Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Civil Tongue-Lashing





TV newsman Edwin Newman was born on this date in 1919, a year in which the average person wasn't listening to the radio, much less the boob tube. Perhaps I shouldn't call it that, at least not when the subject of this post is Newman, for the man was no boob. He was part of a breed that was somewhat common when I was growing up: the Wry Newsman.

There was David Brinkley, who deliberately paced his delivery for wry effect. When commenting about a drawing that had been produced by a computer, this back when a computer was an enigmatic, room-sized machine and not the much smaller, reassuringly cozy appliance you're likely viewing now, Brinkley refused to adopt the alarmist, apocalyptic oh-dear-man-will-be-supplanted-by-technology tone and instead, implying the robot-produced picture didn't look like much, wryly stated, "When we return...we'll look at some art...if you can call it art...and if you can't call it art...what can you call it?" There! The attempted computer coup against humanity foiled with a smirk and a few well-placed pauses.

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus of Wry TV Newscasts may have been 60 Minutes in its 1970s-80s heyday. Yeah, it's still on the air, but current correspondents like Steve Croft and Leslie Stahl seem to grateful to have the gig to report on crimes and misdemeanors with anything but the sincerest consternation. Only octogenarian Morley Safer is still around to hold up the wry end, expressing perverse wonderment at the industrialist trying to tell him the fish in the river just outside his dry rot repair epoxy resin factory all committed suicide. Thirty years ago, however, Safer had such wry company as Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley, and, best of all, the late, great Mike Wallace.

Here's Wallace interviewing a former Mafia hit man (wryness italicized):

WALLACE: Tell me, did you ever feel guilty about killing someone?

HIT MAN: No.

WALLACE: Can you think of any circumstances where you would have felt guilty killing someone?

HIT MAN: Well, I suppose if I had to kill an innocent person.

WALLACE: And who would you consider an innocent person?

HIT MAN: Well, you. I would consider you an innocent person.

WALLACE: Well, I would hope you would consider me an innocent person.

Ha! That Mike Wallace had one set of wry testicles on him, didn't he? I think in the same situation Steve Croft would have curled up in a ball and cried.

Now, wry shouldn't be confused with humorous. Yes, a person can have a "wry sense of humor" but the very fact that "humor" needs to be foreshadowed by "wry" proves its failure as a synonym. Or look at it this way, Moe could be funny on occasion, but I think he was able to successfully pull on Larry's hair without having to resort to wryness.

According to the dictionary, "wry" means "to pull out of its expected shape." That's the word's literal meaning as a verb. Of course, I using it as an adjective to describe a personality trait. Thus, it's further defined as "understated, sarcastic, or ironic". You can be those things without being funny. Of course, those things often are funny (italics no longer denoting wryness.) Though I can't quite pinpoint the punchline, I'm sure Brinkley decelerated discourse on the nature of art was meant to amuse, and Wallace's mock indignation that he should be considered anything other than innocent was a bit of comic relief in an otherwise tense interview (the mafia hit man actually seemed the more tenser of the two.)

The major risk involved in wry news reporting is that you can come across as unlikable. People back in that three-network era often looked to their broadcast personalities for comfort, hence the beloved Walter Cronkite. Because David Brinkley was around for so long, people did, finally, take comfort in him toward the end. He was popular at the beginning of his TV career, too, as one half of The Huntley-Brinkley Report, his acerbic wisecracks (trying to solve to controversy involving the renaming of well-known dam on the Colorado River, he suggested a former president should now call himself "Herbert Boulder") provided as color commentary to Chet Huntley's more straightforward reporting. The duo ruled the early evening news roost from the late '50s into the mid-'60s. Then CBS put Cronkite opposite them. With Vietnam heating up and all sorts of civil strife bedeviling the nation, people seem to want less comedy and more comfort, and headed toward Uncle Walter's warm embrace. Huntley soon retired, and Brinkley continued on alternately as a solo act or partnered with John Chancellor. Eventually his role was reduced to a three-minute commentary a couple times a week, his smirk hardening into a sneer as the television news parade largely passed him by. Brinkley's career was resurrected when he switched from NBC to ABC and network big shot Roone Arledge, who had earlier made an unlikely star out of Howard Cosell, gave him a Sunday morning political affairs program called This Week with David Brinkley. The show was a success, and he settled quite nicely into the role of Living TV News Legend. Brinkley still cracked the occasional joke, but he now seemed downright cuddly when contrasted to regular panelist Sam Donaldson, who was not so much wry as raw.

