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The Art and Being Mike Nichols

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This is kick ASS news. I'm Ben Mathis the work of Mike Nichols Pervades American cultural consciousness from the graduate. And who's afraid of Virginia Woolf to angels in America the birdcage working girl and primary colors not to mention his string of hit plays including barefoot in the park and the odd couple. And if that weren't enough he was also one half of the timelessly funny duo of Nichols and May as well as a founding member of the original Improv troupe over a career that spanned half a century Mike Nichols changed. Changed Hollywood Broadway in comedy forever. But more than that. He changed many lives now. One hundred fifty people who worked with new Mike Nichols best recall the intensely human connections. They had with the director in a new book by Ash. Carter and Sam cash ner titled Life is in Everything Mike Nichols as remembered by one hundred fifty of his closest friends and today salmon asked join me on the podcast to share. What they learned about? Mike Nichols youth as a German airman Jewish emigrant growing up in New York the crippling illness that left him completely bald from boyhood on and how it gave him a unique perspective on humanity. Eh that shined through in all of his films and plays. We discuss his early years as one of the founders of the Improv group that would become second city the story of how. Oh he teamed up with Elaine May to form the comedy team of Nichols and May and how they're deeply personal and at times subversive act broke new ground in comedy. Them and ash also get into the creative differences that broke up nichols and May and opened the door to Broadway and Hollywood for Mike Nichols they reveal how the first time I'm director got the nerve to stand up to movie. Mogul Jack Warner during the filming of WHO's Afraid of Virginia Woolf why he originally wanted to cast Robert Redford and the graduate and how Orson Welles tried to usurp him as director on catch twenty two. Then they also talk about Nichols courtship of the news anchor who had become his wife Diane Dan Sawyer his lavish life is many friendships and a lesson. In how Di with style coming up with Ash Carter and SAM cash ner in just just a moment third Ash Carter's a writer and editor whose work appeared in esquire vanity fair town and country and the New York Times Sam. Cash Noor is an editor at large at airmail and was for many years a contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine. He's also the author of several books including the recent New York Times bestsellers the Fabulous Bouvier sisters. Here's the tragic and glamorous lives of Jackie and Lee and furious love Elizabeth Taylor Richard Burton and the marriage of the century. Now Sam Cashmere and Ash Carter have teamed up to shed some light on the life of one of the all-time greatest directors of the stage and screen in their new book. Life isn't everything Mike. Mike Nicholls as remembered by one hundred fifty of his closest friends salmon ash. Welcome thank you just for the listeners. You know I had had former secretary of Defense Ash Carter on the show awhile back so I feel like I kind of have to preface this by clarifying listening here. This is not the same Ash Carter by the way is a common mistake. The Internet there is a New York Times book. Review that Mistakenly mixed this up and they had to print a correction afterward. Oh you're sitting. Yeah now for anyone listening who might not know the name Mike Nichols. I guarantee that they know his work. he was the multiple e got winning director behind behind the original Broadway productions of barefoot in the park the odd couple Plaza Swede Anne the real thing hurly-burly and spam. Lot as well as movies like who's WHO's afraid of Virginia Woolf the graduate catch twenty two carnal Knowledge Silkwood working girl Alexi Blues Postcards from the edge regarding Henry and read the birdcage closer. Charlie Wilson's war and angels in America. Gosh did you guys watch all of those when you decided to write this book. Yeah absolutely yeah. Yeah some of them multiple times and and by the way. There's also his his. The first thing that he kind of became a household name for was his comedy album for the lane. May Yeah and I want to get to those You know but at first I'm interested in the subtitle of this book because it sort of underscores how everyone seemed to feel that they had this intimate relationship with Mike Nichols and how in the every interaction that people had with him whether there was personal or professional whether it was over the course of decades or just a single film everyone who knew him felt that they got something personal from Mike Nichols true. Well he just. He had a gift for friendship. He was actually often thought that we could call this book. You know seduced because I mean he was his it could be the most charming seductive Entertaining the best dining companion. You could imagine in In New York which is which is saying something You know I mean so he He did have these very often and long live friendships and relationships with also equally complicated people. I mean you know Natalie Portman who. I started to cry when she was remembering Mike and yes and Meryl Streep who who still to this day finds it very hard to to talk about Valium without breaking up. So so yeah his his want one of his agents said that you know there's a lot of people in show business. Who can they're sort of your friend as long as the movies being shot and then it's over but the Mike have this gift for maintaining really maintaining gaining these dry and turning these relationships into genuine friendships and Yeah I mean there really was no if any we really had to cut ourselves selves off. At a certain point the we could have gone on and if our sub publisher hadn't threatened to cancel our contract. We probably would have so I. I'm an incredibly considerate person to. I didn't