Mike Nichols

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Mike Nichols
Still portrait Mike Nichols.jpg
c. 1970
Born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky
(1931-11-06) November 6, 1931 (age 82)
Berlin, Weimar Germany
Occupation Film director, theatrical director, comedian
Years active 1955–present
Spouse(s) Patricia Scott
(m. 1957–1960)
Margo Callas
(m. 1963–1974; 1 child)
Annabel Davis-Goff
(1975–1986; 2 children)
Diane Sawyer
(m. 1988–present)
Academy Awards
Best Director
1968 The Graduate
Emmy Awards
Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special
2001 Wit
2004 Angels in America
Outstanding Miniseries
2004 Angels in America
Outstanding Made for Television Movie
2001 Wit
Tony Awards
Best Direction of a Play
1964 Barefoot in the Park
1965 The Odd Couple
1968 Plaza Suite
1972 The Prisoner of Second Avenue
1984 The Real Thing
2012 Death of a Salesman
Best Direction of a Musical
2005 Spamalot
Best Musical
1977 Annie
Best Play
1984 The Real Thing
Golden Globe Awards
Best Director
1968 The Graduate
AFI Awards
AFI Life Achievement Award
Grammy Awards
Best Comedy Album
1961 An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May

Mike Nichols (born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky; November 6, 1931) is a German-born American television, stage and film director, writer, producer and comedian. He began his career in the 1950s with the improv troupe, the Compass Players, predecessor of the Second City in Chicago and as one half of the comedy duo Nichols and May, along with Elaine May. May was also in the Compass. In 1968 he won the Academy Award for Best Director for the film The Graduate. His other noteworthy films include Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, Silkwood, Working Girl, The Birdcage, Closer, Charlie Wilson's War, and the TV mini-series Angels in America. He also staged the original theatrical productions of Barefoot in the Park, Luv, The Odd Couple and Spamalot.

Nichols is one of a small group of people who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award. His other honors include the Lincoln Center Gala Tribute in 1999, the National Medal of Arts in 2001,[1] the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and the AFI Life Achievement Award in 2010.

Early life and education[edit]

Mike Nichols was born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky[2] in Berlin, Germany, the son of Brigitte (née Landauer) and Paul Peschkowsky, a physician.[2][3] His father was born in Vienna, Austria, to a Russian Jewish immigrant family. Nichols' father's family had been wealthy and lived in Siberia, leaving after the Russian Revolution, and settling in Germany around 1920.[2] Nichols' mother's family were German Jews.[2] His maternal grandparents were anarchist Gustav Landauer and author Hedwig Lachmann. Nichols is a third cousin twice removed of scientist Albert Einstein, through Nichols' mother.[2]

In April 1938, when the Nazis were arresting Jews in Berlin, seven-year-old Michael and his three-year-old brother Robert were sent alone to the United States to meet up with their father, who had fled months earlier. His mother eventually joined the family, escaping through Italy in 1940.[4] The family moved to New York City on April 28, 1939.[2][5] His father, whose original Russian name was Pavel Nikolaevich Peschkowsky, changed his name to Paul Nichols, Nichols derived from his Russian patronymic, and set up a successful medical practice in Manhattan, enabling the family to live near Central Park.[6][7]

Nichols became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1944 and attended public elementary school in Manhattan (PS 87).[8] After graduating from the Walden School, a private progressive school on Central Park West, Nichols briefly attended New York University before dropping out. In 1950, he enrolled in the pre-med program at the University of Chicago.[7]

While attending the University of Chicago in the 1950s, Nichols began skipping class to attend theatrical activities. Nichols first met Elaine May at this time when she criticized his acting in a performance of August Strindberg's Miss Julie. At the University, Nichols made his theatrical debut as a director with a performance of William Butler Yeats' Purgatory.[7] Also there he met Susan Sontag (then known as Susan Rosenblatt), who considered Nichols her "best friend." [9] In 1954, Nichols dropped out of the University of Chicago and moved back to New York City, where he was accepted into the Actors Studio and studied under Lee Strasberg.

Nichols and May[edit]

In 1955 Nichols was invited to join the Compass Players, which was predecessor to Chicago's Second City and whose members included Elaine May, Shelley Berman, Del Close, and Nancy Ponder,[7][10] directed by Paul Sills.

Nichols moved back to Chicago to perform comedy with Compass and started doing improvisational routines with Elaine May, which led to the formation of the comedy duo Nichols and May in 1958. They gradually gained popularity, appearing in nightclubs and on radio. They released three best-selling records, made guest appearances on several television programs and won the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album.

