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Alumni Spotlight
Jack Nicholson as RP McMurphy in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"

Paul Zaentz, Beta Pi '69 Serves on Penn Med Panel

Prior to Founders Day 2019, Paul Zaentz, Beta Pi ’69, was asked to serve on a panel for the Penn Medical School. Paul is a part owner and executive for Fantasy Films/The Zaentz Co. that made three movies that earned Oscars for best picture: One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, and The English Patient. In his own words, this is how he came to be in such exclusive company:

"In February, I was contacted by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences (the organization that puts on the Oscars) if I would allow them to loan a print of our film ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST, which we have on deposit with the Academy, for a screening for a Bio Ethics class in Penn's medical school.

The Academy informed me that they had just given the person at Penn Med my contact info.

I received a call from Dr Jonathan Moreno, who was in charge of the screening, and when he told me the screening was set for March 28th in the International House. I mentioned that I would be in Philadelphia that night and I was staying 2 blocks from the International House.

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Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas in "The English Patient"

Dr Moreno asked if I would do a Question & Answer after the screening and I said of course.

By coincidence, Dr Moreno's mentor was the brother of Louise Fletcher the actress who won the Oscar for her portrayal of Nurse Ratched in CUCKOO'S NEST.

At this point, I was still under the impression that there was a screening room in the International House and that 30 to 50 Penn Med students would be watching the film as part of their course in Bio Ethics.

When I arrived at the International House, I was standing in the entrance and Dr Moreno introduced me to the two Doctors who specialized in mental health and were going to be on the panel with me - one had come down from Boston and I believe the other one came up from DC.

I also learned that the screening was not for a Bio Ethics class but was for a film festival that was put on by Penn Med and this year’s topic was Bio Ethics and that three films were being shown over three nights.

The other two films were MASH and a George C Scott (PATTON) dark comedy THE HOSPITAL.

Upon going through the doors to the "screening room" I was quite shocked to discover that the International House had a theater that sat approximately 500 people and it was full. People were even sitting in the aisles.

And the screening was not just for Penn Med students. It was open to undergrads and the entire Philadelphia community.

There were even other doctors and mental health care professionals who had come from Boston, New York, and DC, to attend the screening.

The Q&A went smoothly and lasted for two hours and for every question addressed to the doctors on the panel, I was asked about 8 questions on the film - since I did not work on CUCKOOS NEST, it was a good thing that I had listened well to Milos Forman's stories about CUCKOOS NEST while working with him on three other films.

While I was leaving, I joked to Dr Moreno, that now that his students saw what a mental hospital was like 55 years ago, next year he could screen AMADEUS to show how people with mental illnesses were treated 200 years ago.

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Tom Hulce in "Amadeus"

Within an hour of that jest, I received a call from Dr Moreno informing me that the subject of 2020's Penn Med Film Festival would be how genius is portrayed on film and they would be screening AMADEUS.

Penn is going to schedule the festival to coincide with Founders Weekend, so if anyone wants to see a free movie and listen to my intellectual contribution to a distinguished panel of experts, drop by the International House the Thursday before Founders Night.

A doctor from Harvard's Med School Massachusetts General Hospital attended the screening in Philadelphia and this coming fall wants me to come to Mass General and screen CUCKOOS NEST for Harvard medical students

The doctor’s husband is a professor at Harvard's Music Conservatory and he told me that they discuss AMADEUS every semester, so he would like me to screen AMADEUS at the conservatory.

So, this coming fall, I will be taking my talent to Harvard for two Q&As."


            Congratulations, Paul. I suspect that they will not pay you, but you are certainly within your rights to ask to be bestowed an honorary PhD from Harvard.