I don’t what surprised me more: that our college undergraduate intern knew who Mike Nichols was (he’s a film buff and LOVES The Graduate) or a guy I know in this thirties who knows a lot of stuff but didn’t recognize the name.
When I was growing up, it seemed that Mike Nichols and Elaine May were on the TV talk shows and variety shows all the time. This followed 306 performances on Broadway of An Evening with… for nine months in 1960 and 1961. “The LP album of the show won the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album.” Here’s Nichols and May on the Jack Paar Show.
Nichols then got into directing plays on Broadway, winning several Tony Awards for Best Director of the original productions of Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Plaza Suite, and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, among others. He also won Tonys for producing Annie, and later, for directing Spamalot and a revival of Death of a Salesman.
He got into directing movies, and his first attempt was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Watch the dance scene. His second directing attempt was The Graduate, for which he won his only Oscar. I’ve seen that movie, plus Catch-22, Working Girl, The Birdcage, Charlie Wilson’s War, plus Silkwood, Heartburn, and Postcards from the Edge, the latter three which he also produced. Here’s the hit song from Working Girl, Let the River Run by Carly Simon. Read Mike Nichols’ five rules for filmmaking.
Nichols’ two Emmys came from fairly serious fare: the TV movie Wit (2001) starring Emma Thompson, and the TV miniseries Angels in America from 2003. This means he is one of a dozen people to win the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003.
I found out about Mike Nichols’ death because my TV was possessed on Thursday morning. Usually, I watch two minutes of the CBS Morning News at 7 a.m., but the DVR was stuck on the ABC affiliate. The lead was about the death, a story that didn’t show up on my New York Times and LA Times news feed until a half-hour later. The news was released, after the story on the air, by the ABC News president. Diane Sawyer, former GMA and World News anchor, and Nichols’ wife of 26 years, apparently arranged an exclusive for her network, noted not as criticism but just an observation.
The GMA folks – heck, EVERYONE who knew him, such as Meryl Streep – said he was always “the smartest and most brilliant person in the room,” rather like his Nichols’ third cousin twice removed on his mother’s side, scientist Albert Einstein. But he also a wonderful raconteur, and I feel as though I would have enjoyed being in his presence.
Mike Nichols died of a heart attack a couple of weeks after his 83rd birthday.