know him terribly well but I remember being in his house in admiring a first edition of the letters of Oscar. Kerr wild for example. Wow and the two days later there was a messenger with a package and it. Was You know a first edition of the letters of Oscar Wilde. It could have come from his library but but also maybe not you know wow. That's incredible thoughtful person and we weren't great friends or anything you know. Oh but He had a very classy way of also showing his appreciation. You know actually I I should say that you know part of the reason. We wrote this book that he didn't didn't write his memoirs but all the time he spent not writing his memoirs was spent within the company of these people Yeah I mean this is a guy who had so many great anecdotes. It's kind of disappointing that he never wrote a memoir arm and many of the people in the book say that. They pleaded with him to write an autobiography but he never ever did. Or why do you think he didn't. Well there's different theories about that and we kind of instead of we let the different theories Aired in in the book. But but I think that one. He's he actually. He didn't like to he he. He had a He was known for you know he he really lived in the present you know he was not somebody who just only wanted to tell tell great stories about old in his early days in Hollywood and so forth so I don't know I think that he was sort of always focused focused on whatever the next thing he was doing and just I don't think I think you say in the book that at some point I guess Diane Sawyer who was his wife said to him. You can't talk about the past anymore. No more anecdotes from now on tonight. He he directed that way too. I mean interesting. Yeah he This is something that the great director Elia Kazan sort of believed in to is kind of a great presider for Mike in in his relationship with actors. which is you kind of direct by sort of indirection by anecdote by revealing something about himself? You know Natalie Portman told us that you know when they were making the movie Obvi- closer they would spend two weeks not talking about blocking a scene or or even the characters but about the the the actors real love lives and romantic life. And Yeah I think Natalie Portman also said something along the lines of he would ask actors to name the moment in a scene and it was kind of a way of mapping out a player of film. It's funny for such a sophisticated guy. He seems to have really understood that a story only resonates if it taps into these most basic of human emotions motions. Where do you think that Mike Nichols God? His emotional intelligence from from his childhood really. Yeah I mean. He told his his friend. Renata Adler who kind of had a similar background on some Mike Mike's Parents fled Berlin with him. They actually came over I and he and his brother had come over by themselves but he told Renata Adler that when you're a refugee you can read people's minds it is early experienced. Just made him hyper attuned to human behavior. Because that's how how he needed to survive and it was something. He really carried with him for the rest of his life and that distinguishes all of his work I think and when did he come over to the US us from Germany from Germany Germany from Berlin in fact he was seven years old. I think his brother his little brother Robert Three three alone on this gigantic ship Called the Bremen which docked in New York from Berlin in fact Robert Nichols who became a physician. Dr Robert Nichols told us one of the the last echoes because Germany that they heard before boarding. The ship was Hitler's voice over the loudspeaker. Oh Wow you know and it. It always stayed with with especially Mike. Although he didn't talk about that much that they really just barely escaped with their lives. And it's interesting because you talk about how he kind of had two hits against him coming to America in the fifties because he was both Jewish was a German speaking Jew and so You know that was probably the least popular language in America and that point. That's right yes he's right in fact is just off of the Bremen. He's early on when his father came to pick them up. He saw the Hebrew letters in a in a shop window window and he asked his father. Is that legal here. So I mean I is on top of that. His He is it's kind of stricken with some. It's not fully clear what caused it. But he gets alopicia when he's a young boy a- all of his hair which becomes a lifelong condition that he has to deal with by kind of apply painstakingly applying wigs every morning and then his father dies when he's ten who had previously been a pretty successful doctor and so not only does he lose his father but they also kind lose their their their standing and the mother's forced to really struggle to make ends meet and they kind of standard of living really plummets and spends the rest of his adolescence in poverty essentially so it's a lot to overcome in in his early early life later in the book. A lot of people talk about an interesting period in his life where he became obsessed with money and he was just convinced that he was going broke even though he had made all these movies and all these shows that were you know just pouring money into his gophers yet. He thought that he was going to die. Broke and he just just with the people had to show him his finances and even that wouldn't convince him that he was secure. Yeah is that where that comes from some kind kind of like depression Europeans. Actually it's very common people who who had that kind of depression experiences children. The fear never goes away and that was definitely the case Jason with Mike and even though he was became addicted to this sleeping pill with these horrible side effects called Halcion Like a lot of people in show business at the time actually It the the the mania manifested itself in different ways with different different people and for him. It just brought out this kind of latent childhood fear of returning to the poverty of