Oscar-winning director Forman dies – Outdoors humor columnist McManus dead at 84

LOS ANGELES, April 14, (AP): 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 2:00 am Saturday at Danbury Hospital, near his home in Warren, Connecticut, 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 US film, 1969’s “Taking Off”, flopped, Forman didn’t get a chance to direct a major feature again for five 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”.

Adaptation

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).

Hunting for locations, Forman realized Prague was the only European capital that had changed little since Mozart’s time, but returning there initially filled him with dread.

His parents had died in a Nazi concentration camp when he was 9. He had been in Paris when the communists crushed the Prague Spring movement in 1968, and he hadn’t bothered to return home, becoming a US citizen in 1975.

The Czech government, realizing the money to be made by letting “Amadeus” be filmed in Prague, allowed Forman to come home, and the public hailed his return.

“There was an enormous affection for us doing the film,” he remarked in 2002. “The people considered it a victory for me that the authorities had to bow to the almighty dollar and let the traitor back.”

Never prolific, Forman’s output slowed even more after “Amadeus”, and his three subsequent films were disappointments.

Also:

BOISE, Idaho: Patrick F. McManus, a prolific writer best known for his humor columns in fishing and hunting magazines who also wrote mystery novels and one-man comedy plays, has died. He was 84.

McManus died Wednesday evening at a nursing facility where he lived in Spokane, Washington, where he had been in declining health, Tim Behrens, who performed the one-man plays, said Friday.

“He was a warm man, he was a good man, he was a funny man,” Behrens said. “I look at him right up there with Mark Twain.”

McManus wrote monthly humor columns for more than three decades for the popular magazines Field & Stream and Outdoor Life, the columns later appeared in books. He also wrote other books, more than two dozen in all that included a guide for humor writers, and a series of mystery novels with a darker form of humor involving fictional Blight County, Idaho, and Sheriff Bo Tully. Altogether, he sold more than 5 million copies and appeared on the New York Times best-seller list.

Many of his characters are drawn from real people from his childhood in Sandpoint, Idaho, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) northeast of Spokane, said Bill Stimson, a journalism professor at Eastern Washington University and former writing student of McManus at the same school. The two became lifelong friends.

The fictional Rancid Crabtree, for example, is a loner living in the woods who only cares about fishing and hunting and has no one telling him to go to school. Stimson said McManus told him that Crabtree is based on a real person that he found in the hills around Sandpoint as a child. While many of his characters involve country bumpkins, McManus himself loved reading. “He had a very scholarly interest in writing and literature,” Stimson said. “He read everything.”

He said McManus quit teaching in 1983 to write full time. He had been writing traditional journalism pieces until on a fluke he wrote a humorous piece about satellites tracking wildlife, Stimson said, that a magazine immediately bought. “He was a very accomplished journalist to begin with, and then he found out he could make a lot more money as a humorist,” Stimson said. “He’s really the Mark Twain of the Northwest.”

McManus was also an accomplished painter, favoring watercolor landscapes, his wife Darlene McManus said in a prepared statement. “Pat was a great observer of people. I think this was because he was an artist at heart,” Darlene said. “His stories were paintings with words.” Patrick Francis McManus was born in Sandpoint on Aug. 25, 1933. His father died when McManus was 6. “I can remember the isolation of living out on a little farm and everything being extremely hard and miserable,” he told Sandpoint Magazine in 1995. “But I don’t tend to think of it that way, and I think it’s because of the writing and transforming my early situation.”

Behrens said being poor during childhood was reflected in McManus’ writing. “The lack of any kind of extravagance led to the ability to create entire imaginary worlds out of his walks in the mountains,” he said. McManus, Stimson said, nearly flunked out of Washington State University but then got serious about writing, and remained so for the rest of his life, dedicating a certain part of each day to writing and telling his students to do the same.

Behrens has performed the six one-man plays McManus wrote for more than two decades. He said McManus would attend the early plays and listen to the audience reaction, then make changes to the play until he was satisfied. “He would walk in the back of the theater, never sitting down,” Behrens said. “He would listen, and he would pace, and he would think. It took about 50 shows before one was set.” McManus is survived by his wife, Darlene, four daughters, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. A private service is tentatively planned for next week at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Sandpoint.

Translate »