Mike Nichols burst onto the scene as a wunderkind: while still in his twenties, he was half of a hit improv duo with Elaine May that was the talk of the country.
Next, he directed four consecutive hit plays, won back-to-back Tonys, ushered in a new era of Hollywood moviemaking with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and followed it with The Graduate, which won him an Oscar and became the third highest-grossing movie ever. At thirty-five, he lived in a three-story Central Park West penthouse, drove a Rolls-Royce, collected Arabian horses, and counted Jacqueline Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Leonard Bernstein, and Richard Avedon as friends.
Where he arrived is even more astonishing given where he had begun born Igor Peschkowsky to a Jewish couple in Berlin in 1931, he and his younger brother were sent to America on a ship in 1939. The young immigrant boy caught very few breaks. He was bullied and ostracized—an allergic reaction had rendered him permanently hairless—and his father died when he was just twelve, leaving his mother alone and overwhelmed.
The gulf between these two sets of facts explains a great deal about Nichols’s transformation from lonely outsider to the center of more than one cultural universe—the acute powers of observation that first made him famous; the nourishment he drew from his creative partnerships, most enduringly with May; his unquenchable drive; his hunger for security and status; and the depressions and self-medications that brought him to terrible lows. It would take decades for him to come to grips with his demons.
In his new book, Mike Nichols—A Life, Mark Harris explores, with vivid detail and insight, the life, work, struggle, and passion of an artist and man in constant motion giving an intimate and evenhanded accounting of success and failure. Among the 250 people Harris interviewed: Elaine May, Meryl Streep, Stephen Sondheim, Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Tom Hanks, Candice Bergen, Emma Thompson, Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Lorne Michaels, and Gloria Steinem.
Join us for this Master Class on one of the most richly interesting, complicated, and consequential figures the worlds of theater and motion pictures have ever seen.
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