Strongly worded rebuttals to 47-year-old New York Times theater reviews rarely merit mention, but we think Ken Kesey's newly unearthed letter to the paper defending the Broadway adaptation of his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest warrants an exception. Here are two reasons:
- It is written on Kirk Douglas' stationary Douglas was the star and one of the show's producers. If you did not know this before, you will when you see the original copy of the letter, written right at the top in big capital letters.
- It represents full-throated dissent The middle portions of Kesey's response are only really of interest to rabid fans of the book or people who saw the original production. That's not a problem, since he bookends it with an assault on criticism and defense of his own work that could have been written on an electric typewriter.
You can find the original review in The Times's archives here. It was not kind. Howard Taubman started out, "Do you find the quips, pranks and wiles of the inmates of a mental hospital amusing? If you do, you should have a merry old time at One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." It was clear that Taubman was no fan of the play's comic depiction of mental patients. "When the patients--chronic and acute--get together for work, rest or group therapy there are more laughs than in a college dormitory," he wrote. "As an objective reporter, I should tell you that people were chuckling and roaring at a lot of these gags last night. I should also add that I found them either embarrassing or in appalling taste." But perhaps his worst insult--at least to a writer--came before his roasting of the on-stage performance: "Not having read Ken Kesey's novel, I cannot tell you whether the play is faithful to its source."