Michael Douglas took over the project from Kirk Douglas. Entreating his father, “Let me run with this,” he took it as a passion project. Michael absolutely loved the book. “It was a brilliantly conceived story of one man against the system,” and he dreamed of bringing it to the big screen.
With Michael at the helm, they went about casting McMurphy. Jack Nicholson clinched it over Burt Reynolds, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brandon, and several others who didn’t make the cut.
And So Did the Beard
Nicholson was totally convinced a beard would suit McMurphy. So, on the first day of shooting, he showed up with a full beard—only to have Forman force him to shave it.
This would not be the last time the two egos clashed. Perhaps Delos V. Smith as inmate Scanlon, pictured here, provided plenty enough beard for the cast?
A Search for the Perfect Director
Acquiring the perfect director took more than one take. Ten years, to be exact. Initially, Kirk Douglas’ determination to secure Czechoslovakian cinema mastermind Miloš Forman, whose dark and sardonic style was the perfect fit, flopped. Douglas, who had the production rights and starred in the Broadway version of the story, had reached out to Forman sending him a copy of the book. Sadly, the effort was ill-fated and Czech customs confiscated it.
Both men thought they had been slighted by each other. Finally, a decade after the Broadway version, the younger Michael Douglas contacted Forman and mailed another copy. He enthusiastically embraced the venture.
Casting Chief Bromden was a no-brainer. Will Sampson, a member of the northern Oregon Celilo tribe, was an unknown actor and park ranger. He was the only Native American screened who was large enough to fill the part. Size mattered. At 6’7”, he was plenty tall.
Since then, he has adorned our screens in "Alcatraz; The Whole Shocking Story" and "The White Buffalo". He was a known rodeo rider. In 1987 he tragically passed away after a long illness.
Filmed on a $3 million shoestring budget, Jack Nicholson was the cast’s only A-lister. To ink his signature, producers negotiated a box office share of the proceeds, on top of a $1 million cut. It paid off, the film cashed in with an astounding $160 million profit.
Jack Nicolson was already famous for his roles in "Easy Rider", "Passenger", and the list goes on and on. He has left his mark on the screen and is considered one of the best actors Hollywood has provided.