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Milos Forman — The Loss of a Great Director

I was bummed to hear about Milos Forman passing today. He’s directed some amazing movies. Heck, even some of his movies he appeared in that weren’t well received (“Heartburn” with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep).

There was a 10 year period where if anybody asked me my favorite all-time movie, I said it was “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” That was the movie that in 1975, won Oscars for all five of the main categories, which hadn’t been done in about 40 years (didn’t happen again until the early ‘90s with Silence of the Lambs). An argument could be made that two other things made that one of the greatest films ever — a terrific story by Ken Kesey and, Jack Nicholson. We had been impressed with Nicholson before that in Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail, and the year before Cuckoo’s Nest — an Oscar nomination for Chinatown. But it’s safe to say that Cuckoo’s Nest put Jack on the map. It was his first Oscar, and the first that showed the wild and crazy side of Nicholson.

Forman died in Connecticut at 86. Upon hearing this on the radio, I started thinking about his films. I was happy that he had success after his big Oscar win (although I still wonder why he followed that up with Hair; bunch of damn hippies!). Okay, I will admit, I do love the song “Hair” by the Cowsills, but I digress.

The movie he did about music that’s amazing is his 1984 adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s stage play “Amadeus.” It got him his second Oscar (and the “best picture” statuette, as well as six other Oscars).

When people try to talk about how we should have sympathy for director Roman Polanski because his wife was murdered by the Manson family, they also bring up the fact that his mom was killed by Nazis. You didn’t hear a lot about how that happened to Forman’s parents as well. In a weird scenario, after his first movie (Black Peter) in 1964, a woman contacted Forman to tell him she was with his mother in Auschwitz, and that he was actually the child of an affair the mom had with a Jewish architect. That father survived the war and was in Peru.

Forman came to the U.S. in the ‘60s, and at first didn’t have as much success as he did in his homeland of Czechoslovakia. His first American movie in 1971 (Taking Off) did so badly, that whatever deal he had with Universal Pictures, had him owing the studio $500. He went through a second divorce, suffered depression, and didn’t have a lot of options. Michael Douglas (yes, that Michael Douglas) had bought the rights to Cuckoo’s Nest, and his dad Kirk was a bit peeved to find out he felt he was too old for the part (which he had done on Broadway, to rave reviews). Douglas cast Nicholson, and hired Forman. Forman told people that he was chosen mostly due to the fact that he would work cheap.

In 1981, Forman did the criminally underrated “Ragtime.”

A few of the subject matters Forman tackled in the ‘90s surprised me. “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” in the mid-90s; for those that don’t know, is about the guy who started Hustler magazine. I thought it was a bit too sympathetic to Flynt and made it out like he was some crusader for First Amendment rights. And who would’ve thought a movie with Courtney Love, and Woody from Cheers, would actually be good? It was (despite its lack of box-office success).

Near the end of the 90s, another man Forman decided to tackle on screen surprised me — Andy Kaufman. I’ve always felt he was overrated, and the idea of making a movie about him seemed odd. Also, we had already heard all the stories about him and his alter-ego Tony Clifton. Yet Jim Carrey was brilliant in it (how he didn’t get an Oscar nomination is beyond me). I was thinking about Forman recently, after watching the terrific documentary released a few months ago called “Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond” on Netflix. I highly recommend you watch it. Jim and Andy wouldn’t just be the name of that documentary. Forman married his third wife, Martina Zborilova, his production assistant. They named their twins, born right after the movie “Man on the Moon” came out — Andrew and Jim.

And speaking of names, there was a time an asteroid was named after Milos Forman. Perfect for the guy that made Man on the Moon.

I’m going to go outside tonight and look for a shooting star.