Charles Bronson and wife Jill Ireland presented the Best Actress Award. It was a tight race, and unpredictable, able to have gone in any of five directions. Isabelle Adjani, Ann-Margret, Louise Fletcher and Carol Kane were all ringside; only nominee Glenda Jackson -- in England filming The Abess -- was not present to hear the result. The winner -- Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest! After that, the actress -- not widely known -- gave an acceptance speech that surely ranks with the most touching ever given at an Oscar fete.

"It looks like you all hated me so much [in Cuckoo's Nest] that you've given me the award for it, and I'm loving every minute of it," she said, haltingly. "I've loved...being hated by you...I would like to thank Fred Roos for remembering me, Milos Forman for choosing me, Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz for taking a me the chance...Jack Nicholson and a cast of actors whose professionalism, humor, and capacity for getting into their roles made being in a mental institution like being in a mental institution." After applause interrupted her speech, her voice broke and she continued -- speaking vocally and in sign language to her mute parents watching at home in Birmingham: "And if you'll excuse me...for my mother...and my father...I want to say thank you...for teaching me to have a dream. You are seeing my dream come true. Thank you." It was a moment that would have melted even the heart of Nurse Ratched.

Art Carney, 1974's winner as Best Actor, announced the 1975 male winner. Three of the nominees were in the audience (Walter Matthau, Jack Nicholson, James Whitmore); Al Pacino was in New York doing pre-production work on Bobby Deerfield, and Maximilian Schell was in Yugoslavia working on a film as Carney opened the envelope. "Jack Nicholson!" he exclaimed and the audience roared. Five-times-a-nominee, four-times-a-loser, Nicholson grinned cheek to cheek, took off his perennial dark glasses and bolted to the stage. "Well, I guess this proves there's as many nuts in the Academy as anywhere else," he smiled. He thanked his co-workers on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and also thanked "Miss Pickford [Mary Pickford, presented with an honorary Oscar earlier in the evening], who, incidentally, I believe, was the first actor to get a percentage of her pictures." The audience howled.

The winners still had their work cut out for them backstage in the press room, posing for photographers, giving quotes that would be reprinted the next morning in newspapers around the world. Jack Nicholson took time to drink some champagne from Louise Fletcher's slipper -- or pretended to. "Sure, I was nervous, real nervous," said Nicholson. Louise Fletcher clutched her Oscar, kissed her husband (producer Jerry Bick) and said, "I woke up this morning with a direct line that said Cuckoo's Nest would win for Best Picture, and Al Pacino and Ann-Margret would win." A direct line from where, someone asked. "From the wrong place, obviously," she smiled.

Copyright 1976 ESE California.

Click here for Oscar Annual's page on Fletcher.