Born on February 18, 1932, in Čáslav, Czechoslovakia, Miloš Forman was a New Wave filmmaker before immigrating to the United States, later earning a directing Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He returned to his homeland to film Amadeus, an acclaimed venture that won eight Oscars, including another directing prize for Forman. Among his other works are The People vs. Larry Flynt, Valmont and Man on the Moon.
Background and Early Career
Jan Tomáš “Miloš” Forman was born on February 18, 1932, in Čáslav, Czechoslovakia, to a family of educators. He was orphaned during his youth after his mother and adoptive father were killed in Nazi concentration camps. Forman later studied film at university and penned screenplays, working as an assistant director on the production of his script for Cubs (1958).
Forman was eventually able to direct several of his own features, making his debut with Black Peter (1964) and thus establishing himself as part of his country’s New Wave movement. His next movie, The Loves of a Blonde (1965), earned a Foreign Language Academy Award nomination and was followed by the satirical The Firemen’s Ball (1967). This work was later banned by authorities when Czechoslovakia came under Soviet control.
'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'
After being let go by his film studio, in 1968 Forman immigrated to New York City. His first U.S. big-screen work, Taking Off, was critically acclaimed but didn’t fare well at the box office, leaving Forman in dire financial straits. “That was the $1 a day period. It’s a wonder I didn’t turn into a can of chili con carne,” he said in a 2009 New York Times interview, referring to his diet staple at the time.
But Forman's fortunes were significantly reversed with his 1975 adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The seminal film about life in an asylum went on to win all five major Academy Awards, including Best Director, and earned more than $100 million domestically. After joining the faculty of Columbia University's film department in 1978, in 1979 Forman followed up with a big-screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Hair, and two years later directed Ragtime, an adaptation of the E. L. Doctorow historical novel of the same name, which examines issues of race and life in early 20th-century America. Ragtime earned eight Oscar nominations.
Eight Oscars for 'Amadeus'
Perhaps Forman's greatest success came in the form of 1984's Amadeus, his Prague-based take on Peter Shaffer’s play about Mozart and Antonio Salieri. The film won a whopping eight Oscars, including for the categories of Best Picture, Actor and Screenplay, with Forman again taking home the award for Best Director.
After creating a new film version of the book Dangerous Liaisons in his Valmont (1989), starring Annette Bening and Colin Firth, Forman continued his biopic work with The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). The project explored the travails of the infamous Hustler magazine founder and starred Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love. Forman followed up with 1999’s Man on the Moon, a look at comedian Andy Kaufman as played by Jim Carrey. In the new millennium, Forman has directed 2006’s Goya’s Ghosts and filmed the revived stage production of A Walk Worthwhile (2009), a musical set in his native country.
Personal Life and Other Ventures
Forman has acted in films as well, including Heartburn (1986) and Keeping the Faith (2000). He has two sets of twins and has been married three times, most recently in 1999 to Martina Forman, a writer. His memoir, Turnaround, was published in 1994, and in 2013 he received the Directors Guild of America Lifetime Achievement Award.
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