedly breaking a verbal agreement to not make wholesale changes from the novel. "They took out the morality. They took out the Combine, the conspiracy that is America." He sued for five percent of the film's gross, along with eight hundred thousand dollars for damages (equivalent to about three and a half million dollars in 2015). He eventually settled for two and a half percent of the gross.
All of the actors who played patients, actually lived in the Oregon State Hospital psychiatric ward throughout production. The men personalized their sleeping quarters, spent their days on campus to "get a sense of what it was to be hospitalized" (as Vincent Schiavelli put it), and interacting with real psychiatric patients.
Sydney Lassick (Cheswick) got so into his role, that producers became concerned. Doctors said, "If things get out of control, we have the proper medication."
Milos Forman had always admired "how wonderful" the fist fights were in Hollywood movies. He was "very, very nervous" about shooting a fight scene of his own.
Jack Nicholson really tried to lift the water fountain. He had scrapes on his arms.
To call Ken Kesey's time at the VA hospital in Palo Alto is misleading. While a graduate student in Creative Writing at Stanford, he volunteered for experiments on the effects of LSD, which gave rise to the many surreal parts of the novel (deleted, along with the narrator's role, by Milos Forman). Kesey's experience with LSD led to the legendary bus trips, the Trips Festival, and all the events chronicled in Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test".
Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Faye Dunaway, Colleen Dewhurst, Jane Fonda, Audrey Hepburn, Angela Lansbury, Jeanne Moreau, Shirley MacLaine, and Geraldine Page were all offered the role of Nurse Ratched.
Though veteran Cinematographer Haskell Wexler is credited here, he was replaced by Bill Butler early in the shoot, due to various creative differences with Producer Michael Douglas.
Having played an orderly in the stage production, Michael Douglas originally wanted to play Billy Bibbit in the film.
The producers set up a game lounge in the hospital, so the cast and crew could relax between shooting.
Jack Nicholson and Milos Forman had a falling out over Jack's character's motivation during pre-production, leading to them speaking through the Cinematographer, and Jack not contributing anything to the film's DVD special features. Nicholson took issue with Forman's suggestion that the hospital inmates would be an unruly bunch upon the initial arrival of McMurphy. Instead, Nicholson insisted that such disavowal of the medical staff's authority should only begin after the introduction of McMurphy into their lives and routines.
Mel Lambert (Harbor Master) is not an actor. He's a car salesman. He got the part when he happened to sit next to Michael Douglas on a plane.
Neither the film, nor Ken Kesey's 1962 novel, made specific reference to Oregon State Hospital. Kesey was inspired by his experiences working at a veterans' hospital in California, and set his novel at an unnamed institution in Oregon.
The role of McMurphy (played by Jack Nicholson) was originally offered to James Caan.
There is a rumor that Jack Nicholson underwent electroconvulsive therapy for the scene where his character does. This is untrue.
The magazines seen on the shelf (in the scene where McMurphy is announcing the baseball game) include National Geographic, dated August 1960 and February 1961, as well as a copy of Life Magazine dated March 29, 1963.
Kirk Douglas first told Milos Forman about the project, promising to send Forman a copy of the book for his perusal. Douglas mailed Forman the novel, but the package was confiscated by Czech customs, and never reached Forman. Unaware of the parcel's fate, the filmmaker resented Douglas' broken promise, and Douglas thought Forman rude for never bothering to confirm receipt of the novel. It took a decade to sort the mess out, and things only cleared up when Michael Douglas took another crack at production, and contacted Forman once more.
Nurse Ratched didn't have a first name in the book. Louise Fletcher chose "Mildred".
Nurse Pilbow is played by Mimi Sarkisian. This is her only movie, but she was also in the play.
Accepting the Best Picture award, Michael Douglas said that "Cuckoo's Nest" was the first picture since It Happened One Night (1934) to receive the four major Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress. However, Douglas incorrectly stated the Capra classic's year of release as 1937, not 1934.
Milos Forman lived at the Oregon State Hospital for four weeks before shooting. He spent most of the time just observing.
Haskell Wexler was fired as Cinematographer, and replaced by Bill Butler. Wexler believed his dismissal was due to his concurrent work on the documentary, Underground (1976), in which the radical terrorist group "The Weather Underground" were being interviewed while hiding from the law. However, Milos Forman said he had terminated Wexler over mere artistic differences. Wexler and Butler received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, though Wexler said there was "only about a minute or two minutes in that film I didn't shoot."
Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
Jack Nicholson was unable to attend the 1975 BAFTA Awards ceremony to accept his Best Actor award, due to filming. However, he was able to make a pre-recorded and jokey acceptance speech via satellite from the set, with the cast and crew.
Louise Fletcher, Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli, Michael Berryman, and Brad Dourif have all appeared in Star Trek productions.
The film cast includes four Oscar winners: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Anjelica Huston, and Saul Zaentz; and two Oscar nominees: Danny DeVito and Brad Dourif.
Because of the movie's longish six-word eight-syllable title, the picture is sometimes often referred to, particularly within the film industry, under an abridged shortened informal title, of the much shorter and more simplified name of just "Cuckoo's Nest".
Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito played major villains in Tim Burton's two Batman pictures. Nicholson being The Joker and DeVito starring as The Penguin. Additionally, Brad Dourif, who also appeared in this film, was set to star as The Scarecrow in Tim Burton's third and cancelled Batman film; Batman Continues (1994). His role was replaced by Jim Carrey, and an entirely new villain in Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever (1995).
Chief Bromden is a member of the Celilo tribe in northern Oregon. The Dalles Dam flooded tribal lands.
Vincent Schiavelli and Brad Dourif have played "Baron Harkonnen's Mentat" in productions based on Frank Herbert's Dune novels.
Louise Fletcher appeared in The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977). Brad Dourif appeared in William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist III (1990).
Jack Nicholson and Scatman Crothers appeared in The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), The Fortune (1975), and The Shining (1980).
This movie featured a Star Trek movie villain. Christopher Lloyd played Klingon Commander Kruge in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).
Jack Nicholson and Christopher Lloyd appeared in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981).