by Stan Griffin, Deaf Friends International Special Contributor

"I want to thank you for teaching me to have a dream. You are seeing my dream come true."

These were the words of Louise Fletcher as she accepted the 1975 Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in the film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." When she came to the microphone to receive her "Oscar," she gave the traditional acceptance speech–but with a new wrinkle: she "signed" the words with her hands. No one had ever done that before.

The sign language version was a tribute to her parents, both deaf from birth: her father Robert (an Episcopal minister) and her mother Estelle. Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1934, Fletcher was raised as a "bilingual" child, speaking (taught by her aunt) and using American Sign Language. That same aunt was probably the first to expose Louise to show business.

Once she graduated from the University of North Carolina, she started acting in regional summer stock. Then she made the trip to Los Angeles with a few friends. For a while, she worked as a receptionist to pay for rent and acting classes.

Fletcher soon began getting work, first in television and later in films. During the late 1950s, she appeared in supporting roles on TV shows like "Wagon Train," "Perry Mason," and "The Untouchables." She worked until 1964 and then temporarily retired. Two years earlier, she had married Jerry Bick (a producer). The couple made a decision that Fletcher would take time off to raise a family. They eventually became the parents of two sons.

Ten years later, she returned to show business. With her second film role, she "struck gold," portraying the detestable Nurse Ratched. Her "Big Nurse" supervised patients in a mental hospital.

Fletcher’s character became recognized as one of the movie’s great villainesses. She played her as " ... a soft-spoken, insincerely friendly control freak who is determined to maintain her authority over male patients at all costs ... through fear, humiliation, ... sense-dulling drugs ... electroshock (and) lobotomies ..." She even drove one to suicide by playing on his guilt complex.

Nurse Ratched was described variously as "treacherous, sadistic, unsmiling, rigid, iron-willed, sympathetic to patients only when it promoted her interest, and a symbol of repressive authority." Part of her Oscar speech referred to Ratched’s personality: "It looks like you all hated me so much that you are giving me an award for it, and I’m loving every minute of it ... I love being hated by you." When she got her Oscar statuette home, she displayed it in front of a mirror so it looked like two instead of one!!

Since winning the Academy Award, Fletcher has worked non-stop as a supporting and character actress and "earned the respect of peers and fans ..." She continues to be a "timeless presence on both small and large screens." Fletcher received a 1996 Emmy nomination for a guest-star role on the CBS series "Picket Fences." She is probably best known to today’s TV viewers as "Kai Winn" on the hit sci-fi series "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."

Louise Fletcher is tall, standing 5 feet 10 inches, and "strikingly beautiful." She has light hair and a stern, forthright manner. Her height often made her taller than her leading men which was a hindrance at the start of her acting career.

Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched has become a "movie icon ... frequently parodied in ... numerous films." Many say that she is "a timeless presence ... an accomplishment reserved for only the best of Hollywood."

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