Michael Douglas: The Wonderful Man Behind the Movie: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

Michael Douglas
Michael Douglas - Photo by the late, great Jim Marshall: circa 1975

Someone has to sing their praises, you know, the men and women who choose to make their films in Oregon, and largely because of their efforts, we are basking in the light of the films that they showcased our Oregon in.  This post is to honor Michael Douglas, the man behind the movie “Cuckoo’s Nest” and the movie star image.  I am writing this post because I remember him as he was in the 70’s, but readers take caution, as he was quoted in the forward to photographer Jim Marshall’s book Not Fade Away: “If you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there.” However, I might add, if you remember the 70’s you weren’t there, either.  So I’m guess I’m asking for forgiveness in advance.  At this point I only have a photographic memory: photographs with dates and places written on the back of legendary moments.

So, prior to filming “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” Michael (and even his father Kirk and brother Joel) could be seen in such unlikely places as Blue River, Oregon visiting Skip Cosper, a world class first assistant director who was living in a school bus with his wife and children at the time; or in the Theater department of the University of Oregon, or driving a gray Honda hatch-back through Salem with the hatch-back dented in, or working on films even earlier in his career and also shot in Oregon.  He even tried to buy property in the Wallowas.

When I first met Michael on the set of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” it was on location in the infamous “Oregon Mental Institution” in Salem as they called it then, February 12th, 1975.  I had arrived as a favor to the Oregon Film Commissioner Warren Merrill, who had asked me to bring a woman named Judy Morse from Eugene to the set.

From the minute we arrived we were treated like one of the gang by the whole cast and crew, and if the modus operandi of a production trickles down from the top, Michael was the top, the Gentleman Producer.   He and his brother Joel invited Judy and I over to their house after wrap for wine and cheese, and a decades long friendship ensued. I was invited back to the set and a relationship based on the love of film grew between all of us as the cast and crew drove to Eugene to watch films at Cinema 7 (a film art house I was a partner in at the time) on Sundays, and I drove to the set weekdays.

On December 6th, 1975, on the tail-end of a world-hopping press junket, Michael went to great pains to Premiere “Cuckoo’s Nest” with the Director Milos Forman and the Star Jack Nicholson in the Hollywood District of Portland.  Ever thoughtful, he seated me next to Governor Tom McCall and his wife.  The next day we all rode in Limos from Portland to the Elsinore Theater in Salem, but this Premiere was a one-of-a-kind: solely for the inmates and staff.  Milos Forman, Jack Nicholson and Michael mingled there with those guests who were allowed to leave the institution.  Some of them had even acted in the film as extras or even co-starred like the head of the institution, Dr. Dean Brooks.

At the end of this premiere there was no reaction at all, not a sound, no hands clapping, and the filmmakers were worried their film had offended their guests.  A few minutes later a spokesperson came up to Michael and Milos, and praised the film.  “They were stunned,” he said, “the film was so powerful…”  Later that day, Michael went to the Institution and took Christmas presents to the inmates on ward 9 who were not allowed to go to the Premiere, and even to the homicidal women on ward 84.

Ever since then, Michael has always been one of us.  His staff helped a recent former Oregon film commissioner verify an important claim on a potential film coming to Oregon.  He location scouted here in Oregon for his “China Syndrome” film first.  He has kept in touch with his old friends here, and returns phone calls and e-mails.  But most of all he left us with the legacy of a 5-time Academy Award Winning Film from a novel by an Oregon Author, shot in Oregon, utilizing Oregon Talent.  As a 6th generation Oregonian, I proclaim Michael as a Native Oregonian for his traits as a man honoring the spirit and integrity of the legacy of our Oregon:  Independent Thinker, Gentle Spirit, Kind Person.

Written by Katherine Wilson

Photo by the late, great Jim Marshall: circa 1975

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2 thoughts on “Michael Douglas: The Wonderful Man Behind the Movie: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

  1. I really enjoyed your article. I remember these days well. I never got as close to the production as it sounds like you did. I was there for the Hollywood premiere and met all three gentlemen. Later I enjoyed spending a bit of time with Mr. Nicholson on the set of The Postman Always Rings Twice. He pretended that he remembered me that night at the Hollywood. I know he remembered the evening. Thanks for the article.

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