The Life of Mike Nichols

The Book Review


Ask Carter and Sam Kashmir join us now they wrote together an oral history of Mike Nichols it's called life isn't everything. Mike Nichols as remembered by one hundred and fifty of his closest friends Sam Ash. Thanks for being here. Just thanks for having US thank you. What was was the genesis of this project? Well after Mike's Death I was at Vanity Fair and wanted to do an oral history as much as we can get away with the magazine and ask had worked as a PA.. With Mike. And I knew him mm somewhat and so I thought it best to join forces and so we did this for the magazine originally and it was so interesting and there was so much material that it just kind of presented itself as a book kind of instantly. As soon as we saw together in the magazine they must have been painful to have to cut. Had it down to magazine size well. The piece was originally assigned at six thousand. Words ran at eleven thousand and still not a word practically about his theater career hear about his time at the compass. Players is a founding member of Improv. I mean there's so much still on the table Ash you're very lucky person having worked as the PA.. What did you work on? I worked on Charlie Wilson's war. That was my first job out of college. I was so upset on hangs Julia Roberts. What was that often? Yes Oh right. Of course. It was a big movie so very often. You felt very distant from where the the real real action was taking place but still. I really feel blessed who've been able to be as close as I was. So you mentioned Charlie. Wilson's war my immediate reaction. Shen is Oh my God. That's Mike Nichols. Also the thing that I think people don't even fully appreciate now is just how incredibly accomplished. He was and for so long so if we could just kind of begin with his I think I real fame fame was with Nichols and may but before we go into each of those stop. Just take us through because I think people may be associated him with the graduate and a couple of other major projects. But let's just list some some of them so people have a sense. Well there was the great success of the Nichols. and May Elaine. May and Mike Nichols as a comedy team. which kind of transformed formed Comedy really and Mike as Director. He and Neil Simon joined forces and he really kind of in a way. Reinvented invented Simon. For Neil Simon. You know with barefoot in the park and the odd couple and as of film director his first film was the Richard Richard Burton Elizabeth Taylor. Who's afraid of Virginia? Woolf which frank rich other people believed to be the maybe the best reputation of a of a stage play for film ever the graduate which was second film his second film shocking. JFK transformative you know and Oscar worthy. And then there's all all the stage work Tom Stoppard's the real thing David Raves hurly-burly streamers. Yeah camelot and S- Pamela camelot idle. I mean it's kind of prodian extraordinary range of of gifts that that he I mean. He Directs Spam Lot. I I think two years after doing angels in America for HBO. I mean that's range. I don't WanNa go too much into his early life by. I think it's important to point out that this was a person who arrived here. Didn't speak English. Not as first language goes to the University of Chicago right he meets Elaine. May let's start there. What was it that made that pairing so extraordinary? What did they do? You said that they revolutionized comedy Elaine may was the dangerous genius that entered Mike Nichols life and and changed him she was kind of a combustion engine and he was the steering wheel a little bit. Steve Martin told us the first time. When you listen to those records those bits or you know the sketches? which is he said that the that I heard irony brock kind of modernity to comics situations and things that comedians did not go? Nya such as the cost of funerals was is the time of Jessica Mitford the the American way of death. And you know I mean these are weighty subjects adultery a- adultery right the previous generation of comics from the fifties where people who came from Vaudeville and the Borscht Belt Nichols and may had a theater background around. And you know both the classical repertory but also as Improv actors and by the way they're also both at analysis and brought a level of psychological acuity to comedy that really hasn't been seen before let's just a clip of them from that period some day Arthur. You'll get married and you'll have suit of your own and honey when you do. I only pray that they make us suffer the way you. That's all I pray to mothers. Okay mom thanks for calling you very sarcastic. I'm doing my best now. You call me on on the telephone I me. I'm sorry I'm sorry that bothered you and look I didn't make you feel bad. Are you kidding I feel awful. Oh honey if I could believe that I'd be the happiest mother it's true. What do you think I feel crummy Arthur honey? Why don't you call me sweetheart? That's the one bit. That's kind of in a way close to auto biography at least for Mike that was sort of his mother in a way and and he had a difficult very difficult relationship with her. Are you know after the death of his physician. Father they were really plunged into poverty into serious poverty in in New York. He I used to have to go in the olden days to the Museum of TV and radio to watch these old clips. But now I I'm imagining that. You can see all of this on Youtube. Yeah there's a lot of great stuff and Youtube I encourage people to also look up there The award for total mediocrity that they did at the Emmys when you're in the nineteen fifties so that's just breathtaking. I just actually making fun of their own mirror. You know I mean they're making fun of show business with a successful right away. They were both part of this. Very heavy kind of avant-garde guard group called the compensator in Chicago and the two of them just clicked as their manager. Jack rollins later said there. They were like ham and eggs. They were a local will hit first then they came to New York. He signed them up his clients started booking them at local nightclubs and they were hit right away and then they started going non Jackpot and omnibus and they were hit nationally. So yeah it was. It was really just like that. It was that quick. How does it get from that to? Who's