Mike Nichols: A Director Who Engaged in All Sides of the Entertainment Business

Escaping from Nazi Germany as a 7-year-old in 1939, the dramatic stage was set for Mike Nichols early on in life. His family fled to New York City, where Nichols lived until attending school at the University of Chicago where he met Elaine May, a fellow thespian who would help launch his stint as an actor/comedian under the duo Nichols and May.

Nichols and May
Nichols and May
After the duo dissolved, Nichols went to Canada to direct The Importance of Being Earnest for the stage. By 1963, with his direction of Barefoot in the Park, it seemed Nichols was firmly ensconced in the profession of theater directing. After winning multiple Tony Awards for his plays, however, Hollywood came a-knockin’ in 1966 with the offer to direct Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? After its critical and commercial success, Nichols followed it up with another classic, 1967’s The Graduate.
Promo poster for Nichols' debut film
Promo poster for Nichols’ debut film
Riding high in the early 70s with Catch-22 and Carnal Knowledge, Nichols took a tumble with 1975’s The Fortune, starring Jack Nicholson. But just when people had written him off as having exhausted his talent, he came back strong with 1983’s Silkwood, starring Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell and, most importantly, Cher. The iconic nature of his films didn’t stop in the 90s either. With 1996’s The Birdcage, Nichols proved himself more relevant than ever.
Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in The Birdcage
Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in The Birdcage
His work continued to impress in the 00s, with 2004’s Closer being arguably one of the best movies he ever made and serving as something of a horror story about love. His never-waning love of the theater also prospered with TV adaptations of Angels in America and Wit for HBO. And so, when it gets right down to it, what made Nichols great was his involvement at one point or another in every facet of the business he was working in: from acting and producing to writing and directing, Nichols did it all. Which is just part of the reason he will be sorely missed by the entertainment world.