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Famous mental hospital to be torn downPosted 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.
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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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 email@example.com or by phone at 573-722-5322.
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