In 1960 Nichols and May opened the Broadway show An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May, directed by Arthur Penn. In the show they were accompanied by Chicago pianist Marty Rubenstein, host of the television show Marty's Place and the musical director at Mister Kelly's. Personal idiosyncrasies and tensions eventually drove the duo apart to pursue other projects in 1961. They later reconciled and worked together many times, such as on the unsuccessful A Matter of Position, a play written by May and starring Nichols. May scripted Nichols films The Birdcage and Primary Colors. They appeared together at President Jimmy Carter's inaugural gala and in a 1980 New Haven stage revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Swoosie Kurtz and James Naughton.[11]

Career as a director[edit]


Theater program from 1961

After the professional split with May, Nichols went to Vancouver, B.C., to pursue his theatrical directing career. He directed a production of The Importance of Being Earnest and acted in a production of George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan.[7]

In 1963, Nichols was chosen to direct Neil Simon's Barefoot In The Park. He realized almost at once that directing was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Barefoot in the Park was a blockbuster hit, running for 1530 performances and earning Nichols a Tony Award for his direction.[7] This began a series of highly successful plays on Broadway (often from works by Simon) that would establish his reputation. After an off-Broadway production of Ann Jellicoe's The Knack, Nichols directed Murray Schisgal's play Luv in 1964. Again the show was a hit and Nichols won a Tony Award (shared with The Odd Couple). In 1965 he directed another play by Neil Simon, The Odd Couple. The original production starred Art Carney as Felix Ungar and Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison. The play ran for 966 performances and won Tony Awards for Nichols, Simon and Matthau.[7] Overall, Nichols has won eight Tony Awards: six for Best Director of either a play or a musical, one for Best Play and one for Best Musical.

Elaine May, Mike Nichols and Dorothy Loudon (r.) in 1959

By 1966, Nichols was a star director and Time magazine called him a superstar and "the most in-demand director in the American theatre."[7] Though he had no experience in filmmaking, Warner Bros. invited Nichols to direct a screen adaptation of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The film was a huge success, grossing $14.5 million, winning five Academy Awards with thirteen nominations (including Nichols first nomination for Best Director), three BAFTA Awards, and was critically acclaimed, with critics calling Nichols "the new Orson Welles."[7]

After his successful directorial debut, Nichols returned to Broadway to direct The Apple Tree, starring Second City alumna, Barbara Harris, before starting production on his second film, The Graduate (1967) starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross. On its initial release The Graduate grossed $50 million, making it both the highest grossing film of 1967 and one of the highest grossing films in history up to that date. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography. Mike Nichols won the Academy Award for Best Director.

Nichols then returned to the Broadway stage with a revival of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes in 1967, which ran for 100 performances. He then directed Neil Simon's Plaza Suite in 1968, earning him another Tony Award for Best Director. He also directed the short film Teach Me! in 1968, which starred actress Sandy Dennis.


At the height of his success and fame, Mike Nichols next film was a big-budget adaptation of Joseph Heller's famous novel Catch-22, released in 1970. Nichols then directed the 1971 film Carnal Knowledge starring Jack Nicholson, Ann-Margret, Art Garfunkel and Candice Bergen. The film grossed $12.3 million but was highly controversial upon release because of the casual and blunt depiction of sexual intercourse.

Nichols then returned to Broadway to direct Neil Simon's The Prisoner of Second Avenue in 1971. The play won Nichols another Tony Award for Best Director. In 1973 Nichols directed a revival of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya on Broadway starring George C. Scott and with a new translation written by himself and Albert Todd.[7]

In 1973 Nichols directed The Day of the Dolphin starring George C. Scott, based on the novel A Sentient Animal by Robert Merle and adapted by Buck Henry. The film was not successful financially and received mixed reviews from critics.[7]

In 1975 Nichols directed The Fortune starring Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Stockard Channing. The film was a financial failure and received mostly negative reviews. Nichols has described it as "a leap into extremes of behavior and last resorts. It's about people so innocent that they don't know when you kill someone she dies. It's like kids playing bang-bang." It was Nichols last feature narrative film for eight years.[7]

Nichols then returned to the stage with two moderately successful productions in 1976. David Rabe's Streamers opened in April and ran for 478 performances. Trevor Griffiths's Comedians ran for 145 performances.

Also in 1976 Nichols worked as Executive Producer to create the television sitcom Family for ABC. The series ran until 1980.

