I don’t think there’s been a tribute to Mike Nichols over the past two days that hasn’t included the phrase “Hollywood legend.” I will not break code here. The man was a Hollywood legend.
Born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin in 1931 (Jeebus what a terrible way to begin life, no offense), the young Nichols traveled to the United States as a seven year old with only his three-year-old brother, meeting their father who had fled Nazi persecution months earlier. His mother would join the family a year later, escaping through Italy.
Despite this somewhat rough beginning, Nichols found his way in the United States, succeeding in the most American of ways: abandoning the family business to pursue a career in acting. (Nichols’s father was a physician and his son quickly abandoned his premed program at the University of Chicago.)
The rest of the story is, as the man, Hollywood legend. First, work and eventually success as a stage actor and director, an acclaimed comedy career (teamed mostly with fellow legend Elaine May), then one of the most successful directorial careers in Hollywood history. His films? A total of 42 Oscar nominations and seven wins.
Nichols’s most well-known film, 1967’s The Graduate, won him an Academy Award for Best Director at the age of 36. Not one to rest on his laurels, Nichols directed the envelope-pushing Carnal Knowledge four years later, and classics including Regarding Henry, Wolf, and The Birdcage in the 1990s. At the age of 74 Nichols directed a sleeper pick as one of my all-time favorites, 2007’s Charlie Wilson’s War. And two years ago, into his eighties? Broadway production of Death of a Salesman.
It was Nichols’s stage work that brought him early acclaim and perhaps the reason I respect him most. He’s a real director, not just a movie director. An actor too, and a comedian.
And a Hollywood legend.