Nationality: American. Born: Michael Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin, 6 November 1931; became U.S. citizen, 1944. Education: University of Chicago, 1950–53; studied acting with Lee Strasberg, 1954. Family: Married 1) Patricia Scott, 1957 (divorced), one daughter; 2) Margot Callas, 1974 (divorced); 3) Annabel (divorced), two children; 4) Diane Sawyer, 1988. Career: Member of Compass Players improvisational theatre group, Chicago, 1955–57; partnership with Elaine May, 1957–61; director on Broadway, from 1963; produced The Family for TV, 1976. Awards: 7 Tony Awards; Academy Award for Best Direction, Directors Guild of America Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Director, and British Academy Award for Best Direction, for The Graduate, 1968; American Comedy Awards Creative Achievement Award, 1994; awarded Star on Walk of Fame, 1998. Office: c/o Marvin B. Meyer, Rosenfeld, Meyer and Sussman, 9601 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210, U.S.A.
Films as Director:
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Carnal Knowledge (+ pr)
The Day of the Dolphin
The Fortune (+ co-pr)
Silkwood (+ co-pr)
Heartburn (+ co-pr)
Biloxi Blues; Working Girl
Postcards from the Edge (+ co-pr)
Regarding Henry (+ co-pr)
The Birdcage (+co-pr)
Primary Colors (+co-pr)
What Planet Are You From? (+co-pr)
By NICHOLS: articles—
Interview with Barry Davy, in Films and Filming (London), November 1968.
Interview in The Film Director as Superstar, by Joseph Gelmis, New York, 1971.
Interview with D. Kennedy, in Listener (London), 16 March 1989.
Interview with Richard Combs, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1989.
"Without Cutaways: Mike Nichols Interviewed," by Gavin Smith, in Film Comment, May/June 1991.
"Mike Nichols: Working Man," an interview with Stephen Greco, in Advocate, 5 May 1992.
On NICHOLS: books—
Kiley, Frederick, and Walter McDonald, editors, A "Catch-22"Casebook, New York, 1973.
Schuth, H. Wayne, Mike Nichols, Boston, 1978.
On NICHOLS: articles—
Rice, Robert, "A Tilted Insight," in New Yorker, 15 April 1961.
Bart, Peter, "Mike Nichols, Moviemaniac," in New York Times, 1 July 1967.
Lightman, Herb, "On Location with Carnal Knowledge," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), January 1971.
Brown, John, "Pictures of Innocence," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1972.
Rich, Frank, "The Misfortune of Mike Nichols: Notes on the Making of a Bad Film," in New York Times, 11 July 1975.
Sarris, Andrew, "After The Graduate," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), July/August 1978.
Fieschi, J., "Hollywood '79: Mike Nichols," in Cinématographe (Paris), March 1979.
Combs, Richard, "Mike Nichols: Comedy in Four Unnatural Acts," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), May 1989.
Farber, Stephen, "Waiting for Mike," in Connoisseur, June 1991.
Christiansen, Richard, "Behind the Camera with Mike Nichols," in Chicago Tribune, 7 July 1991.
Hale, C., "Mike Nichols," in Film Dope, December 1991.
Buck, Joan Juliet, "Live Mike," in Vanity Fair, June 1994.
* * *
The son of a Russian-Jewish emigré who fled the Nazis for the U.S. with his family in the 1930s, lived in some poverty, and died when his son was 12, Mike Nichols has displayed the drive, energy, and Jewish-influenced sense of humor germane to his background. A man of cultivated sensibilities and eclectic taste, and an outstanding director of actors on both stage and screen, Nichols also developed an adroit film technique. Fond of foreground shooting, long takes, and distorting close-ups to intensify the sense of his characters' entrapment, he also frequently employs overlapping sound and a spare, modernistic mise-en-scène (the latter at times reminiscent of Antonioni) to convey an aura of disorientation and sterility. In the underpraised and misunderstood Carnal Knowledge, Nichols uses whiteouts (also prominent in Catch-22) and Bergmanesque talking heads as structural and thematic devices to increase the viewer's alienation from the two central characters, Jonathan and Sandy—visually (and in Jules Feiffer's original screenplay) the most isolated and self-deluded of Nichols's characters— and to ridicule notions of male sexual fantasy at the core of the film. Nichols made an awesome film directing debut in 1966 with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, earning nine Oscar nominations with a deserved win for Elizabeth Taylor. Thirty years on, he had accumulated sixteen films to his credit which, viewed as a body of work, reveal a range and, in general, a level of quality that places him firmly in the upper echelons of commercial directors working in the pre-high tech-special effects tradition of solid comedy and drama.
The films of Mike Nichols are guided by the eye and ear of a satirist whose professional gifts emerge from a style of liberal, improvisational comedy that originated in a Chicago theater club and developed into a performing partnership with Elaine May in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In clubs and recordings, on radio, television, and Broadway, Nichols and May's routines gnawed hilariously close to the bone. Aimed at literate, self-aware audiences, their skits (sometimes anticipating key elements of Nichols's films) gleefully anatomized family relationships, and men and women dueling in post-Freudian combat, by turns straying from the marriage bond and clinging to it for dear life.
