Mi­los For­man, di­rec­tor won Os­cars for ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘Amadeus’

The Day - - OBITUARIES - By AN­THONY MC­CART­NEY AP En­ter­tain­ment Writer

Los An­ge­les — Czech film­maker Mi­los For­man, whose Amer­i­can movies “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus” won a del­uge of Academy Awards, in­clud­ing best di­rec­tor Os­cars, died Satur­day. He was 86.

For­man died about 2 a.m. Satur­day at Dan­bury Hos­pi­tal, near his home in War­ren, Conn., ac­cord­ing to a state­ment re­leased by the for­mer di­rec­tor’s agent, Den­nis As­p­land. As­p­land said For­man’s wife, Martina, no­ti­fied him of the death.

When For­man ar­rived in Hol­ly­wood in the late 1960s, he was lack­ing in both money and English skills, but car­ried a port­fo­lio of Cze­choslo­vakian films much ad­mired in­ter­na­tion­ally for their quirky, light­hearted spirit. Among them were “Black Peter,” ‘‘Loves of a Blonde” and “The Fire­man’s Ball.”

The or­phan of Nazi Holo­caust vic­tims, For­man had aban­doned his home­land af­ter com­mu­nist troops in­vaded in 1968 and crushed a brief pe­riod of po­lit­i­cal and artis­tic free­dom known as the Prague Spring.

In Amer­ica, his record as a Czech film­maker was enough to gain him en­tree to Hol­ly­wood’s stu­dios, but his early sug­ges­tions for film projects were quickly re­jected. Among them were an adap­ta­tion of Franz Kafka’s novel “Amerika” and a com­edy star­ring en­ter­tainer Jimmy Du­rante as a wealthy bear hunter in Cze­choslo­vakia.

Af­ter his first U.S. film, 1971’s “Tak­ing Off,” flopped, For­man didn’t get a chance to di­rect a ma­jor fea­ture again for years. He oc­cu­pied him­self dur­ing part of that time by cov­er­ing the de­cathlon at the 1972 Olympics for the doc­u­men­tary “Vi­sions of Eight.”

“Tak­ing Off,” an amus­ing look at gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ences in a chang­ing Amer­ica, had won praise from crit­ics who com­pared it fa­vor­ably to For­man’s Czech films. But with­out any big-name stars it quickly tanked at the box of­fice.

Ac­tor Michael Dou­glas gave For­man a sec­ond chance, hir­ing him to di­rect “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” which Dou­glas was co-pro­duc­ing.

The 1975 film, based on Ken Ke­sey’s novel about a mis­fit who leads men­tal in­sti­tu­tion in­mates in a re­volt against au­thor­ity, cap­tured ev­ery ma­jor Os­car at that year’s Academy Awards, the first film to do so since 1934”s “It Hap­pened One Night.”

The win­ners in­cluded Jack Ni­chol­son as lead ac­tor, Louise Fletcher as lead ac­tress, screen­writ­ers Bo Gold­man and Lawrence Hauben, For­man as di­rec­tor and the film it­self for best pic­ture.

The di­rec­tor, who worked metic­u­lously, spend­ing months with screen­writ­ers and over­see­ing ev­ery as­pect of pro­duc­tion, didn’t re­lease an­other film un­til 1979’s “Hair.”

The mu­si­cal, about re­bel­lious 1960s-era Amer­i­can youth, ap­pealed to a di­rec­tor who had wit­nessed his own share of youth­ful re­bel­lion against com­mu­nist re­pres­sion in Cze­choslo­vakia. But by the time it came out, Amer­ica’s brief pe­riod of stu­dent re­volt had long since faded, and the pub­lic wasn’t in­ter­ested.

“Rag­time” fol­lowed in 1981. The adap­ta­tion of E.L. Doc­torow’s novel, no­table for For­man’s abil­ity to per­suade his ag­ing Con­necti­cut neigh­bor Jimmy Cag­ney to end 20 years of re­tire­ment and play the cor­rupt po­lice com­mis­sioner, also was a dis­ap­point­ment.

For­man re­turned to top form three years later, how­ever, when he re­leased “Amadeus.”

Based on Peter Shaf­fer’s play, it por­trayed 18th-cen­tury mu­si­cal ge­nius Wolf­gang Amadeus Mozart as a foul-mouthed man-child, with lesser com­poser Salieri as his shad­owy neme­sis. It cap­tured seven Academy Awards, in­clud­ing best pic­ture, best di­rec­tor and best ac­tor (for F. Mur­ray Abra­ham as Salieri).

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