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CULTUREARTICLE

Celebrating the Legacy of Director Mike Nichols

We join the world in mourning the loss of one of the most prolific stage and screen directors of the past five decades.

Photo Credit: The Huffington Post

Beloved by the film, television and theatrical communities, groundbreaking director (and EGOT winner) Mike Nichols has passed away at the age of 83. Behind he leaves a legacy that will influence and inspire directors, actors, writers and producers well beyond the half-century Nichols spent working in the arts.

While Nichols got his start on the New York stage with comedian Elaine May in the sketch –comedy team Nichols and May, his obvious feel for the theater led him to become a sought-after stage director. Having studied under the famed acting teacher Lee Strasberg in his early career, Nichols possessed the uncanny ability to communicate with actors and to draw out complex and unexpected performances. He won his first Tony in 1964 for Best Director for Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park with Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley.

Given his skills as a theatrical director, Nichols was the perfect choice to tackle Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) for the big screen. This volatile character study of two couple in crisis starred Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis, all of whom received Academy Award nominations (which both Taylor and Dennis won). Nichols too received his first Academy Award nomination for directing, which paved the way for his sophomore effort, The Graduate.  Under Nichols’ innovative direction, The Graduate (1967) became the touchstone for the American New Wave movement of the late 60s/early 70s and turned Dustin Hoffman into a movie star. The film also earned Nichols’ his first and only Academy Award for Best Director.

From his interplay with comedy genius Elaine May to Elizabeth Taylor’s explosive Martha to Anne Brancroft’s smoldering Mrs. Robinson, Mike Nichols’ most notable work sprang from his collaborations with talented and intelligent women on and off screen. In 1983, he worked with both Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep for the first time in Silkwood, the devastating drama about the life and death of union activist Karen Silkwood. Nichols, Ephron and Streep received Oscar nominations for their work, and the three went on to make Heartburn in 1986, Ephron’s intensely personal fictionalized look at her failed marriage to writer Carl Bernstein. Nichols would go on to work with Streep again on the vastly underrated Postcards from the Edge in 1990 (adapted by Carrie Fisher from her own memoir) and on the lauded adaptation of Angels in America for HBO in 2003.

Other notable films in the Nichols’ directing oeuvre include Working Girl (1988), Regarding Henry (1991), The Birdcage (1996), and Closer (2004), but despite steady work in cinema, Nichols never abandoned the theater for the glitz and glam of Hollywood. In addition to producing Whoopi Goldberg’s first solo Broadway show, he directed Hurlybury, Spamalot and the acclaimed 2012 revival of Death of a Salesman featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman as doomed protagonist Willy Loman.

Nichols’ versatility, generosity and incredible candor will always be celebrated by his peers.  Both personally and professionally, he provides a model of artistic integrity and excellence future generations of artists. 

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