his youth. How about the baldness? I mean. He was bald his entire adult life or even before all of his hair all over his body and he had to wear apparently wigs into pays every day. Fact he I think you said that he had different to pay pretty much for every day of the week and they were always perfectly groomed. And all Latte. How do you think that shaped his personality? And maybe even some of his work well I mean it his brother Robert Nichols Nichols said. You can't understand my brother unless you understand the trauma of his losing all of his hair and we mean eyebrows everything everything yeah and You know which paste on in the morning as it was just it was just fundamental to to who who he was and it didn't stop him from being popular in school as the boy with the baseball cap. You know In fact I guess you can the psychiatrist but you can make the case that you know he needed to be charming and seductive as possible because there was was this sort of physical deficit in a way you know and and also this is a man who kind of worship beauty and was around. You know the the most beautiful people on the the planet You know Meryl Streep exactly exactly. Yeah and and I mean several people said you know we all have to create ourselves but in his case it was quite literal. I mean he literally had to create. I mean you know. His is not his original name and he's kind of putting on all the the he's dressing himself in the morning I up up to including his his hair and so forth so I think he he's just very aware of of He's just that side of human behavior and and it'd be kind of people creating themselves because he he was so dramatized case and I want to talk about the early early days of the creation of Mike Nichols He goes to college at the University of Chicago. And that's where he gets into Improv. At the very beginnings of Improv and he eventually eventually ended up co founding. What would become second city? What was it about Chicago at that time in the fifties and particularly you have see that made it a prime breeding ground for Improv? Well he actually was not involved in second city although there was he would often put that in his bio but Paul Sills was the CO founder of the compass end second city. So there's definitely alleged there. I mean the people who were at second city worshiped Mike and that also includes the founding cast of SNL. You Know Lorne. Michaels told us that the compass really kind of led directly to to the creation of SNL in certain ways but the your university Chicago is a very unique place. At the time it was had one of the youngest College Presidents in America Guy Robert Hutchins. who was just hyper intellectual? He got rid of the football team and basically reoriented what had been kind of a middling school Onto the great books program and the policy. Where you anybody could get in if they pass this test so you had some people who you know really young like in their fifteen year olds sixteen year olds also soldiers on the GI bill? Oh so you'd have somebody sixteen and somebody used thirty in the same classroom but basically the the the group who started this thing they were all just kind of hi very precocious group. They really read all these books. They started out doing all the classic plays and then they just kind of became their interest in being influenced owns by kind of you know Beckett and Brecht and things like that and I think they actually staged some. There was some in the first people to Sagebrecht in America But the the compasses was formed by these guys. Paul Sills and David Shepherd and they were shepherd's very political very guard. But they didn't they were. They did not intend for impromptu comic form and it was really Mike and Elena. Allison has the Shelley Berman. Just he's had his innate comic gifts who who made it a comic form. which is I think what many people think of it as today Eh? Yeah and I have to ask of course about the comedy team of Nichols and May and I just love the story of how he and Elaine may meet. I think that they briefly were introduced backstage once and I think someone warned warned him about her and then a few days later I think they run into each other and and that's when they really meet and it's almost like a perfect movie moment. How just everything seems to fall into place with them? Can you tell improvisational really no way train station where Elaine was already seated and And but you know I started in ways of improvise kind of spy spoof. You know where he said. May I sit here. You know and the lane would say if you wish as you know Like they were like it was an assignation of to to agents and yeah maybe that that routine eighteen by the way wound up on one of their records but Yeah they kind of improvise all the way home and they just were you know as their future. Future Manager Jack rollins would say ham and eggs. It was just like a match made in heaven from the very beginning and other people in the theater would say you know they true. Improvisation just means kind of being in the moment. Not You know you're not supposed to just go for a laugh but they were so verbally gifted and could just kind of these one liners would just come pouring out of them and in fact later they had this one when they left if the compass. And we're doing the nightclub circuit in New York and later on Broadway. They would close their act by taking requests from the audience and so they would ask for a first line in a last line and a style style shows. Just how highbrow these guys were hello and literate. They were because when they say style they mean the style the style of Shakespeare or the style of abstinence they would Tennessee Williams area. And that shows you in a way how the culture's changed because Julia Pfeiffer told told Ash of Y- you're not going to hear people if this were done today yell out in the style of Henry James Hostile you know. It's just AH forget it. It's not going to happen now. Their first sketch that really hit big was something called the