Before entering films, Nichols earned a reputation as a skillful Broadway director with a particular flair for devising innovative stage business and eliciting unusually polished performances. That sure theatrical sense, honed by his subsequent direction of plays by writers as diverse as Neil Simon, Anton Chekhov, Lillian Hellman, David Rabe, and Tom Stoppard, combines in his best films with the sardonic attitude toward American life that underlies even the gentlest of his collaborations with Elaine May.
Several of Nichols's major films begin as comedies and evolve into mordant, generically ambiguous dissections of the American psyche. Their central characters exist in isolation from the landscapes they inhabit, often manufacturing illusions to shield themselves against reality (George and Martha in Virginia Woolf, Sandy and Jonathan in Carnal Knowledge) or fleeing with mounting desperation societies whose values they alone perceive as neurotic (Benjamin in The Graduate) or murderous (Yossarian in Catch-22).
Martha and George, Edward Albee's Strindbergian couple, flail at each other on their New England campus and reveal a tormented relationship which, although concluding with a faint glimmer of hope, seems nevertheless to imply the futility of monogamy, a view reinforced by Carnal Knowledge and The Graduate. In the latter, until he dates Elaine Robinson, Benjamin Braddock is segregated by script and camera from the company of friends: whether in a packed airplane, on the Berkeley campus teeming with students, or surrounded by his parents' partying guests, Ben is alone. His detachment, italicized by numerous shots within the film, permits him to function as the funnel for The Graduate's social satire. In this respect he is Nichols's surrogate, but the director complicates the viewer's empathetic response to Ben by scrutinizing him rather as an experimenting scientist scrutinizes a mouse darting about a maze, especially as he scampers in frantic pursuit of Elaine.
In Dustin Hoffman's memorable screen debut, Ben became the moralistic spokesman for a generation that mistrusted anyone over thirty and vowed never to go into plastics. But, like certain other Nichols heroes, Ben may be more than a little crazy, the inevitable child of a Southern California lifestyle that leads him to anticipate instant gratification. Nichols, moreover, intentionally undermines the comic resolution toward which the film has been heading through ambivalent shots of Ben and Elaine on their departing bus, implicating them in mutual recognition of a colossal mistake. At film's end, Ben Braddock still has considerable cause to be "worried about [his] future."
For Yossarian, worrying about the future means literally staying alive. To survive a "Catch-22" universe he behaves like a lunatic, but the more bizarrely he acts the more sanely is he regarded according to the military chop-logic that drives him toward madness. In Buck Henry's screenplay, time is fractured to retain the basic storytelling method of Joseph Heller's novel. Flashbacks occur within flashbacks. Conversations are inaudible (as in the opening scene), while incidents only partially revealed (as in the first Snowden sequences) are later replayed with deleted elements restored.
Things are seldom what they initially seem in this director's work. Like Nick and Honey, misled by George and Martha's pretense of hospitality in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the viewer may be easily lulled by a deceptively comic tone, enticing visual stylization, and innovative storytelling technique into misreading the bleak vision that the films often harbor. The Day of the Dolphin, for example, with its mythic qualities, concerns about good and evil, and a painful ending, is certainly more than just a story of talking dolphins. Even The Fortune, a farce in the screwball tradition, hinges on attempted murder and leaves its heroine's fate hanging in the balance. Nichols directs literate, intelligent scripts that pull few punches in their delineations of sexual, social or political themes.
While The Graduate continues to be regarded as an American classic, Nichols is sometimes undervalued for his film work because he prefers the New York theater and because his contributions to his pictures are periodically credited to their writers' screenplays (Buck Henry, Jules Feiffer) or their theatrical and literary sources (Edward Albee, Joseph Heller, Charles Webb). But Nichols is very much an auteur, working intimately with his collaborators on all aspects of his films, principally the writing and, as with many auteurs, using many of the same actors and technicians again and again.
Nichols's films uphold his original reputation as a gifted director of actors: Hoffman in The Graduate, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Jack Nicholson in Carnal Knowledge, The Fortune, Heartburn, and Wolf, George C. Scott in The Day of the Dolphin, Alan Arkin in Catch-22, Meryl Streep in Silkwood, Heartburn, and Postcards from the Edge, Robin Williams in The Birdcage, John Travolta and, indeed, the entire cast, in Primary Colors. The films also reveal, even in their intermittent self-indulgence and a very occasional descent into the trite or unfocused, a director of prodigious versatility and insight.
From Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966 to The Fortune in 1975, Nichols's films are pure fiction; with Silkwood in 1983, he moved into a second phase in which reality is rather closer to the surface of the plots. Silkwood itself, relating the experiences of nuclear-plant employee Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep), stands alone as being based on a true story, but, despite its fundamentally grim and salutary subject matter it, like the several that follow, strikes a note of optimism that springs from the inner growth of characters as they shed illusions and achieve inner peace. Thus, even Karen Silkwood gains awareness and tries to help herself and her friends before her shocking death. Adapted from her own novel by Nora Ephron, writing from the fund of her personal experiences, Heartburn charts the breakdown of a marriage destroyed by a husband's infidelity but, once again, Rachel (Meryl Streep), the wronged wife, is able to grow and, with her children, move forward despite her shattered illusions. On this occasion, however, Nichols seemed unable to bind together Ephron's episodic tragi-comedy into a coherent whole and, despite the excellence of Streep and Nicholson, it is a tedious and unsatisfying film that counts as the director's one clear failure. Biloxi Blues, from Neil Simon's semi-autobiographical rites-of-passage comedy of nostalgia, is no more than a pleasing, workmanlike transposition of the Broadway play, but with Working Girl Nichols evinced a new ebullience. He created a sure-fire hit with a movie that combined a Capra-esque feel-good romantic comedy with an incisive look into the contemporary subculture of working women in Manhattan, satirising female power-hunger and striking a blow for the class war in the triumph of Staten Island secretary Melanie Griffith's tiumph over her bitch-boss (Sigourney Weaver). Written by Debbie Reynolds and Tony Curtis's daughter Carrie Fisher, whose credentials for an authentic exploration of her subject matter were impeccable, Postcards from the Edge deals with the explosively difficult relationship between a self-obsessed former Hollywood star (a tour de force from Shirley MacLaine) and her recklessly unstable daughter (Meryl Streep). Nichols directs this slightly overblown but absorbing and entertaining film with a confident sweep, once again pointing the road to inner growth and reconciliation as Streep's Suzanne Vale wins the battle for self-awareness. The next protagonist to earn a fresh appreciation of life was Harrison Ford, as he recovers from a serious head-wound in Regarding Henry, a film perhaps more personal to Nichols, who claimed to have made a similar inner journey after an illness.
From 1993 onwards, Nichols's eclecticism has been emphasized in his choice of projects, a choice he exercises sparingly. In 1993 his breadth of cultural interest was reflected in his choosing to produce the much-lauded film of Kazuo Ishiguro's deeply English and very fine novel, The Remains of the Day. In 1994 he directed Wolf, in which he ventured gently into the margins of horror fiction as a Manhattan book editor (Jack Nicholson), caught in middle-age crisis and a love-affair with the daughter (Michelle Pfeiffer) of the boss who has sacked him, is bitten by a wolf. Before the resulting lupine transmogrification takes hold, his senses become more acute and he fights for and regains his job. Entertaining stuff, with a script (on which Elaine May, uncredited, assisted) that hints at a profounder subtext concerning questions about aging, death, the limits of concrete knowledge, and the possibility of immortality. Drawing the best from Robin Williams, Nichols next made The Birdcage, an Americanized version of La Cage aux folles, and a piece of hilarious, sometimes farcical, frivolity which, again, contains a clear social comment aimed at puncturing pretension, exposing bigotry, and preaching tolerant understanding.
Working from Joe Klein's bestseller, scripted by Elaine May, Nichols made Primary Colors in 1998. This uncomfortable saga of the corrupt trappings surrounding a Clintonesque presidential campaign allowed him to exercise his grasp of both dramatic and satirical possibilities with theatrical flair, while drawing heavyweight performances from Travolta and Emma Thompson. With the new century came What Planet Are You From? which found Nichols entering the realm of comedy Sci-Fi with a tale conceived by the film's star Garry Shandling—an intriguing and appropriate pairing of two razor-sharp satirical minds and talents—in which an alien seeks an earthling wife in order to propagate his species and save his planet. The message is clear.
At the time of writing Mike Nichols was in pre-production for a film version of the play Wit, scheduled for release in 2001, with Emma Thompson chosen for the role created by Kathleen Chalfant on the New York and London stages. About a woman professor in process of coming to terms with her terminal cancer, the play is both searing and inspirational, but clearly too somber to serve the commercial interests of the big screen and is being made for television. It is, however, Mike Nichols's most uncompromisingly serious-minded venture to date, and indicative of why he holds a respected place as a director of true substance.
—Mark W. Estrin, updated by H. Wayne Schuth, further updated by Robyn Karney
"Nichols, Mike." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/nichols-mike
"Nichols, Mike." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved July 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/nichols-mike
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
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Nichols, Mike 1931–
NICHOLS, Mike 1931–
Original name, Michael Igor Peschkowsky; surname legally changed, 1939; born November 6, 1931, in Berlin, Germany; naturalized U.S. citizen, 1944; son of Nicholaievitch (a physician) and Brigitte (maiden name, Landauer) Peschkowsky; married Patricia Scott (a singer), 1957 (divorced, 1960); married Margot Callas, 1963 (divorced, 1974); married Annabel Davis–Goff (a screenwriter; divorced); married Diane Sawyer (a television journalist), April 19, 1988; children: (first marriage) Daisy; (third marriage) Max, Jenny. Education: Attended University of Chicago, 1950–53, and New York University; trained for the stage with Lee Strasberg, 1954. Avocational Interests: Breeding Arabian horses.
