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Mike Nichols

also known as Michael Igor Peschkowsky

producer , author , Film director

Mike NICHOLS is an American stage and film director, producer and author.

Background

NICHOLS, Mike was born on November 6, 1931 in Michael Igor Peschowsky, Berlin, Germany (family name changed 1939). Son of Igor Nikolaievich Peschowsky and Brigitte Landauer.

Education

The child Nichols came to America as a refugee at the age of seven. When the father died, the family had difficult times, but Nichols worked his way through the University of Chicago, and studied to be an actor.

Career

He formed a comedy group with Alan Arkin, Barbara Harris, Paul Sills, and Elaine May, which led to the Nichols and May double act in the late fifties and early sixties—on stage, in clubs, on records. They were a brilliant team, and their dialogues had as big an effect on screenplays and how smart people talked and thought as Jules Feiffer cartoons.

It says something about the team that Nichols has been so much more successful and organized than Elaine May. More recently, it says a great deal about his producer's acumen that he allowed The Remains of the Day to be a Merchant-Ivory film (though Nichols retains a credit from his early ownership of the book’s screen rights). Did he know in advance that he couldn’t deliver the closed heart in that intriguing project?

He had a fairly obvious commercial success with The Birdcage, and made a good sharp comedy from Primary Colors. But, to my mind, Wit, done for 11 BO, with the maximum severity, made so many of his recent movies look fussy and decorative. Wit trusted the aching iron of its subject and the steel of its players. 1 think it is the best work lie has ever done.

Works

Personality

Mike Nichols is an unquestioned figure in culture, a smart man, a funny man, a proven success in cabaret, on records, as a stage director, and as a deliverer of talking-point movies—movies that are smart, funny, “adult," “on the pulse," and “of their moment." It's hard to grasp a him in there, a movie director: after a dozen or so films, is there anything there more substantial than a high reputation and a producer's instinct for what smart people might want to see? Is there soul, intelligence, theme, or character holding these films together in series? Or, it Nichols is essentially a producer, a packager of things, then we have to note how well he fits the law of averages for producers. He is hit and miss. Virginia Woolf, The Graduate, and Working Girl were all nominated for best picture, and Nichols won the directing Oscar for The Graduate. The Fortune, Heartburn, and Regarding Henry, on the other hand, are movies that send audiences out into the night with the lament, “Why did they ever think of making that?”

Actually, you can see why. Warren Beatty and jack Nicholson competing to have or kill an heiress is a neat idea. Everyone smart thought that movie would make a bundle. Heartburn was a story about real infidelities in the smart set: there must have been ten thousand bold-type names from the columns who were wild to see that one. And Regan ling Henry is the sort of 1950s plot idea—smart husband goes back to zero because of brain damage—that usually guarantees Oscars (so long as you don’t cast Harrison Ford). Those are magazine stories; any one of them could have made a good segment on 60 Minutes as handled by Mike Nichols’s lovely and smart wife, Diane Sawyer.

Nichols makes movies from really neat, cute, smart ideas that can be grasped in twenty minutes. Sometimes they do go off the deep end—Carnal Knowledge and Silkwood, for instance, don't leave too much room for the comfortable feeling that just thinking smart will sort things out. In that respect, Working Girl was a knockout, smart picture: terrific entertainment, topical issue, Melanie Griffith in her underwear, and verv positive, smart ending: working women rule, okay? With a Carly Simon song.

The Graduate was the cutest package (oddly, it is a film that derides the plastics-packaging urge in America), in which a numb rebel (very intriguing concept) becomes a happy conformist, with terrific sideshows along the way, like Mrs. Robinson as a zipless fuck and great songs. Nichols never neglects the songs. With Postcards from the Edge one can only see the taming of a tough, wry book and the remorseless, smart casting that went for MacLaine and Streep instead of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. Maybe it was smarter to have smart people just know who the characters were. And maybe someone thought MacLaine and Streep were better box office—which only shows the tangle being smart can get into.

Interests

  • Other Interests

    Arabian horse breeding.

Connections

Married Patricia Scott, 1957 (divorced). Married Margot Callas, 1974 (divorced). 1 child; Married Annabel Davis-Goff (divorced).

2 children; Married Diane Sawyer, April 29, 1988.

father:
Igor Nikolaievich Peschowsky

mother:
Brigitte Landauer

spouse:
Patricia Scott

spouse:
Margot Callas