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Doctor who OK'd 'Cuckoo's Nest' hospital use dies

Jun 7, 2013


By JEFF BARNARD
Of the Associated Press

GRANTS PASS — The psychiatrist who opened the Oregon State Hospital's doors to filming of the 1975 Academy Award-winning movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” has died.

Dr. Dean Brooks died May 30 at a retirement home in Salem at age 96, family members said. He had been in declining health for several weeks after a fall.

Brooks’ daughter Dennie Brooks said Friday the film's producers were turned down by all the other mental hospitals they approached. But her father, who was the Salem hospital's superintendent, saw the value of the movie in starting a national discussion about mental health and the responsibility of institutions to do no harm.

She said Dean Brooks also thought being part of a movie would be fun for him and for patients. He ended up playing a small role in the film — which was based on a 1962 Ken Kesey novel and starred Jack Nicholson — and making sure patients were involved, too.

Allowing the movie inside the hospital was a big career risk, but Dean Brooks regularly took risks on behalf of the patients, going so far as to take them on mountain-climbing expeditions and teaching them to rappel down cliffs, said Greg Roberts, the Oregon State Hospital's current director.

At the urging of staff, he allowed patients to start wearing regular clothes rather than uniforms long before other state hospitals.

“He would wink at me and say he could do stuff then I could never get away with today,” Roberts said. “In my opinion, Dean Brooks literally set the bar on how to be a great state hospital superintendent.”

Kesey based the novel on his experiences working at a Veterans Administration hospital while a writing student at Stanford University. But the movie made the story forever part of the history of the Oregon State Hospital, which has since moved to another building.

In the film, the free-spirited Randall McMurphy fakes mental illness to get off a prison farm, only to be defeated by the overwhelming institutional power of the hospital and the domineering Nurse Ratched.

Dean Brooks played Dr. Spivey, a psychiatrist who initially acquiesces to Ratched's power but later is inspired by McMurphy to stand up for himself and the patients.

While the movie gave him a platform to speak out for patients, Brooks had a reputation as an innovator before the film was produced, his daughter said. She cited a patient outing he organized that included whitewater rafting and was featured in Life Magazine.

“He saw Ken Kesey's true message about our capacity and organization's capacity to do harm to one another,” Dennie Brooks said. “If he hadn't known that, he would have gone right along with the administration at the time and said, ‘No, we're not gonna do it (the film).’”

Before giving his approval for the movie, Dean Brooks went to every ward and discussed the idea with patients and staff.

“To make the deal, he insisted primarily that the patients be respected, and the patients actually be involved,” said Charles Kifleyak, who made a documentary about the psychiatrist and the filming of “Cuckoo's Nest” called “Completely Cuckoo.”

“He felt the film had to benefit the patients in some way, or he was not going to do it,” Kifleyak said from Burbank, Calif.

Nearly 90 patients ultimately had parts in the movie, or jobs behind the scenes, said Dennie Brooks, who also worked on the film as a location coordinator.

Though Kesey was unhappy enough with the movie's portrayal of his book to sue its producers, owners and distributors, he “got” Dean Brooks and what he was doing at the hospital, Brooks’ daughter said. Kesey eventually won an undisclosed settlement.

The writer visited the hospital while working on a screenplay, which was rejected, and he later penned a handwritten note to Brooks.

“What I thought was the greatest innovation was the eye-level way you deal with the men and women under your care, and the affection that created affection,” Kesey wrote.

After the movie, Dean Brooks remained friends with Kesey. They did speaking engagements and visited Disneyworld together, even sharing a hotel room, she said. Dean Brooks also remained friends with actress Louise Fletcher, who played Nurse Ratched.

Born July 22, 1916, in Colony, Kan., Dean Brooks put himself through medical school at the University of Kansas playing trombone in dance bands, his daughter said. There he met his wife, Ulista Jean Moser, a nursing student. She died in 2006 after 65 years of marriage.

Brooks went into the U.S. Navy in 1943 and served as a triage officer on ships taking part in the invasions of several islands in the South Pacific, including Iwo Jima, his daughter said.

After the war, while Dean Brooks served at a military hospital outside Medford, Ore., his commanding officer counseled him to become a psychiatrist.

Dean Brooks also worked at a Tacoma, Wash., VA hospital before joining the Oregon State Hospital staff in 1947 as a psychiatrist. He became superintendent in 1955.

After he retired in 1981, Dean Brooks moved to Everett, Wash., to be close to his grandchildren. He continued to advocate for the mentally ill, founding the Dorothea Dix Think Tank to decriminalize mental illness and find better ways of treating patients.

Besides Dennie Brooks, he is survived by two daughters, Ulista Jean Brooks and India Brooks Civey; a brother, Robert; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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