Addresses: Agent—Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Publicist— The Dart Group, 140 West 57th St., Suite 14B, New York, NY 10019. Office—Icarus Productions, 200 West 57th St., #1304, New York, NY 10019–3211.
Career: Actor, director, producer, and writer. Playwrights Theatre Club (improvisational theatrical company, which later became Compass Players and then Second City), Chicago, IL, founder and member, 1955–57; performer (with Elaine May) in an improvisational comedy act, appearing in nightclubs and cabarets throughout the United States, 1957–61; performer at the Inaugural Gala for President Lyndon B. Johnson, Washington, DC, 1965; worked as an acting teacher in New York City. Also worked as a radio announcer, janitor, post office clerk, waiter, hotel desk clerk, and delivery truck driver.
Member: Actors' Equity Association, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, Screen Actors Guild, American Guild of Variety Artists, Writers Guild of America.
Awards, Honors: Grammy Award, best comedy recording, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1961, for An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May; Emmy Award, c. 1962, for Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall; Antoinette Perry Award, best director, 1964, for Barefoot in the Park; Antoinette Perry Award, and Variety–New York Critics' Poll Award, both best director, 1965, for The Odd Couple and Luv; Outer Critics' Circle Award, "for directing four current hits," 1965; Sam S. Shubert Foundation Award, "for outstanding contributions to the New York legitimate theatre for the 1964–65 season," 1965; Cue magazine award, entertainer of the year "for directorial achievements," 1965; Famous Fives Poll, outstanding director, Academy Award nomination, best director, Film Award, best film from any source, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and Golden Globe Award nomination, best motion picture director, all 1966, all for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Academy Award, best director, 1967, New York Film Critics Award, best director, 1967, Directors Guild of America Award (with others), outstanding directorial achievement, 1967, Golden Globe Award, best motion picture director, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, 1968, and Film Awards, best film and best direction, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1968, all for The Graduate; Golden Laurel Award second place, director, 1967; Golden Laurel Award third place, director, 1968; Antoinette Perry Award, best director, 1968, for Plaza Suite; Golden Laurel Awards, director, 1970, best director, 1971; Antoinette Perry Award, best director, 1972, for The Prisoner of Second Avenue; Antoinette Perry Award nomination, best director of a drama, 1974, for Uncle Vanya; Antoinette Perry Award nomination, best director of a play, 1977, for Comedians and Streamers; Antoinette Perry Award (with others), best musical, 1977, for Annie; Emmy Award nomination (with others), outstanding drama series, 1977, for Family; Antoinette Perry Award nomination, best director of a play, 1978, for The Gin Game; Academy Award nomination, best director, and Golden Globe Award nomination, best director of a motion picture, both 1983, both for Silkwood; Antoinette Perry Award, best director of a play, 1984, for The Real Thing; Ellis Island Medal of Honor, National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, 1986; Academy Award nomination, best director, Golden Globe Award nomination, best director of a motion picture, 1988, Directors Guild of America nomination, outstanding directorial achievement in motion pictures, all for Working Girl; Academy Award nomination (with others), best picture, 1993, and Film Award nomination, best film, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1994, both for The Remains of the Day; Creative Achievement Award, American Comedy Awards, 1994; Lifetime Achievement Award and Gala Tribute, Film Society of Lincoln Center, 1999; Career Tribute (with Elaine May), U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, 2000; Emmy Award (with others), outstanding made for television movie, Emmy Award, outstanding directing for a miniseries, movie or a special, Emmy Award nomination (with Emma Thompson), outstanding writing for a miniseries or movie, Golden Spike Award nomination, Valladoid International Film Festival, Humanitas Prize (with Thompson), 90–minute or longer cable category, Special Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, competition, Golden Berlin Bear nomination, Berlin International Film Festival, 2001, Christopher Award (with others), television & cable, 2005, all for Wit; National Medal of the Arts, 2002; Kennedy Center Honors, 2003; Emmy Award (with others), outstanding miniseries, Emmy Award, outstanding directing for a miniseries, movie or a dramatic special, Visionary Award (with Cary Brokaw), Directors Guild of America Award (with others), outstanding directorial achievement in movies or television, Producers Guild of America, 2004, all for Angels in America; Lifetime Achievement Award, Directors Guild of America, 2004; Golden Globe Award nomination, best director—motion picture, 2005, for Closer.
Barefoot in the Park, Biltmore Theatre, New York City, 1963.
The Knack, New Theatre, New York City, 1964.
Luv, Booth Theatre, New York City, 1964.
The Odd Couple, Plymouth Theatre, New York City, 1965.
The Apple Tree, Shubert Theatre, New York City, 1966.
The Little Foxes, Vivian Beaumont Theatre, New York City, 1967.
Plaza Suite, Plymouth Theatre, 1968.
The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York City, 1971.
Uncle Vanya, Circle in the Square/Joseph E. Levine Theatre, New York City, 1973.
