The Story of Famed Czech Director Miloš Forman

via Wikimedia / Zff2012
via Wikimedia / Zff2012

Although the Czech Republic boasts many talented directors, one name is more famous, here and abroad, than any other: Miloš Forman. Forman was born Jan Tomáš Forman in Čáslav, Czechoslovakia, on February 18, 1932. He was the younger of two sons. His parents were Anna and Rudolf Forman.

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Anna was a hotelier, while Rudolf was a professor. In 1939, the Third Reich took over Czechoslovakia, turning it into a puppet state. In 1940, a member of the Czech Resistance named both Rudolf and Anna as Resistance workers. Both were arrested. Anna Formanová died in Auschwitz in 1943; Rudolf died in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp in 1944.

Young Forman lived with his aunt (also named Anna) and his uncle Boleslav in the town of Nachod for some time during the war. Afterwards, the Hluchý family took him in (Mr. Hluchý was the head of the Čáslav gasworks).

With the war finally over, Forman attended a school in Podĕbrady that was set up for war orphans; however, very few of the students had lost their parents. Forman remembered later that most of the children in the school were the children of diplomats, high-ranking Communists, and other well-to-do persons. The school relied on donations, and the donors were generous. This meant that it had the best teachers of any such school in the country, and was a prestigious place to send children.

While at school, Forman met two fellow students who would also have a great impact on the arts. One was future filmmaker Ivan Passer. The other was future playwright, dissident, and finally, President Václav Havel. Another two students were brothers, Ctirad and Josef Mašín. Their father, Josef, had been a member of the famous Czechoslovak Legion during World War I. In World War I, Josef was a Resistance fighter, caught and tortured by the Gestapo; when Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated in 1942, the elder Mašín was executed as part of the Nazi retribution. Ctirad and the younger Josef Mašín, between 1951 and 1953, would take up arms against the Communist rule in Czechoslovakia.

After the war, Forman discovered, much to his surprise, that Rudolf Forman was not his biological father. Having believed that both of his parents died in the Holocaust, he now found that his biological father was a Jewish man named Otto Kohn, who survived the war. Forman’s half-brother on his father’s side, Joseph J. Kohn, is a mathematician. His half-brother in the Forman family is painter Pavel Forman, who moved to Australia after the Soviet invasion of 1968.

After graduating from the Podĕbrady school, Forman moved to Prague, where he attended FAMU (Academy of Performing Arts Film School). At FAMU, he was strongly influenced by one of his professors, who loved all things French and suggested that Forman read a novel titled Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Years later, Forman would direct Valmont, which was based on the book (known in English as Dangerous Liaisons).

On a trip to East Germany in the early 1960s, he bought himself a movie camera, which he used to shoot a documentary about a Prague theater (the Semafor) with Ivan Passer and another friend, cinematographer Miroslav Ondříček.

It was during this time, shooting the documentary, that Forman and the other two came up with an idea for another film, one that was to become the first big film for them.

Click here to read the next part of this story.

Erin Naillon

Erin Naillon

I am an American living and working in Prague. I freelance in various areas, including photography/film, voice work, and, of course, writing.
Erin Naillon