In a brilliant career that spanned more than 50 years Mike Nichols gave us some of the finest works in stage, screen and TV. A short tribute.
The comedy team on Nichols and May.
Their comedy LP was a recording of their hit Broadway show which ran from October 1960 thru July 1961. The album won a Grammy as the best comedy album of the year.. The team split up in 1961 though they reunited for various projects over the years .
In 1963, Nichols made his Broadway directing debut with Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park starring Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley. Nichols would quickly become one of Broadway’s bright lights. Over the next few years he directed Luv, The Odd Couple and The Apple Tree. By 1967, he had four plays running on Broadway. Throughout his career, Nichols always returned to Broadway with new plays. There were comedies (Plaza Suite, The Prisoner of Second Ave, Lunch Hour, Social Security), dramas (Streamers, The Real Thing, Hurlyburly, Death and the Maiden) musicals (Annie and Spamalot) and revivals of great works (Death of a Salesman, The Country Girl and Betrayal). He also directed Whoopi Goldberg in two separate one woman shows (Whoopi Goldberg in Concert and Whoopi).
In 1966, Hollywood called and Nichols became one of the filmmakers to break on through the Production Code stringent standards with the making of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Elizabeth Taylor became the first in a series of actresses, not known for their great acting talent, to deliver a superb performance under Nichols direction. In later years other actresses like Ann-Margret, Cher and Melanie Griffith all delivered the best performances of their careers working for Nichols. Nichols received his first nomination for Best Director.
Based on a little known novel, by Charles Rogers, Mike Nichols second film, The Graduate, became one of the earliest works to attract what would soon become known as the “youth market.” It was the beginning of the New Hollywood and the end of the old guard. A soundtrack consisting of tunes by the then hit and hip duo of Simon and Garfunkel topped the music charts. Dustin Hoffman became the image of the new leading man proving you did not have to look like Paul Newman to become a leading man. The film, like his first, was nominated for Best Picture though it lost to In the Heat of the Night. Nichols was again nominated for Best Director. This time, he won.
Charlie Wilson’s War
Mike Nichols career had one common thread throughout all his work. It was intelligence. He made mature, intelligent films for adults and never pandered or sold out. They weren’t always hits and sure, not all his films worked as hoped but he never insulted the audience or himself. We need more filmmakers like Mike Nichols today, they’re in short supply and now there is one less.