Comedians, Music Box Theatre, New York City, 1976.
Streamers, New York Shakespeare Festival, Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, New York City, 1976.
The Gin Game, Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, CT, then John Golden Theatre, New York City, both 1977, later Lyric Theatre, London, 1979.
Drinks before Dinner, New York Shakespeare Festival, Public Theatre, New York City, 1978.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Long Wharf Theatre, 1980.
Lunch Hour, Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City, 1980.
Fools, Eugene O'Neill Theatre, 1981.
The Real Thing, Plymouth Theatre, 1984.
Hurlyburly, Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL, then Promenade Theatre, New York City, later Ethel Barrymore Theatre, all 1984.
Social Security, Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 1986.
Standup Shakespeare, Theatre 890, New York City, 1987.
Waiting for Godot, Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, 1988.
Elliot Loves, Goodman Theatre, then Promenade Theatre, both 1990.
Death and the Maiden, Brooks Atkinson Theatre, New York City, 1992.
James Naughton: Street of Dreams, Promenade Theatre, 1999.
The Seagull, Delacorte Theatre, New York Shakespeare Festival, 2001.
Spamalot (also known as Monty Python's "Spamalot"), Chicago, IL, 2004–2005, then Shubert Theatre, 2005.
Also directed The Importance of Being Earnest, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
(With Hume Cronyn), The Gin Game, Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, CT, then John Golden Theatre, New York City, both 1977, later Lyric Theatre, London, 1979.
(With Lewis Allen, Irwin Meyer, and Stephen R. Friedman) Annie, Alvin Theatre, New York City, 1977.
(With Allen) Billy Bishop Goes to War, Theatre de Lys, then Morosco Theatre, both New York City, 1980.
(With Emanuel Azenberg) Grownups, Lyceum Theatre, New York City, 1981.
(With Azenberg) Whoopi Goldberg, Lyceum Theatre, 1984.
Word of Mouth, Promenade Theatre, New York City, 1995.
James Naughton: Street of Dreams, Promenade Theatre, 1999.
The Play What I Wrote, Lyceum Theatre, 2003.
Whoppi (solo), Lyceum Theatre, 2004.
Stage Production Supervisor:
Whoopi Goldberg, Lyceum Theatre, 1984.
Director, Barefoot in the Park, U.S. cities, 1964.
Director, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, U.S. cities, 1972–73.
Director and (with Hume Cronyn) producer, The Gin Game, U.S. cities, 1978.
(With others) Producer, Annie, U.S. and Canadian cities, 1978–81.
(Broadway debut) An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, John Golden Theatre, 1960.
Howard Miller, A Matter of Position, Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, PA, 1962.
George, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, CT, 1980.
Jack, The Designated Mourner, National Theatre, London, 1996.
Made stage debut with Playwrights Theatre Club, Chicago, IL; appeared in Saint Joan, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Director, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Warner Bros., 1966.
Director and producer, The Graduate, Embassy, 1967.
Director, Catch–22, Filmways, 1970.
Director and producer, Carnal Knowledge, Avco–Embassy, 1971.
Director, The Day of the Dolphin, Avco–Embassy, 1973.
Director and (with Don Devlin) producer, The Fortune (also known as Spite and Malice), Columbia, 1975.
Director, Gilda Live, Warner Bros., 1980.
Director and (with Michael Hausman) producer, Silkwood, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1983.
Director and (with Robert Greenhut) producer, Heartburn, Paramount, 1986.
Executive producer, The Longshot, Orion, 1986.
Director, Biloxi Blues (also known as Neil Simon's "Biloxi Blues"), Universal, 1988.
Director, Working Girl, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1988.
Director and (with John Calley) producer, Postcards from the Edge, Columbia, 1990.
Director and (with Scott Rudin) producer, Regarding Henry, Paramount, 1991.
(With Calley and Ismail Merchant) Producer, The Remains of the Day, Columbia, 1993.
Director, Wolf, Columbia, 1994.
Director and producer, The Birdcage (also known as Birds of a Feather and La cage aux folles), Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer/United Artists, 1996.
Director and producer, Primary Colors (also known as Perfect Couple and Mit aller Macht), Universal, 1997.
Producer, The Designated Mourner, First Look Pictures, 1997.
Director and producer, What Planet Are You From?, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2000.
Producer and director, Closer, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2004.
Also worked on Bonnie and Clyde.
A man, Bach to Bach, 1967.
Jack, The Designated Mourner, 1997.
Protestor, Instant Dread, 1998.
Television Work; Series:
(With Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg) Executive producer, Family, ABC, 1976–80.
Television Work; Miniseries:
Executive producer and director, Angels in America, HBO, 2003.
Television Work; Movies:
Director, The Gin Game, 1981.
Television Work; Specials:
Executive producer, Broadway: An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, c. 1960.
Executive producer and director, Wit, HBO, 2001.
Television Appearances; Series:
Panelist, Laugh Line, NBC, 1959.
Himself, That Was the Week That Was, NBC, 1964.
