When the Soviet tanks rumbled into Prague in August 1968, Forman was in Paris negotiating to make his first American film, Taking Off. He later traveled to New York to finish the script and planned to return home to Czechoslovakia. While pursuing the film, the Czechoslovak government said that he was out of the country illegally and the studio fired him. On top of being alienated by his homeland, Forman’s first American filmmaking endeavor proved to be a total flop. Although critics praised the film, Forman ended up owing Universal $500. After the flop of Taking Off, Forman resided at the Chelsea Hotel and was thankful for the generosity of its manager, who allowed him to stay there for over a year until he was finally able to pay back the rent. The hotel was home to a host of painters and artists, and over the years, including such luminaries as director Stanley Kubrick, writers Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, and musician Bob Dylan. Forman lived on about $1 a day, with a daily diet consisting of a can of chile con carne and a bottle of beer. On the brink of a nervous breakdown, his friend Ivan Passer would go to the psychologist pretending that he was Forman to help his friend.
Photo courtesy of Oldřich Škácha