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Famous mental hospital to be torn down

Posted Thursday, July 17, 2008, at 6:47 AM

This is J Building of the Oregon State Hospital, the site of the 1975 filming of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Much of the campus of the hospital is being torn down to make room for a new $300 million facility, after legislators found cannisters with 3,600 cremated bodies.
I can't remember when I first read the Ken Kesey novel, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," but I think the dark novel is haunting, with its images of souls trapped in a mental institution. I always felt that if a patient wasn't deranged when he went IN, he certainly would be, if he ever got OUT.

While the 1975 movie was different enough to cause Kesey to sue the producers, it, too, was a gripping story, starring that master of on-screen madness, Jack Nicholson, as the unconventional Randall Patrick McMurphy. The film took Hollywood by storm, capturing most of the top Oscars that year. I think it was Nicholson's most memorable role.

A recent Seattle Times article sent to me by one of my former students reveals that some of the 125-year-old buildings at the Oregon State Hospital, where the movie was filmed, are being torn down and replaced by a new $300 million 620-bed facility. The new hospital will be on the site of the J Building, the one pictured here on this blog site (If I'm lucky.).

The motivating factor behind the new hospital is as grim as Kesey's book. It seems that a 2004 tour of the site by a group of legislators turned up a room full of copper canisters, containing the cremated remains of 3,600 mental patients, some of whom had been there since the 1880's, during a time when mental illness was so shameful that patients were abandoned by their families.

I was also unaware that then-Superintendent Dean Brooks, now 91, was given a speaking part in the movie as the wimpy little doctor who was so intimidated by Nurse Ratchet, the "Big Nurse," played so chillingly by Louise Fletcher. Many of the characters in the movie were actually patients at the hospital. If you'll remember, Danny DaVito played Mancini, the mental patient who hid the Monopoly houses in his mouth. It was one of DaVito's earliest roles.

My favorite character in both the book and the movie is "Chief Broom," a 6'8" Indian, whose tribe was mostly wiped out when the federal government bilked them out of the rights to their Columbia River waterfalls. The Chief pretends to be deaf and mute, so that he doesn't have to deal with life. The book is told from Chief Broom's point of view, one of the reasons Kesey objected to the movie.

It seems that Kirk Douglas tried unsuccessfully to get a studio interested in the movie, but he finally gave it to his son Michael, who produced it and was overwhelmed by its success. Marlon Brando was one of the actors who turned down the role later accepted by Nicholson, who was reportedly depressed by what he saw at the hospital, particularly the Electro-Shock therapy. (No wonder Nicholson could be so convincing in "The Shining"!)

Though J Building looks relatively good in the photo, parts of it were abandoned long ago and are now a "ghostly sight," with the paint scoured off by time and the third floor so rotted that is isn't safe to walk on. Plans are to convert the front part of the building into a museum of mental health care. I wonder if they'll have displays of the water therapy and the electro shock? This could easily turn into a "Little Shop of Horrors."

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Wow, how uniquely interesting! I have always wanted to read the novel but I've never stopped in my busy day-to-day grind long enough to do so.

The museum could most definitely turn into a "Little Shop of Horrors!" Haha!! I wonder what it will really be like when they are all finished. It is a trip that I would most definitely like to take b/c of all of the mystery involved! One question though, MD...Why all of the cremated bodies in the one room? Was it some kind of morgue or something? Just curious I guess...I really get into this kind of thing! The mystery of it, not the morbid details themselves!

-- Posted by huxgirl28 on Thu, Jul 17, 2008, at 10:48 AM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Hux, I assume that it was a big storage room, and they just kept adding cannisters through the years. Of course, there's no way of knowing which patients died of natural causes and which died because of neglect, but, through the years, the hospital was overcrowded, had outbreaks of scabies and stomach flu, sexual abuse of children by staff members, and patient-on-patient assaults. Not a nice place.

OOOOOOOOOhhhhhhhh. Spooky. Morbidly interesting. I've tried over and over to read the book and can't make myself get through it. Maybe I'll try again - or not.

-- Posted by Ducky on Thu, Jul 17, 2008, at 12:19 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Like the movie, some parts of the book are hilarious, but, overall, it's pretty grim! Still, it makes a vivid impression that I can remember, no matter how long it's been since I last read it. Of course, I read it numerous times over the years, since I sometimes taught it in specially-selected classes.

MD, Kirk Douglas wrote in his autobiography, "The Ragman's Son", that not being able play McMurphy in the movie version of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest was one of his biggest disappointments. He bought the film rights from Kesey and played McMurphy in a Broadway production in the early 1960s. Douglas tried for years to get financing for a movie version, but when he realized he was too old to play McMurphy he either gave or sold the movie rights to his son Michael for a nominal amount. I suspect Douglas failed to get movie financing because he wanted to remain faithful to the book, while Michael had a script written to make the movie as commercial as possible. Michael became fabulously wealthy from the movie's success. At the time it was the 2nd highest grossing movie in history.

Kirk Douglas had previously bought the rights to "Spartacus" written by Howard Fast, and since Fast worked on the script the movie Douglas produced and starred in follows the book pretty closely.

