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Louise Fletcher

Louise Fletcher

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: July 22, 1934 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Birmingham, Alabama, USA Profession: actor, receptionist

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

An American film and television actress of considerable and quiet strength, Louise Fletcher won the Academy Award in 1975 as the unforgettable, iron-willed Nurse Ratched in Milos Formanâ¿¿s "One Flew Over the Cuckooâ¿¿s Nest." The role and subsequent honors were seen by the press as the high point of Fletcherâ¿¿s screen career, since none of the projects that followed, which included "Exorcist II: The Heretic" (1979), "Brainstorm" (1983) and "Invaders from Mars" (1987) matched its box office or critical returns. However, Fletcher worked steadily after "Cuckooâ¿¿s Nest," earning Emmy nominations for television turns and accepting the notion of "the Oscar curse" with patience and good humor, confident in the knowledge that she had created one of cinemaâ¿¿s most enduring villains.Born Estelle Louise Fletcher in Birmingham, AL on July 22, 1934, she was one of four children by Episcopal minister Robert Capers Fletcher and his wife, Estelle Caldwell. Both of Fletcherâ¿¿s parents were deaf, though she and all of her siblings were born without hearing loss. She was taught to speak by a hearing aunt, who also introduced her to acting. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with...

An American film and television actress of considerable and quiet strength, Louise Fletcher won the Academy Award in 1975 as the unforgettable, iron-willed Nurse Ratched in Milos Formanâ¿¿s "One Flew Over the Cuckooâ¿¿s Nest." The role and subsequent honors were seen by the press as the high point of Fletcherâ¿¿s screen career, since none of the projects that followed, which included "Exorcist II: The Heretic" (1979), "Brainstorm" (1983) and "Invaders from Mars" (1987) matched its box office or critical returns. However, Fletcher worked steadily after "Cuckooâ¿¿s Nest," earning Emmy nominations for television turns and accepting the notion of "the Oscar curse" with patience and good humor, confident in the knowledge that she had created one of cinemaâ¿¿s most enduring villains.

Born Estelle Louise Fletcher in Birmingham, AL on July 22, 1934, she was one of four children by Episcopal minister Robert Capers Fletcher and his wife, Estelle Caldwell. Both of Fletcherâ¿¿s parents were deaf, though she and all of her siblings were born without hearing loss. She was taught to speak by a hearing aunt, who also introduced her to acting. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in drama, she traveled to the West Coast with her roommates, and eventually found herself in Los Angeles without the funds to return home. Fletcher took a job as a receptionist, which paid for acting classes.

Fletcher made her onscreen debut in the late 1950s, landing guest roles on such popular series as "Maverick" (ABC, 1957-1962) and "The Untouchables" (ABC, 1959-1963). However, she left the business in 1963 to raise two sons by her marriage to producer Jerry Bick. A decade passed before she returned to acting, first in the 1974 TV movie "Can Ellen Be Saved" (ABC), and then as bank robber Bert Remsenâ¿¿s duplicitous sister in "Thieves Like Us" (1974), a remake of the 1948 film directed by Robert Altman and co-produced by her husband. Altman later tailored the role of country singer Linnea Reese for Fletcher â¿¿ the role even called for her to have two deaf children â¿¿ but after a falling out with Bick, Altman cast Lily Tomlin as Reese.

However, director Milos Forman had seen Fletcher in "Thieves" and wanted her for a major role in his next picture, an adaptation of Ken Keseyâ¿¿s novel "One Flew Over the Cuckooâ¿¿s Nest." Forman made Fletcher audition repeatedly over a six-month period, during which nearly every major actress in Hollywood refused the part of Nurse Ratched, the martinet-like head nurse at a mental hospital. Fletcher eventually won the role, and collaborated closely with Forman to shape the character into a three-dimensional person, rather than the monster as depicted on the page. Fletcherâ¿¿s turn brought a level of humanity and vulnerability to Ratched, which earned critical acclaim, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. When Fletcher won the award, she thanked her parents for their support in American Sign Language, creating an enduring moment of genuine emotion in Oscar history. Fletcher also collected a Golden Globe and BAFTA for her iconic performance.