teenagers. Why was that so groundbreaking in that era? Ashley loves that sketch. So he's so first of all You you if you and if you remember in the graduate when in the first scene where Benjamin is kind of you know rented this hotel room. And he's in there Ms Robinson he's feeling a little awkward and she takes a puffer cigarettes it and then he kisses her and then releases and she lets the smokeout after that bit of businesses actually from that team. It's a really it but basically I. It was considered very groundbreaking at the time because it was a recognizably human scene that was about Out Sexuality in a way that was really not done at the time. I mean. Let's if you think back to nineteen fifties television you know if any seen in a immune marital bedroom is. They're they're sleeping in separate beds with full Pajama sets and it just really didn't reflect people's real experience but the the way that they so that they're they're playing to teenagers in a car in the and he's kind of trying to get her to put out essentially but the it was done in a way that was so Y- funny but funny because it was so uncomfortably recognize you you recognize your own experience in what was being put on stage and the yeah and he he they were not afraid to show however in most embarrassing human moments you know. I mean in that sketch when and says you know but you don't don't respect me you know and he'll say and he said no no all respect you over his victory like crazy That wasn't done then. And also these other themes there another famous wonderful sketch you can see it on Youtube of the cheap funeral. You know this was the era. Also books like the American way of death and and was the loved one. You know these were these. These were areas where it's one thing in literature but to put them on Tel- in in early television or even in nightclubs is extraordinary. Neria probably the I mean one of their if maybe the signature sketch was the the rocket scientists on the phone with his mother. And in in a way that encapsulates the difference. What a revolution comedy? This was at the time because as so many people told us from you know woody Aland and Tom Lehrer like the previous generation were got you know guys like Bob. Hope Alan King who would make mother-in-law joke But couldn't make a joke about your mother and so that was a kind of a boom the punchline. What they were doing it was since they they didn't come from Vaudeville? The borscht belt they had a theater background so they were really doing these scenes. And you know. They're they're both kind of part part of this craze for Freudian analysis. News sweeping the eastern seaboard at the time. And so the that. Sketch the the the that they could do something about your own relationship with your mother. The woman who gave you live who was seen as sacrosanct figure in one thousand nine hundred thousand America and be so ruthless about it on you know both her and the sign and just so penetrating in terms ends of just the. The dysfunctional dynamic was really not anything that anybody had seen before that time. Yeah I guess it was sort of the invention mention of the archetype of the Jewish mom guilt trip out. Yeah and and you know that that sketch we learned in in in the book you know doing research for the book it really had its basis in Mike's relationship with his with his difficult if not impossible mother really yeah. In fact the the the first line of the sketch came from an actual call. He received from his mother which I don't know if you're familiar with the sketch begins. Hello and so anyway Mike. One day gets a call. He answers the phone and and this voice in the other end that says is hello. Mike this is your mother. Do you remember me. And it must have been such a departure from the traditional Tuxedo. Oh comics who worked in the nightclubs in the fifties and when I listened to old comedy albums I do find that Nichols and may are way more timeless than the other comedians of their era. Because it's tied to human emotions. Not Current Events Surrey topical things. You're a good company or he ears because Paul Simon feels as you do that that he said you know I used to worship Lenny Bruce. Lenny actually seems more dated to me he said than than than Nichols and May. Yeah what we're talking about the shift in comedy one thing Lorne Michaels told us was that so you know. He's is it. Whatever teenager in Canada at the time and said that of this group Nichols and may among them of Comedians that this is really the for the their their as opposed to the previous generation of Comedians? There where you had joke writers and performers these are writer performers. And it's a little that analogous in this is what Lauren said to what was going on in music. Where suddenly you've got these groups like the Beatles who are both writing and playing the songs and it just completely? It changed our expectations for kind of what it meant to be a comic and and he he really credits that to that. Being like the beginning of what led to SNL. Yeah I think Jack Rollins the entertainment manager in here who represented Woody Allen and Rob Robin Williams and Nichols and may a lot of big big big people he tells the story of how Woody Allen approached him and said. Hey you know I really really want to write for for Nicholson Yay. And he's like I'm sorry they the material exactly now I in fact I mean would he would. That's the So that meeting you know he says well would you represent me and and He says bronzes while we don't represent writers. But we'll we'll give it a try and woody would-i would kind of come in and read read material in the office in Jack Rounds. This found it so funny the way that he did it. Even though what he never thought of himself Salva's performer up until that point and he practically pushed him on stage. So you know the that's the beginning of what he's career is is really right there in that office him. I'm trying to is incredible. May We're going to take a quick break and then we'll be back with more when we come back in just a minute over fifteen years orest has been making purely mechanical watches in Holstein Switzerland. Staying aim true to a rich heritage. Oriss is one of the few Swiss watch companies to remain independently owned and operated because of that independence or as has the freedom to follow its own path. They're focused on bringing change for the better. 