1967 – Brad Dourif Home
Played Billy Bibbit in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest”
After the 67 demonstration at the Pentagon and before I graduated in Feb 68 Vic and I became involved in some plays put on at a community playhouse by some friends of Vic's from the drama dept at the University of Illinois.
The first play we did was “Picnic on the Battlefield”. Vic played Zappo and I played Zeppo – soldiers on opposing sides. Zappo captures Zeppo and runs into a woman and a man having a picnic and they all join in for an afternoon of food and conversation until they are all killed on the battlefield.
The next play Vic and I were in was “The Brig”; about the conditions in a Marine prison. There were about 7 prisoners and one hell of a mean sergeant. We had to spend quite a bit of time getting in shape because in the play we had to do lots of pushups and take some punches in the stomach which had to look realistic.
One scene in the play required the prisoners to file by the sergeant while he would ask humiliating questions while the prisoner had to answer “Sir – Yes Sir!.” Then the sergeant would give the prisoner a good punch in the stomach. As actors we had all learned to tighten our stomach muscles before the blow so that we would not have the air knocked out of us. After we were hit we were supposed to bend over and wobble a little before the sergeant went on to the next prisoner. After a while it had become routine and just seemed unrealistic to me so one night I decided to let him punch me without tensing my muscles to interject some realism into it. Also I might have been getting caught up in the role as I was beginning to feel some resentment toward the black sergeant. As prisoner number two at one point in the play I was required to get in a stooping position and have a garbage can put over me while all the other prisoners were made to run around the garbage can banging on it with spoons.
Anyway one night I decided not to tense my muscles to see how bad it would be and what the sergeant's reaction would be. Well, it really knocked the stuffing out of me. I was still on my feet but I was bent over near the ground using my hand to keep me from falling over and I couldn't get up. The sergeant gave the usual command to get to my feet, but I couldn't. I said “Sir - I can't Sir!”. That's when the sergeant realized that I was really in pain and it caused him to almost break character as he had to ask me several times if I was ok. Finally I was able to get to my feet and say “Sir – Yes Sir!” at which time I was dismissed, but it had clearly shaken him up. Turned out the director liked it and wanted to know if I had done it on purpose. He had Vic ask me, but I was so far into my role that I wouldn't admit that I had done it on purpose.
As you'll learn later I graduated in Feb 68 and went to work in LA before dropping out and coming back to Champaign-Urbana. I'm not sure what year it was but I figure around 1971 I was sitting in the student union when a young man came up and sat at my table and we got into a conversation. He seemed familiar to me but I couldn't place him. The only excuse I have is that I was a zoned out hippie at the time.
I now realize that he had played the prisoner in “The Brig” who placed the garbage can on top of me. Maybe he recognized me and that is why he started the conversation, but I don't remember recognizing him at the time. I believe he said he was an actor. Back then on a college campus you could run into some pretty far out people and at that time I seemed to be attracting them. I remember being fascinated by his conversation and I never forgot how while sitting across from me he lifted his arms up and posed as if he were Jesus on the cross. Maybe he had a persecution complex or maybe he thought I had one and that was his way of reacting to what I had said - I don't know.
By 1975 when the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” came out I had started my own electrical contracting business and was too busy for a social life or going to movies so I did not see the movie until it came out on TV. When I did I recognized the actor who played Billy Bibbit as the man who I had talked to some 6 years or so earlier. He was the young man who Nurse Ratched had tortured into hanging himself and the film showed him as if he was Jesus hanging on the cross after crucifixion just as I had seen him do that day in the student union while sitting with me. I have to wonder if that had been added at his suggestion as he seemed to have had the part in mind when I met him in 71.