Back stage at the ceremony, Forman told Fletcher that after the success of "Cuckooâ¿¿s Nest," he and his cast would next make major flops. Unfortunately, his prediction came true. Formanâ¿¿s next film was the sprawling historical epic "Ragtime" (1980), while Fletcher was cast as a scientist in John Boormanâ¿¿s critically reviled "Exorcist II: The Heretic" (1979). Its failure seemed to set the tone for Fletcherâ¿¿s subsequent career, which was spent largely in forgettable features like "The Magician of Lublin" (1979) and Lewis Teagueâ¿¿s "The Lady in Red" (1979), which cast her as Anna Sage, the madam who helped the FBI track down John Dillinger. In the 1980s, she settled into a series of roles in several cult science fiction films, including Michael Laughlinâ¿¿s unsettling "Strange Behavior" (1981), its semi-sequel "Strange Invaders" (1983) and Douglas Trumbullâ¿¿s "Brainstorm" (1983), which was all but forgotten in the scandal surrounding the death of its star, Natalie Wood, who drowned during production in November 1981.

There were a number of missed opportunities for Fletcher in the 1980s. She was originally considered for Shirley MacLaineâ¿¿s role in "Terms of Endearment" (1983) and her scenes were deleted from Sergio Leoneâ¿¿s "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984). She instead settled for character parts in largely forgettable efforts like "Nobodyâ¿¿s Fool" (1986), Tobe Hooperâ¿¿s woebegone remake of "Invaders from Mars" (1986), and the lurid film version of V.C. Andrewsâ¿¿ pulp Gothic novel, "Flowers in the Attic" (1987), which earned her a Saturn Award nomination as the filmâ¿¿s villain, a religiously fanatical grandmother who tormented her daughter and grandchildren, the former of which were kept prisoner in her mansionâ¿¿s attic for years. Her turn in "Invaders from Mars" earned her a Razzie nomination from the Golden Raspberry Awards, which gave her the dubious distinction of earning laurels from Hollywoodâ¿¿s most celebrated and least desired award groups.

The 1990s saw Fletcher working steadily in both low-budget efforts and Hollywood features. Most were again largely dismissible, though she did earn a following as a steely spiritual leader in numerous episodes of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (syndicated, 1993-99). There was also an Emmy nomination for guest appearances on "Picket Fences" (CBS, 1992-96) as Marlee Matlinâ¿¿s estranged mother, and a Satellite nod for the HBO drama "Breast Men" (1997) as lead David Schwimmerâ¿¿s mother. In 2004, Fletcher earned her second Emmy nomination as an embittered piano teacher who still harbored regrets over her failed music career on the religious-themed series, "Joan of Arcadia" (CBS, 2003-05). Television continued to provide her with choice roles in subsequent years, including the physician mother of Deanne Brayâ¿¿s Emma Coolidge, who could turn sound into physical force on "Heroes" (NBC, 2006-2010), William H. Macyâ¿¿s incarcerated and irascible mother on "Shameless" (Showtime, 2011- ) and Tim Dalyâ¿¿s mom on "Private Practice" (ABC, 2007- ).

