March 23, 1998

Editor's Note: The Associated Press asked two former Oscar winners, Louise Fletcher and Cliff Robertson, to write about what it was like to win the planet's most celebrated acting prize. Miss Fletcher, voted best actress of 1975 for her role as nasty Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, was present at the ceremony with speech in hand, and poignantly thanked her deaf parents in sign language. Robertson, honored as best actor of 1968 for playing a retarded man in Charly, didn't think he had a chance and was 7,000 miles away when he heard the news. Their stories:

For The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - I was in Rome in 1976 when the Academy nominations were announced. The whole shebang from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Jack Nicholson, Milos Forman, myself and others - were on a publicity junket. Rome was the last city on my part of the tour. They didn't want to pay to take me any farther and dropped me like a hot potato.

I stopped over in New York to shop for a dress at Bergdorf's, the most upscale shop I knew. I took my best friend, Jimmy, with me. We found it: "This is the dress! There is no other dress!" It cost everything I made on the movie, but I was going to pay it. As I reached for my credit card, Jimmy hissed at me: "No, idiot, write down the designer."

We called the designer, Alfred Fiandaca of Boston. He said he would be thrilled to have me wear the dress. He even painted pale cuckoos on an extension of the dress that looked like a train, but nobody ever saw that.

The week before the awards, I simply could not take the pressure. The phone, the attention- I was just not used to it. Needless to say, my husband, producer Jerry Bick, wasn't used to it either. We went to Palmilla in Cabo San Lucas, where they didn't have any phones at that time, only radio. We sat on the beach and composed a speech together.

It was later on when I had the idea to thank my parents in sign language, just a little private thank you between ourselves. There I was, sitting in the audience at the Music Center, wearing my lovely cuckoo dress, and my mouth was so dry I thought my face would crack if I couldn't get a good grin. But I couldn't get any spit. Today I'd just carry one of those little bitty bottles of water, but we didn't have those in my day.

Then I looked around and saw all the women up for the award - Isabelle Adjani, Ann-Margret, Carol Kane (Glenda Jackson was absent) - and nobody could get any spit, not just me. It's the most terrible closeup of your life, trying to look cool.

I was shocked when my name was announced. I could have killed a few people getting to the stage; nothing was going to stand in my way. I must have thought that the statue was going to self-destruct unless I got to it in less than five seconds. I fairly flew. Thank God I had prepared a speech.

"It looks like you all hated me," I said, and the audience laughed. I thanked everybody concerned with the picture, then I thanked my parents. I signed to them: "I want to thank you for teaching me to have a dream. You are seeing my dream come true."

For The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - I got the news that I had won the Academy Award for Charly when I was deep in the Philippines jungle. I was there for locations of a Robert Aldrich war movie, Too Late the Hero. The Academy had wanted me to fly back for the ceremony, and the president of Philippine Airlines had offered to reschedule a regular flight to Los Angeles and return.

But it was a long trip, and my absence would have cost the picture more than the budget could afford. Besides, I didn't think I had a chance to win. Some people had said that the nominations for best actor that year were the strongest ever. The others were Alan Arkin for The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter Alan Bates for The Fixer Ron Moody for Oliver! and Peter O'Toole for The Lion in Winter. Brilliant performances all.

I was surprised I was even nominated. I had spent years trying to get Charly made, and finally it was produced by ABC Pictures, an offshoot of the television network. The movie cost $1 million. The company had a very modest budget for an Oscar campaign. The other nominees had appeared in films for major studios, which could afford to spend. I didn't have a press agent, and I never took an ad - not one.

If ever a fellow owed an awful lot to Academy members, it was me. Maybe it was because I had been around in theater, television and motion pictures for a while.

I was in my trailer on the Too Late the Hero set on the night of April 14, 1969. Michael Caine and a lot of the other British guys on the picture were outside, hovering over a shortwave radio. I wasn't listening.

All of a sudden, Michael almost broke down the screen on the trailer door. He came busting in and exclaimed, "You son of a b----! You won the goddamn award!" I said, "That's very funny, Michael."

"I'm not joking," he insisted, and he grabbed me, hauled me out, and the crew put me on a blanket and threw me up the way the Eskimos do. Somebody with a camera took a picture of me up in the air in my military outfit with my Scottish tam. It was sent all over the world.

The Oscar was good to me, and I have been working steadily ever since, except for the three years of "Hollywoodgate" (the 1977 scandal exposed by Robertson involving phony checks written by Columbia Pictures president David Begelman). So many people persuaded me to write a sequel to "Charly," which I have done. I am preparing a production deal, and the outlook is very, very good.

The Academy has invited past winners of acting Oscars to appear in the 70th awards at the Shrine Auditorium on Monday. I'll be there, for sure.

Copyright March 1998 The Associated Press.