MD, an even more depressing movie that is largely set in a mental institution is "Frances". Jessica Lange stars in the movie based on a book about the life of actress Frances Farmer. The movie is almost oppressively depressing, but it shows that at least into the 1940s a woman in this country could be committed to a mental institution for no reason other than being independent and headstrong. Before her descent into Hell, Ms. Farmer starred in "Rythym on the Range" with Bing Crosby, and other movies.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Thu, Jul 17, 2008, at 6:11 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
I read about Frances Farmer several years ago. Absolutely amazing story! Though I've forgotten the specific details, I found myself getting absolutely furious for what they were able to do to a talented, independent person, who had no business being committed to an asylum.

I have no experience with current conditions in mental institutions, but I remember that a bunch of people were turned out on the street to fend for themselves a number of years ago, when funding was cut. I believe that happened in Missouri, and I believe it was recent.

There was a period of time in England, at least through the mid-1800s, when a man could get a divorce if two lawyers certified his wife as insane and she was committed to an institution. So England's madhouses were full of women who were perfectly normal when they entered, but they may have been driven mad after a while in that environment.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Thu, Jul 17, 2008, at 9:29 PM

I love the wheelchair race in the movie. You know all along that it's just too much fun to last, and something really bad is gonna happen, as a result.

I also like Scatman Caruthers, the black actor who plays a compassionate janitor at the institution. Oh, wait a minute, am I remembering right, because Scatman was also in "The Shining," wasn't he? (The first one - not the second one...)

-- Posted by goat lady on Thu, Jul 17, 2008, at 9:40 PM

I'm glad that place is being torn down...it was driving me crazy!

-- Posted by Jim Morrison on Thu, Jul 17, 2008, at 11:22 PM

Haha, pretty good, Jim! And MD, thanks for the info. My husband seems to have his own theory, as all husbands do, that ALL of the patients were brutally murdered in some weird, sick, twisted sort of way by Nazi-like staff members. He likes horror films and ghost stories of all kinds and he is a guy, what else can I say?!! I'm sure, to a somewhat mild extent at the least, that part of his theory may be true but I think he just likes the psychotic, ghost thrill of it all!

-- Posted by huxgirl28 on Thu, Jul 17, 2008, at 11:52 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
If they decide to do a remake of the movie, Hollywood will definitely be calling your husband, Huxgirl!

MD, "Cuckoo's Nest" is now considered a classic and one of the great motion pictures, but I got to wondering how it was reviewed in 1975. I generally like Roger Ebert's reviews, so I looked up his review. He wrote that it was a "FAILURE" as a movie and he nit-picked it to death!! But he happened to first see it with an audience, so he wrote:

"Even as I'm making these observations, though, I can't get out of my mind the tumultuous response that "Cuckoo's Nest" received from its audience. Even the most obvious, necessary, and sobering scenes -- as when McMurphy tries to strangle Nurse Ratched to death -- were received, not seriously, but with sophomoric cheers and applause."

Ebert just didn't get the the reason that "Cuckoo's Nest" is still an amazing experience for someone seeing it for the first time today -- is that its underlying theme of the fun-loving spontaneous non-conformist McMurphy's life and death struggle with the authoritarian by-the-book Nurse Ratchet resonates on a fundamental, deep emotional level with people. Everyone has encountered bureaucratic monsters like Nurse Ratchet (if that isn't a symbolic name!) who seem to live for the purpose of destroying the spirit of individuality in people. They want everyone to be as petty, and little, and mean, and hateful as they are.

I wonder how Ebert would review "Cuckoo's Nest" today, having had 33 years to think about it.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Fri, Jul 18, 2008, at 7:10 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
I remember that my students would leave the classroom, crying when the movie was over - even the big tough kids. They'd read the book, so they knew McMurphy didn't survive, but they liked him so much that they kept hoping it could end differently.

Ebert definitely didn't get it.

Nurse Ratchet's method of intimidation was difficult to combat for several reasons. For one thing, she had that "doll face," so sweet and mild, and she had mastered the sickenly sweet method of appearing to have the inmates' best interests at heart - when, in reality - she was tearing them apart. Any time little Billy Bibbit showed the slightest sign of independence, she reminded him of how much his MOTHER would be disappointed in him. That approach would turn him into a stuttering fool, since he was scared to death of ole mom!

The book/movie also clearly showed that science (a.k.a. psychology) often works at cross purposes with healing. McMurphy was better for the inmates than doctors and nurses, because he could teach them how to enjoy life. Common sense vs. book learning.

Brilliant book and movie!

