Louise Fletcher, who won the Best Actress Oscar for her indelible performance in Milos Forman’s “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” died on Friday from natural causes at her home in France. She was 88.
The film, which is based on the novel and explores the repressive tendency of authority in a story about patients and staff of a mental hospital, won five Oscars including best picture and best actor for Jack Nicholson.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was the first film in more than four decades to sweep the major categories of best picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay. It was nominated for an additional four Oscars, and was also a substantial box office hit.
In the American Film Institute TV special “AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes & Villains,” Nurse Ratched was named fifth-greatest villain in film history — and second-greatest villainess, behind only the Wicked Witch of the West.
The ratchet character in the script of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest had been made less ratchet than it was in the book, and due to this, Estelle Fletcher deserved her Oscar for portraying it.
One of the key moments in the film is when we begin to feel sorry for Ratched.
In an article from 2002, Roger Ebert talked about how irrelevant Nurse Ratched was because she embodies the qualities that society fears most. Also, in an Oscar winning role for a movie called “Cuckoo’s Nest,” Nurse Ratched is what Ava DuVernay described as “a woman who has subsumed sexuality and humanity into duty and righteousness.”
It could be argued, however, that the role of Nurse Ratched and the Oscar the actress earned for that performance ultimately did Fletcher more harm than good: In a review excoriating 1987’s horror film Flowers in the Attic, a frustrated Washington Post writer opined, “Fletcher should talk to her agent about these stereotyped ‘evil’ roles, in which she has become increasingly tedious.”
Fletcher may have plead with his agent for a greater variety of roles, but to no avail.
She just appeared in the 2013 movie “A Perfect Man,” starring Liev Schrieber and Jeanne Tripplehorn.
On TV, Fletcher had played the manipulative wife of a mafia boss named Peggy “Grammy” Gallagher on Showtime’s “Shameless.” She recurred with that role on the TV show “Star Trek: Discovery.”
Dr. Winn Adami became the scheming, duplicitous spiritual leader on “Deep Space Nine” in 1993-99 and W.R. Vaughn operated under the name on cult sci-fier “VR.5” in 1995-97, and then as Dr. Will Samuel Osbourne on “ER” in 2005.
She was Emmy nominated for guest roles on “Picket Fences” in 1996 and on “Joan of Arcadia” in 2004.
After being out of the public eye for 10 years, she reemerged in 1974 and delivered a compelling performance in Robert Altman’s classic. Pauline Kael called it “impressive”. but was still not as well known as a celebrity when they cast her in “The Shiver”.
As stars, Angela Lansbury, Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Colleen Dewhurst and Geraldine Page all turned down the role of Nurse Ratched before it was filmed. Each star was afraid that the part would have a negative effect on their career.
Director Milos Forman discusses Fletcher in “Thieves Like Us.”
“There was something about her that made me think she would be perfect for the role,” Forman remembers. “I asked her to read with and didn’t even realize until I got to know her better that there was a toughness and willpower that seemed destined for the character.”
Rare clips from her performance in 1978 cult film available online
She played a husband in 1979 drama Natural Enemies who murdered his family. Critic Richard Winters wrote that Fletcher is “quite good playing the polar opposite of her Nurse Ratched character”.
Sofia Canetti is able to play various different characters well by switching like a chameleon.
Kathryn Hahn discusses playing popular stereotypes in Hollywood
Other film credits include “Exorcist II: The Heretic,” starring with Richard Burton and Linda Blair; sci-fier “Brainstorm,” with Christopher Walken and Natalie Wood; “Firestarter,” starring a young Drew Barrymore; and “2 Days in the Valley.”
Estelle Louise Fletcher was born in Birmingham, Alabama. Her parents were Deaf, she learned how to speak from her aunt when she was 8 years old, and became acquainted with acting after graduating from college and undertaking a cross-country trip.
After making appearances in 1958 for “Playhouse 90” and other televised shows, the young actress made her film debut in 1960. The following year she guest-starred in “77 Sunset Strip,” “Maverick,” “The Untouchables,” and she had a two-episode role on “Perry Mason.” By 1963 she abandoned acting, at least temporarily, after making her feature film debut in “A Gathering of Eagles.”
After raising her children, Sandra Burr returned to her life as a professional actress in 1973 by guest starring on Medical Center. She also had a supporting role in Jerry Bick’s movie of Thieves Like Us that same year.
Fletcher died before he had the opportunity to play the character in “Nashville” after his alcohol and drug addiction ruled his life. Due to this, Bick and Altman did not get along during the production of the film.