Milos Forman was one of those rare foreign directors who came to Hollywood from his native Czechoslovakia and had both critical and commercial success.
Born on 18th February 1932 in Caslev his parents were to both die in Nazi concentration camps and Forman was raised by relatives before joining the Prague film academy where he began writing scripts up to the late 1950’s. He progressed up the ranks in his native country’s film industry making his directorial debut with 1964’s ‘Black Peter’ about a teenager early working life. It greatly irritated the Communist government but the film won awards and meant Milos Forman’s future as a director was ensured.
His second film ‘The Loves of a blonde’ would also win praise and awards and was based on a real life story that put Forman on the map as a director in Czechoslovakia. The film was Oscar nominated as Best Foreign film as was his third film, ‘The Fireman’s Ball’ which again wound up the Communists. This third film bought him to the attention of Hollywood and it was Paramount studios that invited him over to the US.
His first intended film was that of the stage version of ‘Hair’ but was unable to secure the rights and instead he wrote ‘Taking Off’. By then his home country had been invaded by Russian troops and Milos Forman understandably decided to stay in Hollywood. ‘Taking Off’ crashed at the box office when it was released in 1971 and its failure drove him to a breakdown in a derelict hotel where he was now living.
It had all got too much for Forman but then, unknown to him, he was offered a film that would change his career. The film was 1975’s ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ which, like his earlier films, were anti authoritarian. Produced by Michael Douglas the film had a sizeable cast led by Jack Nicholson in barnstorming Oscar winning form. Nicholson was not the only one to win an Oscar as the film would win the ‘big five’ (Best film, director, actor, actress and adapted screenplay. It was only the second film to do so and would not be repeated until 1991’s ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. The success gave him the clout to finally make a film version of ‘Hair’in 1979 before going on to direct another book adaptation ‘Ragtime’ in 1981 which earned a huge number of Oscar nomination’s but won none.
Milos Forman returned to success earning his second Best Director Oscar for Amadeus in 1984 along with seven other Oscars. It would be five years before he made another film which was to be ‘Valmont’ an adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses which had the wind taken out of its sails due to the earlier release and success of a version starring John Malkovich. It was to be seven years before he made another film and again it was an anti authority figure, ‘The People vs Larry Flynt’ and he followed that with the biopic about the late comedian Andy Kaufman, ‘Man on the Moon’. It starred Jim Carrey who was white hot after a number of hit comedies but this was to be a straight role. Carrey was excellent but the film failed at the box office.
By now Forman was approaching his seventieth birthday and his last film was to be 2006’s ‘Goya’s Ghosts’ a biographical film about the painter starring Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman but it did little business.
In 2012 he was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Directors Guild of America. By then he was married to his third and last wife screenwriter Martina Zborilava with whom he had two boys to add to the two boys he had from his second marriage.
He died after a short illness surrounded by his family, children and close friends.