Actors, writers, directors, critics, and producers remember a beloved friend.
Esquire editor Carter and Vanity Fair contributing editor Kashner (When I Was Cool: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School, 2004, etc.) bring together reminiscences about filmmaker, director, and comedian Mike Nichols (1931-2014), gleaned from interview transcripts and conversations with more than 100 of his famous friends, including Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Bob Newhart, Jules Feiffer, Cynthia Nixon, and Tom Hanks. Their remarks and anecdotes, organized to chronicle Nichols’ life and career, cohere into a candid, intimate portrayal of a man they loved and admired. “I was always in awe of Mike,” Woody Allen admitted, for both his talent and charm. Many echoed Anjelica Huston in remarking on his “incredible capacity for friendship that makes you think you’re absolutely unique.” Candice Bergen, who found him intimidating at first, praised him for trying to make everyone feel comfortable: “He paid attention to you, which people of success and achievement and intellect rarely do.” Nichols long struggled with feeling like an outsider. Born Igor Mikhail Peschkowsky, he left Germany with his family in 1939, knowing no English. When he was 5, probably in response to illness, he lost all his hair, an affliction that deeply embarrassed him; as an adult, he wore specially made hair and eyebrow pieces. His career began as an entertainer; friends recall his synergy with Elaine May, who “liberated Mike’s unconscious” to inform their “side-splitting and irresistible” comedy improvisations. “God, they’re amazing,” Robin Williams once remarked. Nichols fell into depression after their split, until he was lured into directing, teaming with Neil Simon for Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple. “Mike had a fabulous gift for staging, an instinct for what would work on Broadway,” Allen recalled, and a sure eye for choosing scripts and casts: Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, for example, and Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. Nichols’ attitudes about money, fame, art, and marriage all emerge from the contributors’ wide-ranging recollections.
A warmhearted, revelatory composite portrait.