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She didn't want anything to get stale. You know she. She grew out of few improvisation. And that's why they. They weren't even though they appeared on early television show called omnibus. which was you snow? kind of helped make them household name but they weren't great in a way great on television she she baulked at it that she baulked at the the sameness of it the the repetition I mean he could have lived with it. I think But she made her very restless. Listen kind of CLAUSTROPHOBIC. Yeah in fact by Bob Newhart told us a story about so when they They take their nightclub back to On on Broadway. And it's his show directed by Arthur Penn and. He said that they needed to put their routines on paper. So that the lighting people would know you. Yeah and she comes over to Mike and says we can't do the sketch it's not funny and he says what are you talking about this one of our best routines and she says it's not funny. I just saw it on paper that that that kind of gives you a sense of what her attitude was. And after the break-up He goes through a little bit of a period of depression. And then he's hits it big because he teams up with Neil Simon and directs three monster hits on Broadway barefoot in the park the odd couple and plaza suite and I found something really interesting that Neil Simon inset in here he said. I'm paraphrasing here. But he said Nichols could find new depths of meaning in scripts that even he hadn't realized yeah his scripts. Yeah yeah he said he'll he is he's you know he'll never work with he. He was the best ever worked with. And you know that I mean I. It's important to point out by by the way that Neil Simon was not Neil Simon when Mike teamed up with them and he had he was on the show your show of shows or whatever TV writer and then he didn't is one play called. Come Blow Your Horn. which is you know was not a massive hit so it was really the the combination of sensibilities that that made the shows so phenomenal heads? I mean there is a point where they're all three. There are three of them running on Broadway at the same time which was totally unheard of. Wow yeah now he comes off of these monster hits on Broadway and goes to Hollywood to direct. Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? This was his first movie yet. He's able to get Jack Warner or to agree to give him six weeks of rehearsal which was totally unheard of in Hollywood and at one point Warner wants to make the film in color and Nichols insists on keeping it in black black and white. He gets away with it. Where did this guy? This first time director get that kind of Chutzpah he was you know incredibly willful and and he was also young but usually explain how he linked up with little well it also he had the tremendous good faith. Yes and cloud of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Okay you know The the An evening with Nichols and May. Hey and camelot wasn't it. We're kind of cheek by jowl on Broadway. And they would you know he and Burton and would still smokes in Schubert's alley now and And in fact we begin the the book with Within an an excerpt from which would burton diary where he does all the great figures that he knew Churchill and Cosso Costco and Somerset mom and even Edward all be you know who and he calls it the Burton stakes for sort of greatest personality. New and he kind of settled on decides. It's a tossup between Mike Mike Nicholls and Noel Coward they were just so yeah so dynamic and charismatic. Great wet but couldn't have been more different. I mean go a waspy you know. Gay Englishman an effigy Jewish immigrants from Central Europe. Who almost was obsessive over women although although the a Lotta people invoked coward with Mike because he was just such a Bon vivant he was so? Just the Zina sophistication then. He could speak in kind of these devastating epigrams which is a very all kind of know coward qualities. You Know Maureen Dowd in a way kinda summed it up perfectly. Yeah she said that Mike was a null coward figure with the Jersey Kozinski pass so he has a huge hit with. Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf and then he follows? How's it up with? Perhaps his best film graduate which he won an Oscar for but when he pitched around town. No Studio wanted to make the movie. Why not well? So Larry termine We actually just came from lunch with Just now but he larry's the one who optioned the book and he brought it to Mike before he ever directed a movie and So at the time just no studio media would take a chance on him. Essentially now while he's lying on the subject matter on him okay on Mike because he just wasn't well known enough and and so while he's still struggling to kind of lineup. The Money Mike gets the Virginia Woolf job because of his relationship with Liz and Dick and so by that point I guess it was enough but it was still really kind of an independent movie And you know he termine termine got this guy. He affectionately refers to as a Schlock meister. Joe Levine to put up the money basically and it was made. Hey for not a lot of money and made a hell of a lot of money on the on the other side so and he originally wanted Redford for the lead. Novelist in Hoffman. Yeah and terrible. Passer auditioned together. I mean it would've made more sense if they had if they stuck to the original idea of the book about these actually actually wasps from blonde loss from Pasadena. Okay Yeah Yeah But you know they decided to sort of flip it you know Mike Buck Yeah. It's kind of funny that you have a Jewish director Jewish writer and a Jewish