Himself, In the Life, PBS, 1992.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
(Uncredited; in archive footage) Himself, The Fifties (documentary), History Channel, 1997.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Accent on Love, NBC, 1959.
The Fabulous '50s, CBS, 1960.
Jack Paar Presents, NBC, 1960.
The Jack Paar Special, NBC, 1960.
Himself, The 40th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1968.
Himself, The 42nd Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1970.
A Last Laugh at the '60s, ABC, 1970.
Himself, The Great Standups, 1984.
The 39th Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1985.
Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes All–Star 50th Anniversary, 1986.
"Richard Burton: In from the Cold," Great Performances, PBS, 1989.
"Neil Simon: Not Just for Laughs" (also known as "Simply Simon: A Neil Simon Retrospective"), American Masters, PBS, 1989.
The 14th Annual Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 1991.
"Paul Simon: Born at the Right Time," American Masters, PBS, 1993.
Presenter, The 8th Annual American Comedy Awards, ABC, 1994.
Himself, Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light, 1995.
Interviewee, Nichols and May—Take Two, PBS, 1996.
Interviewee, Catch–22, 1996.
Himself, What Makes You Laugh?, 1997.
Academy of Television Arts & Sciences 13th Annual Hall of Fame, Showtime, 1998.
Intimate Portrait: Diane von Furstenberg (documentary), Lifetime, 2000.
The American Film Institute Salute to Harrison Ford, CBS, 2000.
The Kennedy Center: Mark Twain Prize—Celebrating Whoopie Goldberg, PBS, 2001.
Rutles 2: Can't Buy Me Lunch, The WB, 2002.
Honoree, The 26th Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 2003.
Presenter, AFI Lifetime Achievement Award: A Tribute to Meryl Streep, USA, 2004.
Himself, The 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, ABC, 2004.
Presenter, The 62nd Annual Golden Globe Awards, NBC, 2005.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
The Jack Paar Show, NBC, 1957.
Rod Carter, "The Red Mill," The DuPont Show of the Month, 1958.
"The Suburban Review," Omnibus, 1958.
Himself, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, 1958, 1959. Laugh Line, NBC, 1959.
Arthur Millman, "Journey to the Day," Playhouse 90, CBS, 1960.
Inside the Actors Studio, 1995.
Also appeared in The Today Show, NBC; The Perry Como Show, NBC.
An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, 1961.
(With Albert Todd) Adapter, Uncle Vanya, produced at Circle in the Square/Joseph E. Levine Theatre, 1973.
(With Ken Welch) Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, CBS, 1962.
(With Emma Thompson) Wit (adapted from the play of the same title), HBO, 2001.
Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Volume 20, Gale Group, 2000.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors, 4th ed., St. James Press, 2000.
Film Comment, May/June, 1991, p. 27; May, 1999, p. 10.
Interview, April, 1998, p. 102.
Newsweek, May 6, 1996, pp. 84–85.
Variety, May 10, 1999, p. 4.
"Nichols, Mike 1931–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/nichols-mike-1931
"Nichols, Mike 1931–." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Retrieved July 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/nichols-mike-1931
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
A award-winning director of versatility and insight, Mike Nichols (born 1931) has found success in both film and theatre. He started as a performer in improvisational theatre with his longtime collaborator, comedian Elaine May. After the duo broke up, Nichols turned to directing and producing for the theatre, winning awards for such hits as Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and Annie. He has also acquired an impressive list of film directorial credits, including the 1960s classics Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate.
Mike Nichols was born Michael Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin, Germany on November 6, 1931. He was the son of Pavel Nicolaievitch Peschkowsky and Brigitte (Landauer) Peschkowsky. His father had already fled the Russian Revolution and, within ten years, the entire family would flee Nazi Germany and head for America.
Nichols' father, a physician, immigrated to the United States in 1938, and changed his name to Paul Nichols. A year later, Nichols and his younger brother joined their father in New York City. Due to illness, his mother did not immigrate until 1941. The Nichols family settled in the New York-Connecticut area, where Paul Nichols practiced medicine. Nichols was educated at the prestigious Dalton School in New York and Cherry Lawn School in Connecticut. Tragedy struck the family when Nichols was just 12. His father died, leaving his mother to raise two boys on her own. A short time later, in 1944, Nichols became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Chicago, New York, and Back
Nichols enrolled at New York University, but dropped out shortly thereafter. He worked for a year before enrolling at the University of Chicago in 1950. While in the pre-medicine program, he supported himself by working as a janitor, busboy, hotel desk clerk, and truck driver for the postal service.
Becoming more involved and interested in theatre, Nichols left college and moved back to New York. He studied acting with Lee Strasberg for about two years. Nichols then returned to Chicago, where he joined the Compass Players, an improvisational theatre group (later known as Second City) and began working with Elaine May. Of his dramatic abilities, Nichols told Vanity Fair writer Joan Juliet Buck: "I was very bad for a while, and then I was pretty good. And then, like everybody, if you do it long enough, you figure out how to do it."
