March 10, 2017 — In 1939, Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky and his brother were sent to America from their home in Berlin, to escape deportation by the Nazis. They would arrive in America to live with their father who had settled in New York City earlier. Their mother would join them later.
The father was a successful doctor who would change his name to Nichols. Mikhail would become the director Mike Nichols.
Whatever Mike Nichols touched in his professional life seemed to turn to immediate success. He started out doing improvisational comedy and had the good fortune to team up with the brilliant Elaine May. Their comedy routines were immensely popular, quickly landing them on Broadway in a hit show. The very first Nichols and May album won them a Grammy Award®.
When he left performing for directing, his first Broadway show was Barefoot in the Park (starring a then relatively unknown Robert Redford). The next play was LUV, with Alan Arkin, Eli Wallach, and Anne Jackson, followed by The Odd Couple. All were major hits and he won a Tony Award® as Best Director for all three. Over the course of his career he would win nine Tonys and would helm plays and musicals as disparate as Death of a Salesman, Annie, Plaza Suite, The Gin Game, Uncle Vanya and Spamalot.
The first film he directed was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The couple were known to be very difficult to work with and people predicted they would make mincemeat of the fledgling director. Instead, Nichols turned in a brilliant film with remarkable performances from both of his leads.
It would become the number 1 box office hit of 1966, was nominated for 13 Academy Awards® and won 5.
Defying the premise of sophomore slump, he followed that with The Graduate, with a then-unknown Dustin Hoffman. No one expected the film to become the top-grossing film of 1967, with 7 Oscar® nominations; Nichols won for Best Director. At this point people were calling him a second Orson Welles, but, in fact, he had more directorial successes than Welles, including Carnal Knowledge, Silkwood, Working Girl, The Birdcage, Wolf, Primary Colors, Angels in America and Charlie Wilson’s War.
He was also a three-time BAFTA Award-winner and was honored with a Lincoln Center Gala Tribute, the National Medal of Arts, the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and the AFI Life Achievement Award. He is also one of only two people to have won the PEGOT — a Peabody Award, an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. The only other member of this elite club is Barbra Streisand.
His old comedy partner and longtime friend, Elaine May would say of him, “So he’s witty, he’s brilliant, he’s articulate, he’s on time, he’s prepared and he writes. But is he perfect? He knows you can’t really be liked or loved if you’re perfect. You have to have just enough flaws. And he does. Just the right, perfect flaws to be absolutely endearing.”
Mike Nichols: American Master is aptly named. Few artists were more in command of their craft, few had more talent. Elaine May has directed this fascinating look at an extraordinary life which includes appearances by Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, Nathan Lane, Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, James Brooks, Frank Langella and Paul Simon.
Mike Nichols: American Master is available on Blu-ray and DVD or you can stream this program immediately on Amazon Prime. The DVD and Blu-ray versions will contain footage that was not included in the PBS-broadcast version, including interviews with Bob Balaban, James L. Brooks, Tommy Tune and Robert Osborne.