star making a movie about wasps in Pasadena. Exactly Zaken. You know he they don't change they don't change the names of the characters or anything like that. They don't make any but just by casting this a Jewish actor and I you know not Paul Newman. Either I mean this guy is. Nobody's idea of leading man at the time including his own Yeah he turned down the part hearted I because he said Look Mr Nichols WanNa guy like Robert Redford and Nichols said. You don't WanNa do it because you're Jewish and Hoffman said. Yeah and Nichols said well. Well maybe Benjamin Jewish inside and those that that kind of that was a complete. I mean that's really not in the book and it Really Eliya. It would have been such different movie if he had gone with the traditional leading man. Type that anybody else would have gone with Um but he just by by putting hate a more a guy like off in that part he just made he closed the distance between the I and the characters instead of just looking at some you know teen idol on the silver screen this is a guy who they kinda conceal themselves in a little a little bit and and it just changed and changed everything. Yeah Yeah now after that he does Joseph Hellers catch twenty two. He brings that to the a big screen He Casts Orson Welles in the film. What was it like working with such a big personality and someone who thought that he and perhaps rightly so that he was the grace director of all time? Yeah well apparently. It was kind of hellish Thorson. Well first of all in every conceivable way larger than life you know and larger than anyone else And he thought he should be directing the movie and finally he got. So what kind of disgusted. He did something that he would have been appalled to do with any other. Wouldn't have allowed it then. The other director. which is I think it was the scene where he's either? You know pinning a metal on you know and I guess what would be a naked your serian anyway. He actually had mike give him the the line readings off camera. I'll just do it exactly like you. You tell me to you know so it it was really impossible and then I think Bob Newhart told me. He had a scene in which I'm probably going up but but the idea was anyway he was so I don't think it ever made it to the screen. We supposed to be sort of practically under jeep. And he kind of realized that Orson Welles was sitting on it. You know sitting on the jeep was probably made it twice as heavy. It's something like that anyway. So it was kind of a mixed blessing to have to have I mean mean and when they weren't shooting So was there for two weeks. Basically because he demanded that all his scenes shot in sequence and He when when the cameras were enrolling Austin Pendleton who was a totem whose son I believe in the movie? Yeah he's just toss. He's he described as being like tossing fish to a seal where they were. Just throw out of the name of another director and see what he would say. And so you know they would they'd say of Stanley Kubrick and or smells just go online about how overrated he was and how he would. He wanted to teach class just so he could show his students every everything that was wrong about paths of glory and said Oh two thousand one just come out and he said I'll have likes to short. I'm not going to go see that. And he said finally Mike said Orson. Promise me you will not come to see this movie when it's finished you know if if you'll indulge me you know Bob Newhart spoke to us. He wasn't known as an actor at all. You know there's another interesting compelling kind of choice you know casting choice and but Mike did ask just as he asked Garfunkel. You know to to become an actor way and He he asked Bob Newhart to to play a Major Major and Bob Newhart says to us. I was really surprised that Mike wanted me in. Catch twenty two because you surrounded by really great actors. Alan Arkin Jon voight Orson Person Wells. Which had Benjamin Paul Apprentice and I was a stand up comic? I wasn't known as an actor so I took that as a compliment. They asked me to play major major and we went down to Gama's Mexico where they built an airfield over the Sea of Cortez and curiously enough newhart was also offered a part in mash which was the more really a kind of undid. The attention paid to To catch twenty two but he turned it down because he felt kind of loyalty to Mike. Who had who had asked him and this is fascinating? I remember one of the first things was mike goddess altogether the cast and crew. And he said you have to understand that you are figments of your sorry Arians imagination which was certainly a departure from the book. I just played it for laughs. But then the making of the movie started to take on kind of surreal quality eighty and so many people l. like Bob Newhart and others talk about. Just how much fun. It was to work with him. And what a happy experience. It always always was it almost sounds like doing a movie or a play with Mike Nichols was Kinda like attending this really great month or two long dinner party with them. Yes that's well said The I mean not not wasn't always joy. If things is people were screwing up or or you know not meeting their marks. He could be pretty withering but if people kind of really pitched in then yes. It was a great experience. I think that comes out with a working girl. I guess at some point You say that Melanie Griffith. Are Melanie. Griffith says that she showed up drunk on set and he actually asked her to pay. Think something. Like what eighty thousand dollars simplisafe's shooting and and they and they felt they had to punish or or there had to be a consequence and it cost her Eighty thousand dollars thirty years ago. You know still a lot of money but I mean and she kind of learned a lesson from it. I mean they. You know Yes she she credits that as being a real turning point her kind of struggle with substance abuse yeah and on the other hand he could have ratted her out to the studio and he chose to ask her to pay that instead of ratting her out to the studio