Nichols was a breeder of multi-national winning Polish Arabian horses, working with others to import and improve American stables. In 1976 Nichols collaborated with other breeders/trainers for an auction in Bridgewater, CT that generated over $900,000. In attendance were Jackie Kennedy, Candice Bergen, Warren Beatty and David Soul, amongst other celebrities.

In 1977 Nichols produced the original Broadway production of the hugely successful musical Annie, it ran for 2,377 performances until 1983. Nichols won the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Later in 1977, Nichols directed D.L. Coburn's The Gin Game. The play ran for 517 performances and won a Tony Award for Best Actress for Jessica Tandy.


In 1980 Nichols directed the documentary Gilda Live, a filmed performance of comedian Gilda Radner's one-woman show Gilda Radner Live on Broadway. It was released at the same time as the album of the show, both of which were successful.

Nichols then returned to the Broadway stage with two unsuccessful shows. Billy Bishop Goes to War opened in 1980 and closed after only twelve performances. In 1981 Nichols directed Neil Simon's Fools, which closed after forty performances.

Nichols career seemed to rebound in 1983 with the film Silkwood starring Meryl Streep, Cher and Kurt Russell, based on the life of whistleblower Karen Silkwood. The film was a financial and critical success, earning $35 million at the box office. Film critic Vincent Canby called it "the most serious work Mike Nichols has yet done."[7] The film received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Director for Nichols.

Later that year Nichols and Peter Stone helped to fix up and rewrite the musical My One and Only just days before its Boston premiere. The show eventually went to Broadway and ran for 767 performances, winning Tony Awards for Best Actor, Best Choreography (both for Tommy Tune) and best Supporting Actor (Charles "Honi" Coles).[12]

In 1984 Nichols directed the Broadway premiere of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing. The New York Times critic Frank Rich wrote that "The Broadway version of The Real Thing - a substantial revision of the original London production - is not only Mr. Stoppard's most moving play, but also the most bracing play that anyone has written about love and marriage in years."[13] The play was nominated for seven Tony Awards and won five, including a Best Director Tony for Nichols.

Nichols quickly followed this success with the Broadway premiere of David Rabe's Hurlyburly, also in 1984. It was performed just two blocks away from the theater showing The Real Thing. It was nominated for three Tony Awards and won Best Actress for Judith Ivey.[7]

In 1983 Nichols had seen comedian Whoopi Goldberg's one woman show The Spook Show and decided to help Goldberg expand it. Goldberg's self-titled Broadway show opened in October 1984 and ran for 156 performances. It also led to Goldberg's film career.

In 1986 Nichols directed the Broadway premiere of Andrew Bergman's Social Security. The show ran for 188 performances. That same year Nichols made the film Heartburn starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. The film earned $25 million at the box office and got mixed reviews.

In 1988 Nichols completed two feature films. The first was an adaptation of Neil Simon's autobiographical stage play Biloxi Blues starring Matthew Broderick. The film received mixed critical reviews, but earned over $51 million worldwide.

Later in 1988 Nichols directed one of his most successful films, Working Girl starring Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver. Working Girl was a huge hit upon its release, earning $103 million worldwide. It also received mostly positive reviews from critics with an 84% rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a 73 metascore at Metacritic. It was nominated for six Academy Awards (including Best Director for Nichols) and won the Academy Award for Best Song for Carly Simon's "Let the River Run".


Nichols' other films include Postcards from the Edge (1990) starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine; Regarding Henry (1991) starring Harrison Ford; Wolf (1994) starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer; and Primary Colors (1998) starring John Travolta and Emma Thompson. He also directed The Birdcage (1996) starring Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest; the film is an American remake of the 1978 French film La Cage aux Folles. Both The Birdcage and Primary Colors were written by Nichols's comedy duo partner from the '50's Elaine May.


In the 2000s Nichols directed the films What Planet Are You From? (2000), Closer (2004) and Charlie Wilson's War (2007). He directed Wit and Angels in America for television.

He's also won Emmy Awards for his direction of Wit (2001) and Angels in America (2003).[14]

Nichols is a contributing blogger at The Huffington Post. He's also a co-founder of The New Actors Workshop in New York City, where he occasionally teaches.[15] In addition, he remains active in the Directors Guild of America, having interviewed fellow film director Bennett Miller on stage in October 2011 after the Guild's screening of Miller's Moneyball[16]


In 2012, Nichols won the Best Direction of a Play Tony Award for Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. In April 2013, it was announced that he will direct Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz in a Broadway revival of Harold Pinter's Betrayal. The play is scheduled to begin its limited run on October 1 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, opening on November 3 through January 5, 2014.[17] Nichols is also in talks to direct a film adaptation of Jonathan Tropper's novel One Last Thing Before I Go. The film is being produced by J.J. Abrams, who previously wrote the Nichols-directed film Regarding Henry (1991).[18]

Personal life[edit]

Nichols has been married four times. His first wife was Patricia Scott; they were married from 1957 to 1960. He was married to Margo Callas from 1963 to 1974, producing a daughter, Daisy Nichols. His third marriage, to Annabel Davis-Goff, produced two children, Max Nichols and Jenny Nichols. They were divorced in 1986. He married ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer on April 29, 1988.