afraid of Virginia? Woolf well well they had a great success Nichols and may on Broadway at the Golden Theatre was an evening with Nichols in May ostensibly directed by Arthur Penn.. You know but not really and Elaine was just sort of tired of doing it and in a way was the comedic version of of the Beatles. Breaking up people were just. I just chop fall in. You know it's tragic. Yes yes yeah. It was kind of a loss in a way They would wind up working together. Other eventually you know as a screenwriter and director but but Mike it kind of put him in in the wilderness for a while He was really at see if we rely on a little bit. When he's got that evening on Broadway with a lame the theater? They were in shared an alley with a theater where her camelot was on stage with Richard Burton and they would kind of hang out after after the show and that's how he kind of got to know him and it was. It's essentially through that meeting Richard in that alley and threw him Liz. They were the ones who hired for Virginia Woolf. When you think about the collaborators he had the people he got to work with you mentioned Arthur panel the you know lately Richard Burton Elizabeth Taylor Dustin in Hoffman Jewels pfeiffer on carnal knowledge? It's just you know on and on Meryl Streep the biggest names and your subtitle is is Mike Nichols as remembered by hundred and fifty of his closest friends. Did He. Frequently form friendships during these professional collaborations was. He's one of those the people that everybody felt like they knew. And we're close to make exactly this actors and and many was writers really kind of fell in love with him. I mean we could have called the book seduced by Mike Nichols you know Natalie. Portman really wept recalling. Her work with Mike Sue now. Yeah and that was much later and the closer yes. Yes but also they did stage work together so they were totally devoted to him. I I mean Tom Stoppard. For example said I think his advice memorial you know he thought to himself who is there to to write for he so he was kind of an Avatar to all of these. She's tremendously gifted complicated. People and the friendships were very deep. And Very Real Maureen Dowd. Your colleagues said that he was a null coward figure with the Jersey Kaczynski past and unlike a lot of other people who had a really horrible childhoods he did not kind of wear it on his sleeve and he we've talked about it and didn't particularly want to spend a lot of time thinking about it and I I mean I think this is kind of the key to his career. Longevity Eddie is that he was. Somebody really always wanted to be living in the moment. And kind of looking forward to the next project even up until the end of his life when he had several things that were in progress including masterclass terrence. McNally's play that he was gonNA adapt for. HBO With Meryl Streep. Yeah I mean in a way. Our title is taken from a a model of Mike's life isn't everything but it's kind of a misnomer because it was everything to him. You know in a way I mean he could be difficult to and and some of the people in the booker occur quite open about yes. That Emma Thompson is one right exactly Thompson who who adored him. You know said we're not talking about some saint here so you know and in fact Mike toward the end of his life felt that he had been cruel to people and had betrayed others. You know but he did develop a music also about someone who sort of as much of a genius as he was you know he was also complicated difficult cat and felt like there were people to apologize to. Some people presumably wouldn't talk to you Elaine. May of course wouldn't what about Diane Sawyer and were there other people who you pursued and just said you know what no now. We did approach. Diane we wouldn't have done this actually without her been addiction you know and she gave us the same response that initially initially Sam Beckett gave to digital bear you know which is. I'm not going to stop you but I'm also not going to help you all that much. But when push came to shove and we needed the people such as Meryl Streep she was helpful behind the scenes and Elaine. She did. Give us a blurb. Although we didn't use it and the blurb facetiously officiously said well I I would tell you all I know. But they're going to pay me millions of dollars to write my memoirs something. You'll never do you know. She meant it as kind of a joke before before we go one final question what do you each of you. Thank was Nicholas's greatest work and then also so perhaps a personal favourite may be less known or just something new especially leaden. And why. Let's start with you ash. I would say probably the graduate. It's not the most original choice but I just have seen the movie so many times and I think that it it just has held up so much better than a lot of other youth movies of the time that it was sort of lumped in with that plus the the comedy albums is sort of where my original enthusiasm for him started. But you know I I think catch twenty. Two for example is a movie that has not really gotten. It's do. I think it's actually kind of a brilliant movie that was overshadowed by Mash at the time though it is I see no reason why the existence of Mash prevent people from enjoying it today not an easy novel to adapt to know and but I think him and Buck Henry and we did a credible job adapting it. Sam will I mean. It's so hard to choose. My mother would choose working girl in or Silkwood you know an but are you. Seeing your mother would be wrong. My mother never wrong But for me it's you know the stage work is kind and of extraordinary. I mean the Philip Seymour. Hoffman death of a salesman at the end of life using that was really just is an extraordinary unearth accomplishment. Really it brought him Full Circle Because that streetcar with the two original productions that changed his life really all right. I'm hoping that this interview. If nothing else forces everyone to go to youtube everyone to go and stream every single thing that Mike Nichols did that was available. He was such an incredible credible talent ash. Carter Sam cash. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much thank your new book is called. Life isn't everything. Mike Nichols as remembered by one hundred

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