Nichols and May began developing and performing routines that impressed audiences with on-target satire. Their manager, Jack Rollins, later commented to the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service: "They did things that were taboo by the standards in those days. They were totally adventurous and totally innocent, in a certain sense. That's why it was accepted." After packing New York City venues, they reached Broadway, with An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, which ran from 1960 until 1961. The show would earn the pair a Grammy Award for best comedy recording in 1961.
Shortly after Nichols appeared in one of May's plays, A Matter of Position, the duo split up. Nichols relayed to Barbara Gelb of the New York Times Magazine: "That's what fractured our relationship. I was onstage, she was in the audience watching me, judging me. As soon as we weren't in balance, equals on the stage, we flew apart." Nichols also shared with Gelb that he wasn't really prepared for professional life on his own. "When Elaine and I split up," Nichols told Gelb, "I didn't know what I was. I was the left-over half of something."
Found Niche as a Director
At the suggestion of a Broadway producer, Nichols made a career change and directed his first play, Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park, in 1964. As Nichols told Buck of Vanity Fair, he knew he had found his niche: "On the first day I thought, here's my job. This is what all my experience, which up till now had seemed so random, was leading up to." Nichols was honored with the Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award for best director of a play for Barefoot in the Park, and won the same honor a year later for The Odd Couple and Luv.
Success in filmmaking would follow. Nichols received critical acclaim for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a 1966 film starring Elizabeth Taylor in an Academy-Award winning role. He also began to exhibit his fondness for foreground shooting, long takes, and distorting close-ups to intensify the sense of his characters' entrapment.
Nichols made his mark with the success of The Graduate, which starred Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman. In Hoffman's memorable screen debut, Hoffman's character became the spokesman for a generation that mistrusted anyone over thirty and vowed never to go into plastics. Nichols earned an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a New York Film Critics Award for best director for the film, which Gavin Smith of Film Comment called "a time capsule movie."
When asked how he made the transition from performing to directing, Nichols told Smith of Film Comment: "Improvising was a wonderful training as it turned out for theatre and movies, because you learn so much about what the audience expects in terms of action and events." His next film efforts would fall short. Catch-22, was based on the Joseph Heller novel. Quite simply, as Buck of Vanity Fair wrote, the film was "a disaster." Carnal Knowledge, a film about how men view women differently, followed in 1972. Starring Jack Nicholson and Ann-Margret, Nichols called it "the darkest movie I ever made." His next two efforts, The Day of the Dolphin (1973) and The Fortune (1975) were, as Peter Bart of Variety described them, "ordinary studio films." Nichols then began a seven-year hiatus from making films.
Despite these disappointments, Nichols continued to garner honors in the theatre. He won the Tony Award for best director of a play for Plaza Suite in 1968 and for The Prisoner of Second Avenue in 1972. In 1973, his stage work began to slacken as well. He did some television work, serving as executive producer for the series Family. He returned to Broadway with a bang, producing the musical Annie, which earned him $2 million and a Tony Award for best musical (as producer) in 1977.
Returned to Films
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Nichols was active in theatre and television, but had not made a movie since The Fortune in 1975. That changed when he began working on the politically-charged movie Silkwood, which starred Meryl Streep and Cher. He was excited about the fascinating, fact-based story about Karen Silkwood, a plutonium plant worker, who died under suspicious circumstances as she went to meet a union official and reporter regarding unsafe conditions at the plant. The story revitalized Nichols, and he greatly enjoyed directing the talented Streep. He also had success on Broadway, with the play The Real Thing, and won another best director Tony Award in 1984.
Nichols' personal life experienced some dramatic upheavals during this time as well. He developed health problems between the films Heartburn (also starring Meryl Streep) in 1986 and Biloxi Blues in 1988. After being prescribed the drug Halcyon, his problems increased. In quick succession, his third marriage ended, he quit using Halcyon, and he became reacquainted with the television journalist Diane Sawyer (whom he had met prior to the Halcyon problems). Nichols and Sawyer married in the spring of 1988. Children from previous marriages included Daisy (from his first marriage) and Max and Jenny (from his third marriage).
Nichols returned to work with a vengeance. He directed a stage production of the Samuel Beckett classic Waiting for Godot in 1988, as well as several successful films. After Biloxi Blues, he directed the romantic comedy Working Girl, starring Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford. He directed Streep in Postcards from the Edge in 1990, and directed Ford in Regarding Henry in 1991.
Collaboration with May
A 1994 effort, Wolf, was unique and special in many ways. Starring Jack Nicholson, the film took Nichols into new territory—the horror genre. He also tackled profound questions about aging, death, and what lies beyond concrete knowledge. Smith of Film Comment added, "In some ways Wolf is almost a mirror image of Regarding Henry. Both are stories of transformation, of discovering a new self."
What was likely the most special part of Wolf however, was that Elaine May, his old partner from his comedy days, helped with the script (although uncredited). Regarding his relationship with May, Nichols commented to the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service: "Certainly rejoining Elaine has been terribly important. Any small differences between us have burned away. We have only pleasure. What I don't think, she thinks of; what she doesn't think of, I think of."