which that would have ended her career have done that but he he could be and was his entire life ruthless about decisions affecting his his work stage in film work. Yeah now I have to ask about the woman who was his fourth wife. Now his widow and the love of his life TV news anchor. Diane Sawyer Pantley. He was obsessed with her even before they met right. That's right yeah He you know he taught Tom Styron William Sirens Son told story about. Mike was over at their house in Roxbury Connecticut and suddenly sixty minutes comes on. This is right when she had just joined the show and he was just kind of you know thrown thrown back in his chair as says the most beautiful woman I've ever seen and so Bobby greenhut he who produced. Use a number of Mike's Movies said that he was having lunch with Mike or something and Mike said so. You know I just had a date with Diane Sawyer and Bobby Green has said in. I'm good for you. Do you get any but anyway. Yeah I mean it really was that he's a guy so I mean we You Know Doug Wick. The producer working girl said that that Mike had this real romantic side which comes out in that movie which he made while they were going out and so but you know this guy who also made carnal knowledge in heartburn. Some of the really kind of most You know hard to watch movies about this. The horrible ways men and women can treat each other But he he said to many people well he he kind of finally got it right with her and and you know look you. They were married for how many years so well I mean the American died five years ago and some you know he described himself as As Pinocchio But Pinocchio who became a real boy you know and and Candy Bergens other people called it the Diane effect on his on his personality that it made her made him a better. Nicer Person Peggy Noonan you know the columnists urines and speechwriter for Reagan This is Peggy. Noonan I said to Diane ones who were talking about marriage and she had by that point been married long happily and I said Oh Diane. Don't you think you were made to remarried. And she said No. I don't think I would ever have been married if I hadn't met Mike. Wow now she is one of the few people who didn't participate in the book consuming that you did approach her though yes well. We certainly couldn't have done this book without her in a way her a kind of benediction addiction. You know a really Yeah the example we give is Samuel. Beckett's response to his biographer deirdre Bair She wrote him called She Sir Young writer and he basically said. I'm not going to help you but I'm also not going to hinder you and at the beginning this was. I think Diane's approach approach but when we really needed her When we needed her to go deep in in our into our bench and find somebody that we wanted to talk to she she was she was willing to be? Yeah interesting now. He had this rather charmed life both in terms of the people. He's rounded himself with but also just the lavishness and the style with which Mike Nichols lived. What was it like to be? Mike Nichols I wish I know or You you. You met him several times. Well the candy. Bergen said that he really you know. No one really lives like that anymore. But he did live like a prince. I mean You know he he. He bought and sold Arabian horses on. And we'd have kind of beautifully lit and choreographed Horse shows you know To horse ranches you know one in Santa Barbara and the other was in Connecticut and An and are a quite an art collector. Oh I in fact I say quickly. An anecdote was on non. The book involve me I was at their home home and I thought I would kind of show off and there was a painting hanging in the bathroom or or right in front of the new way to the bathroom and I came back and said you know that really reminds me of of It's I forgot artist's name now. All my proper nouns are going going somewhere to die but I might have been a RONCO. Yeah you know it really reminds me of a Rothko and well I hope so because because it is his longtime assistant director told the story that they're having some meeting in production phase of some movie and He was kind of meeting with production designer and trying to explain what he wanted for the Color Palette of the movie in sort of struggling to find the words and so he says to these director. Just bringing bring in the small Matisse story really extraordinary The the way the way the way that he that he lived and it's ironic because at some point I forget who says this but someone recalls him saying I'd love to know what it's like to be rich. He always felt that he needed more and he just I wanted to be able to acquire so many things the you think that he agreed to do some films just for the money that he may be later regretted. Certainly there are some people who told us that and you know those people who said that they really only said in in a spirit of disappointment because they knew they just felt he. There's nobody more capable table and more brilliant and it Kinda hurt them when they felt like he was being hit compromise a little bit in his his creative judgments I mean just to give an example example He he was originally supposed to direct remains of the day. And and and Might even he has. He asked the studio media for twenty five million to make the movie at the nowadays. In the era of like three hundred million it doesn't sound like much but it was also for merchant i. This is a lot of money runway. More than anybody else would have made that movie for. And so he he is a with his friend. John Kelly who the the studio head of the time and John Kelly is. Let me ask you. Does it make you nervous. Remains the day twenty five million and Mike Says I. I can't sleep at night and he says well. Why don't you just get out of it? Then you know. Because I'm telling you the studio would rather you do wolf. And so that's basically what you wind up producing directing wealth. And you know that I don't know if that was a great choice so But but even though he I certainly we're not Making making the case