According to research done by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of Harvard University, in 2010 for the PBS series Faces of America, Nichols' grandfather, Gustav Landauer, was a leading theorist on anarchism in the early 20th century and Nichols is related to Albert Einstein who was a third cousin on his mother's side.[4]

Among Nichols' personal pursuits is a lifelong interest in Arabian horses.[19][20] From 1968−2004, he owned a farm in Connecticut and was a noted horse breeder.[21] Over the years, he also imported quality Arabian horses from Poland, some of which later resold for record-setting prices.[22]


Broadway stage productions[edit]


Year Film Oscar
1966 Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 13 5
1967 The Graduate 7 1
1968 Teach Me!
1970 Catch-22
1971 Carnal Knowledge 1
1973 The Day of the Dolphin 2
1975 The Fortune
1980 Gilda Live
1983 Silkwood 5
1986 Heartburn
1988 Biloxi Blues
Working Girl 6 1
1990 Postcards from the Edge 2
1991 Regarding Henry
1994 Wolf
1996 The Birdcage 1
1998 Primary Colors 2
2000 What Planet Are You From?
2001 Wit
2003 Angels in America
2004 Closer 2
2007 Charlie Wilson's War 1


Awards and honors[edit]


  1. ^ Lifetime Honors - National Medal of Arts
  2. ^ a b c d e f Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. (2010). Faces of America: How 12 Extraordinary People Discovered Their Pasts. pp. 14–33. 
  3. ^ "Mike Nichols - Films as Director". filmreference.com. 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  4. ^ a b "Faces of America: Mike Nichols", PBS, Faces of America series, with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., February 2010.
  5. ^ Kenny, Glenn (16 December 2007). "Mike Nichols’ life in the trenches". Los Angeles Times. p. E-31. 
  6. ^ Mike Nichols: 'Salesman' By Day, Artist Always, National Public Radio, 9 March 2012, retrieved 2012-09-24 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Wakeman, John. World Film Directors, Volume 2, The H. W. Wilson Company, 1988, pp.704-710.
  8. ^ Stated on an episode of Faces of America, in 2010
  9. ^ Turow, Scott (16 May 2013). "‘The Third Coast,’ a History of Chicago by Thomas Dyja By SCOTT TUROW Published: May 16, 2013 FACEBOOK TWITTER GOOGLE+ SAVE E-MAIL SHARE PRINT REPRINTS "The Third Coast" is an odd title for Thomas Dyja’s engrossing, wide-angled cultural history of Chicago in the middle of the 20th century. Enlarge This Image". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  10. ^ Coleman, Janet (1991), The Compass: The Improvisational Theatre That Revolutionized American Comedy. University Of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-11345-6
  11. ^ Hill, Lee (June 2003). "Great Directors Critical Database: Mike Nichols". Senses of Cinema:. Retrieved 2008-10-12. 
  12. ^ Caggiano, Chris (May 22, 2011). "Review - My One and Only at the Goodspeed Opera House - Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals". everythingmusicals.com. Retrieved October 19, 2011. 
  13. ^ Rich, Frank (January 6, 1984). "Tom Stoppard's Real Thing". The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Mike Nichols Biography". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  15. ^ "The Founders". The New Actors Workshop. 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-03. 
  16. ^ "Margaret & Joy". Word Press. Retrieved 19 May 2013.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  17. ^ Fung, Lisa (April 4, 2013). "Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz heading to Broadway in 'Betrayal'". The Wrap. MSN News. Retrieved April 5, 2013. 
  18. ^ Siegel, Tatiana; Borys Kit (April 23, 2013). "Mike Nichols in Talks to Direct 'One Last Thing Before I Go'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 24, 2013. 
  19. ^ "Nichols and Dimes" at the Wayback Machine (archived July 14, 2011)
  21. ^ "About Us-Trowbridge’s Ltd."
  22. ^ Cochran, Marsha. "They Sell Horses, Don't They? Not the Spectacular Way Mike Nichols Does It" People Magazine June 7, 1976
Further reading

External links[edit]