-- Posted by goat lady on Sat, Jul 19, 2008, at 6:47 AM

GL, in an least one way "Cuckoo's Nest" can be looked at as more of a horror movie than "The Shining." After reeking incalculable havoc on untold "patients" lives Nurse Ratchet retired with a gold watch for her years of dedicated service and a nice state pension that might have been sweetened because of the physical/psychological aftereffects of McMurphy's assault. So Nurse Ratchet was handsomely rewarded for mastering the art of harming her "patients" while presenting the appearance of being concerned for their welfare. Nurse Ratchet's conduct was even more diabolical because most of the "patients" were self-committed, so they wanted help. The horror of the psychopath Nurse Ratchet's triumph over the sane McMurphy is one reason the movie ought to resonate with viewers for the forseeable future. The conscienceless Nurse Ratchet flourished in a bureaucratic environment, and who hasn't encountered a person like that when dealing with some type of organization?!

-- Posted by FJGuy on Sat, Jul 19, 2008, at 1:03 PM

Yeah, "Cuckoo" is all the more horrible because it COULD (and probably DID) happen - whereas "Shining" is a "creature feature" type horror flick.

By the way, I've seen both film versions of "Shining," but I've never gotten around to reading the book. (I'm simultaneously attracted and repulsed by horror themes.)

How 'bout you, FJ?

-- Posted by goat lady on Sat, Jul 19, 2008, at 2:31 PM

GL, what do you mean both movie versions? BTW, the "Shining's" hotel scenes were shot on a set in England that at the time was the largest movie set ever constructed. Now that was one big set!! Obviously what Stanley Kubrick wanted he got.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Sat, Jul 19, 2008, at 11:44 PM

Oh, FJGuy, don't tell me that I've found something you don't know!!! Well, that's a FIRST!! Haha, just teasing, ya know - I enjoy all the volumes of information you give us on the blogs, even if certain people question your "credibility" when you voice your political views.

Yes, there was another version of "The Shining" in 1977. Wikipedia has interesting information on both of them. The second version has taken out all the slow stuff from the first one and added a fascinating sequence where the topiary shrubs (trimmed like huge animals) come to life (moving when the characters turn their heads) - but the newer version lacks one important thing. You guessed it! Jack Nicholson! The little boy is also not as compelling as the original. That sequence when he's riding his Big Wheels through the empty hallways...!!! You know something's gonna happen - you just don't know WHEN!!

-- Posted by goat lady on Sun, Jul 20, 2008, at 6:45 AM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
It's been several years since I saw the movies and read the book, but I seem to remember that the 1977 film version, though inferior in many ways to the 1980 film, followed Stephen King's novel more closely. For example, there was no hedge maze in the book.

The spectacular aerial shots of the hotel were from the Timberline Lodge, near Mt. Hood in Oregon. The Timberline was built by the WPA in 1937, as a Depression Era project. Pres. Franklin Roosevelt was there for the dedication.

The hotel used for the 1977 movie was the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. I've seen photos, but I don't think it's in a remote location, like the version in the films.

FJGuy, you're right - the interior shots of the hotel in the 1980 version were taken at Elstree Studios in England.

At one time, my students and I found an "Overlook Hotel," advertising on the internet. I believe it was located in Colorado, but at the time we were unaware of all these different set locations. It must have been the Stanley Hotel.

I'm always interested in how writers get their ideas, and it seems that King had an idea about a sentient, evil hotel, but he didn't flesh it out until he and his wife and three-year-old son spent a vacation in a remote lodge, where they were the only visitors. During the night, he had a dream that his son was being chased by a fire hose. He wrote "The Shining" in 3 months! Another interesting side note: His publisher didn't want him to publish it so soon after his first two novels (which were in the horror genre), because he said King would be "typecast" as a horror writer! Hahaha! King took the comment as a compliment! Look what's happened since! Does the man ever run out of ideas??

MD, Timberline Lodge is near the treeline on Mt. Hood, around 6,000 feet. It is an amazing all wood structure that could not be duplicated in the same way today. If you scoured the length and breadth of the U.S. you couldn't find the array of skilled craftsmen who worked on it. Although I have only seen the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in pictures and the movie "Somewhere In Time," I think of it as being a similar hand-crafted structure.

You do have to wonder what goes on in Stephen King's mind.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Sun, Jul 20, 2008, at 7:37 PM

Oh, wow! I remember that hotel in "Somewhere in Time"! Terrific! Where is Mackinac Island? I guess I should Google it, shouldn't I?

All this talk about old hotels really makes me want to take a trip to one of them! What a special vacation!

-- Posted by goat lady on Sun, Jul 20, 2008, at 8:07 PM

I have never seen the whole movie, been a little leary to. It is amazing though how society has changed their thoughts of mental illness, even in the past 30 to 40 years. It was once belived that if a person had some short of retardation or other mental illness, there was an evil curse on the family brought on by something that one of the parents had done against society and the church. I know a few older individuals, about in their 60s or 70s, that when they were born and little, the doctors told their parents that they would be better off in an institution and left there. They are very sociable people who have brought a lot of joy and blessing to their family.

-- Posted by aztecmomma on Sun, Jul 20, 2008, at 8:22 PM
Madeline Dejournett's response:
Very nice point, Aztecmomma. The difference in that case was the strong, supportive families, who accepted what God gave them and made it good. Rather than looking upon their disadvantaged children as "curses," they accepted them as challenges. If there were more families like that, we would have less need for institutions.

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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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