that his his filmography is without blemish. But at the same time he was able to he knew when something wasn't working and invert ver- in over and over again kind of coming off of a failure would would in a way lead to his next triumph with his probably one of his most disastrous movies onset and Lee successful was What planet you from? which that Garry shandling wrote and starred pardon the did not get along on said and and it just you know it was not a happy experience for him? He felt he kinda gotten talked into doing the movie of Although of course as you know his choice in the end but it was that that kind of led him to do start working at. HBO and I with wit and and then with angels in America and kind of a real rebirth to his career. Mom You know he he he did he. Those jobs that paid paid a lot less than the kind of commercials doing but it was important to him to find to get back in touch with the the reason that he he was doing this work in the first place because it wasn't all about money for him. Some of his final movies were his best. Yeah I am and also by the way he he You know as somebody told us a lot of directors used theater as a steppingstone to get to Hollywood with Mike that was a parallel career. All the way through and That was not about money because the money was not as big as it was in the movies but that was just a you know a kind of a love affair affair that that never remained undimmed till the end in fact some of his finest work at the you know his death of a salesman. Production was was a real kind kind of high point right away more often. Yeah and it was really interesting. Casting at the time was exactly younger than the role is written. I mean frank rich said that Just nobody would have cast. Dustin Hoffman in the graduate heat. Nobody would have felt Phil Hoffman. Was Ready for for salesman and it. It's kind of call back back to what God Mike Interested in theater in the first place because he saw I believe the second. Ever performance of that show The original originally Kazan directed production when he was a teenager and he was just completely kind of changes life. Eventually I mean we were also interested in in in our book not about the glittering great success you know which he had but also how did he handle failure and disappointment and and you know I in a way. That's what the title is about. You know this Something was kind of a motto of his. When things didn't really go well you know and And Joe PAPP the creator of the Public Theater Producer Said of Mike early career said to someone you know Mike. Nicholls is not the success and the person said why not this is after some tremendous success and he says well because he hasn't had a failure yet and and his His brother Robert Nichols told us that when when they asked about it he thought for quite a while without a comment and Said said you know it's true you have to prove yourself by rising from the ashes it's why he called his production company acres productions you know and he sailed very close to the sun at the beginning of his career but he but he did he kept at it you know oh you. Reinvented himself many times and kept you know he would ask coming back from from the ashes exactly well before we wrap up here Mike Nichols just did everything with style and his final weeks on this planet were no exception. Really I. And I think there's something wonderfully constructive in here about how. He went out in the final weeks before he died. Can you tell us a little about that. His last Birthday for example he. He died two weeks after his last birthday and Christine Baranowski who we'd worked with I in the real thing on Broadway in Nineteen eighty-four for Tom Stop called him up and I've got a few days off from the good wife can't let me take you out to didn't lunch for your birthday. And so you said Great. So then she. She called called up Cynthia Nixon who is also in the real thing and said. Why don't you come? She said great one in Cincy said. Why don't you call would be 'cause he had discovered what be that year and and took her to Broadway and and Glenn Close? WHO's also in the real thing wound up coming? She mic shows of the restaurant. And here are these four actresses. This is that he directed in the year. Nineteen eighty fourth. which is thirty years before this birthday Kind of you know all gathering to to wish from a happy birthday and she said the lunch went on for like four hours or something and He I just you know he really went out with a full dance card. Yeah you got all these lunches. Apparently with friends just connecting with people laughing. Talking for hours became a running joke with Asha myself. That we one of I would interview someone like Tom. Stoppard or the artist Eric Fischl or it would always be you know wait. He just had lunch with Mike a a week before he died in a while. He Sean said you know it's a it's a fortunate thing when you can die in a good mood Um well once again. The book is called life is in everything. Mike Nichols as remembered by one hundred and fifty of his closest friends. Sam Cash ner and Ash Carter. Thanks for talking with me thank you it was a pleasure thank you thanks again. The Ash Carter Order and Sam cash for coming on the podcast order their new book life. Isn't everything Mike Nichols. As remembered by one hundred and fifty of his closest friends the Amazon audible or wherever books are sold. If you enjoyed. Today's podcast be sure to subscribe to us on Apple podcasts and rate and review. US while you're there five star ratings detailed reviews or one of the best ways for new listeners to discover the show you can also follow us on facebook or on twitter at At kick ASS news pod recommend us to your friends on your social media. Rumour Funds Duff visit kick ASS News Dot Com and I welcome your comments this questions and suggestions at comments at kick ASS news dot com for now. I'm Ben Mathis and thanks for listening to kick ASS news uh

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