The pair followed with The Birdcage, a remake of the French farce La Cage Aux Folles, which was released in 1996. May wrote the screenplay, and Nichols directed the film. It was their first collaboration in more than three decades. The movie was a huge hit. David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, "What's striking about The Birdcage is how little it's changed in 18 years. Nichols carefully follows the classical-farce footprints of the original, in which the middle-aged gay couple are forced to conjure up a straight facade to facilitate the marriage of Armand's son to the daughter of the gay-bashing, anti-Semitic senator."
The movie received some criticism from conservative groups because of its content. It was a movie about a gay couple, which did not sit well with some people. Nichols contended that it was a movie about families and how they care about each other. He stated to the Knight-Ridder/ Tribune News Service that the movie was "suggesting that the value of family is far more important than anyone's notion of family values. What the film really says is that we're all the same. We're all people trying to get through life." The movie made an impact on Nichols as well. He commented to Lemon of Interview that "his life ha[d] come full circle" because he was back working with May. He added, "I've made up my mind that she's the world's greatest screenwriter."
Nichols followed The Birdcage with an acting job. As noted by Jack Knoll of Newsweek, when Nichols was asked to appear in Designated Mourner, a Wallace Shaw play in London, "he consulted with his wife, Diane Sawyer, and with Elaine May, who both advised him to do it." Nichols and May were also honored and profiled in an "American Masters" special on the Public Broadcasting System. The Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service called the pair "the best man-and-woman comedy team since George Burns and Gracie Allen. They precisely fit the name of the series on which they are saluted this week American Masters."
The next Nichols/May collaboration was Primary Colors, which closely resembled the trials and tribulations of American President Bill Clinton. Based on the novel by "Anonymous" (later revealed to be Joe Klein), John Travolta and Emma Thompson play the Stantons, a couple on the campaign trail for the presidency. When Jack Stanton's sexual escapades become public knowledge, his career is threatened. Ansen of Newsweek wrote, " Primary Colors is the funniest, shrewdest, and saddest movie about American politics since Gore Vidal's The Best Man. " He added, "Nichols knows this is a movie about performers performing."
Nichols received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Film Society of the Lincoln Center in May of 1999. According to the "Internet Movie Database," he is directing and producing the movie What Planet Are You From? as well as producing the movie All the Pretty Horses. Both are scheduled to be released in 2000.
Lemon of Interview magazine reflected, "Over and over, Nichols has captured exactly where culture turned out to be going. You could say that his sixth sense is spooky, but in fact, his uncanniness reflects something else: the mind and heart of an artist."
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, volume 16. Gale Research, 1997.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors, St. James Press, 1996.
Newsmakers 1994, Volume/Issue 4. Gale Research, 1994.
Film Comment, May 1999, p. 10.
Interview, April 1998, p. 102.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 17, 1994; March 14, 1996; May 20, 1996.
New York Times Magazine, May 27, 1984.
Newsweek, March 18, 1996, p. 71; May 6, 1996, p. 84; March 23, 1998, p. 63.
Time, May 9, 1988, p. 80.
Vanity Fair, June 1994.
Variety, May 10, 1999, p. 4.
"Mike Nichols," The Internet Movie Database Ltd,http://chevy.imbd.com(October 16, 1999).
"The Tony Awards" Infoplease.com—all the knowledge you need,http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0153396.html (October 16, 1999). □
"Mike Nichols." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mike-nichols
"Mike Nichols." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved July 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mike-nichols
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Mike Nichols, 1931–2014, American actor and director, b. Berlin, Germany, as Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky. His family immigrated to the United States in 1939, and he studied (1950–53) at the Univ. of Chicago. A founder of The Second City, the comedic and improvisational group, he and fellow member Elaine May formed a satiric duo (1957–61) and together scored a Broadway hit in 1960. Nichols debuted as a director with the Broadway production of Barefoot in the Park (1963) and subsequently he was a successful stage and screen director, noted for his intelligence and his ability to draw the best from his actors. His early work concentrated on light comedies, often written by Neil Simon. Nichols won Tony awards for Barefoot and for Luv (1964), The Odd Couple (1965), Plaza Suite (1968), The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1971), and The Real Thing (1984). Later Broadway directorial credits included Hurlyburly (1984), Death and the Maiden (1992), and the musical Spamalot (2005). His films frequently portrayed dramatic human relationships and often cast a wry or sardonic cinematic eye on the tensions of modern American society. He began his movie career directing Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and won an Academy Award for his next film, The Graduate (1967). Subsequent films included Catch-22 (1970), Carnal Knowledge (1971), Silkwood (1983), Working Girl (1988), The Birdcage (1996), Primary Colors (1998), Closer (2004), and Charlie Wilson's War (2007). Nichols, who had occasional acting roles, was also an Emmy-winning television director and a successful screenwriter and producer.
"Nichols, Mike." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nichols-mike
"Nichols, Mike." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nichols-mike
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
"Nichols, Mike." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nichols-mike
"Nichols, Mike." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nichols-mike