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Of Two Minds (2012)
2.
3.
4.
6.
 Johnny 316 (2007)
7.
8.
9.
 Finding Home (2003) Grandmother
10.
 Manna From Heaven (2001) Mother Superior
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in Alabama
1958:
TV debut as an extra on "Playhouse 90"
:
Made guest appearances on TV shows like "The Millionnaire" (CBS) and "77 Sunset Strip" (ABC) during the late 1950s and early 1960s
:
Lived in London during the 1960s
1974:
Returned to acting in feature film debut, Robert Altman's "Thieves Like Us"
1974:
TV-movie debut, "Can Ellen Be Saved?" (ABC)
1975:
Gave Oscar-winning performance as Nurse Ratched in Milos Forman's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
1977:
Flopped with "Exorcist II: The Heretic"
1980:
Starred as "Mamma Dracula", in Leonard Maltin's words "an eternity away from the cuckoo's nest"
1983:
Gave standout performance as a research scientist in "Brainstorm", a film marred by the drowning of star Natalie Wood
1984:
Appeared in Sergio Leone's epic "Once Upon a Time In America"
1986:
First film with Eric Roberts, "Nobody's Fool"
1988:
Played Grandma Belle in "Two Moon Junction"
1987:
Essayed another grandma in "Flowers in the Attic"
1989:
Reteamed with Roberts for "Best of the Best"
1989:
Acted the part of Agnes Carpenter in "The Karen Carpenter Story" (CBS)
1991:
Excelled as Grandmother battling for the custody of her murderer son's boy in first TV miniseries, "In a Child's Name" (CBS), directed by Tom McLoughlin
1992:
Appeared in Altman's "The Player"
1992:
Played Richard Farnsworth's wife in short-lived CBS series "The Boys of Twilight", a modern Western about aging lawmen in a small Utah town
1993:
Reteamed with McLoughlin for CBS miniseries "The Fire Next Time"
1994:
Reprised Grandma Belle for "Return to Two Moon Junction"
1995:
Portrayed crime czar Elizabeth Deane in "Virtuosity", starring Denzel Washington
1995:
Had regular role on Fox's short-lived, futuristic "VR.5"
1996:
Played bat-wielding principal in "High School High"
1996:
Enjoyed her turn as a nasty, authoritarian, almost psycho teacher in "Frankenstein and Me"
1996:
Had small role in John Herzfeld's "2 Days in the Valley"
1999:
Appeared as Aunt Eva in the absorbing Showtime Holcaust drama "The Devil's Arithmetic"
1999:
Portrayed Sarah Michelle Gellar's aunt in "Cruel Intentions"
1999:
Acted in "A Map of the World", New York theater director Scott Elliott's feature directing debut
2001:
Appeared in "AfterImage"; screened at Sundance Film Festival
2004:
Had a Guest-starring role on CBS' "Joan of Arcadia"; received an Emmy nomination for Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series
2006:
Co-starred with Donald Sutherland in the family drama, "Aurora Borealis"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

All Saints Episcopal College: Vicksburg , Mississippi -
University of North Carolina: Chapel Hill , North Carolina - 1957

Notes

Fletcher provided one of the most touching and best-remembered moments on any Oscar telecast. Since both of her parents were deaf, Fletcher used sign language to speak to them during her acceptance speech for Best Actress for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". She remains active in organizations which aid the hearing impaired.

Robert Altman based the character of Mrs. Reese, the mother of hearing-impaired children played by Lily Tomlin, in "Nashville" (1975) on Fletcher and her relationship with her parents. Originally Fletcher was to play the role but Altman chose to cast Tomlin leading to a rift between the director and the actress.

"When I die, I know that'll be at the top of my obituary, 'Louise Fletcher, who won an Oscar for . . .' That changes your life. People around you change; they think you have some special wisdom or magic touch. You become familiar-looking. With me it's usually, 'Do you work in my bank?' or 'Do you teach at my son's school?'" --Fletcher in THE NEW YORK TIMES, March 27, 1995

About her role in "Mulholland Falls" (1996): "I took the part because it had a line I just couldn't wait to say. Chazz Palminteri is trying to thread a film into a projector and his finger is too large, so he keeps saying, 'It's too big.' I say, 'Try your dick!' It's my first on-screen profanity." --Fletcher, quoted in MOVIELINE, November 1997

In May of 1998, Fletcher was charged with reckless driving for allegedly hitting a policeman who was removing a deer from a road in Leesburg, Virginia

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Jerry Bick. Producer. Married c. 1960; divorced in 1977; father of her two sons.
companion:
Morgan Mason. Agent, producer, executive. Born in 1949; together for three and a half years from 1977 to 1980; son of actor James Mason and Pamela Mason.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Reverend Robert Capers Fletcher. Worked at deaf ministries in Alabama from 1929 to 1972; hearing-impaired.
mother:
Estelle Caldwell Fletcher. Born deaf on April 11, 1901; worked with the hearing impaired; died on August 24, 1992 in Alexandria, Virginia at age 91.

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