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Louise Fletcher: The Woman Who Brought A Villain To Life

Entertainment | September 22, 2021

Louise Fletcher with James Garner in Maverick. Source: (Wikipedia).

Louise Fletcher, who was born on July 22, 1934, in Birmingham, Alabama. Her parents were both deaf. Her father, the Reverend Robert Capers Fletcher, founded more than 40 churches for the deaf in Alabama. She and her siblings spent a year and subsequent summers with her aunt to ensure that they learned how to speak. While with her aunt, Fletcher was introduced to acting. However, she also spent weekends at the cinema with her mother, who loved movies; since her mother was deaf, she would translate for her using sign language. She also would sing and dance for her aunt’s bridge club, but she had decided by the time she was 11 that she wanted to be an actress.

With Shelley Duvall in Thieves Like Us. Source: (IMDb).

She Got Her Start In Television

Fletcher studied theater at the University of North Carolina, and after she graduated in 1957, she headed out to Los Angeles. Her acting career began soon after, with guest appearances on shows such as Maverick, The Untouchables, Wagon Train, and Perry Mason. Her first film appearance came in 1963 with an uncredited appearance in A Gathering of Eagles. In 1960, she married Jerry Bick, a literary agent and producer. They had two sons, and Fletcher took an 11-year hiatus from acting to raise her sons.

Nurse Ratched. Source: (IMDb).

She Took A Role No One Else Wanted

Her return to acting came when her husband convinced her to take a role in a film he was producing with Robert Altman, Thieves Like Us (1974). She played the role of a mother who shelters bank robbers but then starts to work with the police. While she was working on the film, her parents visited the set, and when Altman saw her signing with her parents, he had the idea for Nashville. When Fletcher started meeting with the screenwriter, Joan Tewkesbury, but the part she assumed she was going to get was given to Lily Tomlin. However, this led to a more significant role, as her work in this film captured the attention of Miloš Forman. Forman was trying to cast the character of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In Kesey’s book, Nurse Ratched is portrayed as a killjoy, and is even described as having wires coming out of her head. Because of the nature of the ‘70s, actresses were uncomfortable playing the role of a villain. He allegedly offered the role to a number of actresses including Anne Bancroft, Jane Fonda, and Angela Lansbury, but they declined. Eventually, Forman cast Fletcher in the role, despite the fact that she didn’t seem suited to the role. However, her “prim angelic” nature helped to make her the perfect nemesis for Jack Nicholson’s character, McMurphy. Fletcher was perfect for the part, creating a character who is particularly dangerous because she believes that she is helping people. To play the role, she developed a backstory for the character: Ratched had no life outside of the asylum and was turned on by McMurphy. 

The villain cracks a smile. source: (Reddit).

She Gave An Oscar-worthy Speech

For her role in the film, Fletcher received a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and the Oscar for Best Actress. When she won the Oscar, she gave one of the most memorable Oscar speeches; she began with a recognition of the impact of her role, saying, “it looks like you all hated me so much that you've given me this award for it,” and finishing by thanking her parents in sign language. Three years after the film, in 1977, she divorced Bick.

In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Source: (IMDb).

Life After Cuckoo's Nest

Although she did receive significant acclaim, her role as Nurse Ratched led to her being typecast frequently in her later roles. She went on to play a psychiatrist in Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and the title role in The Lady in Red (1979). In the ‘80s, she was in several horror films, including Strange Behavior (1981), Firestarter (1984), and Invaders From Mars (1986). She also appeared in Flowers in the Attic (1987), Blue Steel (1989), and Robert Altman’s The Player (1992). She also appeared on television, guest starring in shows like Picket Fences and Shameless. Additionally, she had a recurring role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. For her guest role on Picket Fences, she was nominated for an Emmy. 

Tags: Louise Fletcher | Nurse Ratched

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Linda Speckhals

Writer

When she’s not out walking her dog, or taking in a baseball game, Linda loves learning about history, science, and philosophy. She will travel wherever the wind may blow, and happily loses herself in a book, whenever she can. At heart, she is a music loving tree-hugger.