As for Mike Wallace, really, how likable was he? I remember reading one press account that described him as a knight out to slay a dragon. Made you feel occasionally sorry for the dragon. Especially if the camera lingered a bit too long into the stare of the beast's frightened eyes, a standard 60 Minutes technique. It actually made the bad guy seem like the underdog at times.  There's been more than one program where, against my better judgement, I felt like saying, "There, there, corporate polluter, it's gonna be all right, the nasty reporter is going away now," or "Oh, corrupt politician, my heart goes out to you! Have a good, long cry during the commercial break." Not exactly the response that was expected of me watching 60 Minutes, a show that never actually questions or challenges the status quo itself, but merely goes after the endless stream of nogoodniks who always seem to find exciting new opportunities within it.

That leaves us with Edwin Newman, who actually was likable. Instead of Brinkley's smirk and Wallace's sarcastic gape, there was a bit of a twinkle in his eyes. He could be funny, often dropping a joke into his reporting or commentary, as long as the subject matter wasn't too serious. And he knew his grammar, putting several books--humorously written but expressing concern nonetheless--about the deterioration of the English language on the best-sellers list (God knows the problems he would have found with this post.) On top of all that, he even hosted, on Eddie Murphy's last regular show yet! That had to be some kind of honor.


Newman was such an amiable presence on the various NBC news shows in which he appeared (usually those hosted by others) that some might say wasn't wry so much as folksy, a la Charles Kuralt who did the popular "On the Road" segments on the CBS news, driving around the country to one backwoods local after another looking to interview a man who a treehouse out of old Yellow Pages or the town that threw a party to commemorate the invention of pull-open beer can tab, touting it as a real example of Americana. Newman could never have done such a program. The first time some hillbilly said the word "ain't" in his presence he would have hightailed it back to the big city to write another book.

Besides, Newman was just too irreverent to be another Kuralt. Here's his deadpan joke-filled description of the 1964 World's Fair:


"Cluster's Last Stand." As much as a stickler Newman may have been when it came to the English language, he was also a sucker for a good pun.

Here's Newman in a more serous moment, on November 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed:





"Our image is not good...We do not appear as an adult nation...grossly diminished people" Folksy Edwin Newman is really laying it on the line here! Of all the video commentary from the day of the assassination or shortly thereafter, this has got to be the least sentimental. David Brinkley, in his commentary, kind of ducks the issues Newman raises, even suggesting that to talk about them might be in bad taste. Other than that, Brinkley tells viewers that the events of the day are shocking, which I'm sure they already knew. Newman, meanwhile is not telling people what they already know, or what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. Something in the culture broke down, and that's where the ultimate bad taste lies. What I find amazing about Newman's commentary is how contrary it is to the way the Kennedy assassination has been handed down and explained to me, as a sudden and dramatic loss of innocence. Newman, on the day of the assassination, will have none of it. It's not innocence but childishness we have too much of it. True then, true now.

Newman's commentary is of course not meant to be funny. Should it then be considered wry? There are hints of understatement, sarcasm and irony, but I'd go for the first definition, you know, wry as a verb: to pull out of its expected shape. Newman was probably expected to do a nice little eulogy on the day's tragic events, giving lip service to our greatness as a nation and how we'll emerge from this ordeal stronger, blah, blah, blah, and instead told some harsh but very necessary truths.

All with a wry sense of drama.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Quips and Quotations (City of Lights Edition)

I want to make it clear that I don't consider comics to be a Great Art. When a reviewer wants to put down a film, they'll often say it has a "comic book plot".

--Charles M. Schulz

Humorists always sit at the children's table.

--Woody Allen

Satire is what closes on a Saturday night.

--George S. Kaufman

Schulz, Allen, and Kaufman may have been a bit too hard on themselves. It seems there are people in this world who take comics, humor, and satire...



 ...VERY seriously.





Saturday, January 3, 2015

Quips and Quotations (Hamlet of the Hudson Edition)

Mario Cuomo 1932-2014




I protect my right to be a Catholic by preserving your right to believe as a Jew, a Protestant, or non-believer, or as anything else you choose. We know that the price of seeking to force our beliefs on others is that they might some day force theirs on us. This freedom is the fundamental strength of our unique experiment in government. In the complex interplay of forces and considerations that go into the making of our laws and policies, its preservation must be a pervasive and dominant concern.

The American people need no course in philosophy or political science or church history to know that God should not be made into a celestial party chairman.



We must get the American public to look past the glitter, beyond the showmanship, to the reality, the hard substance of things. And we'll do it not so much with speeches that sound good as with speeches that are good and sound; not so much with speeches that will bring people to their feet as with speeches that will bring people to their senses.

I told them [a group assembled by onetime Chase Manhattan Bank head honcho David Rockefeller] that my grandfather had died in the Great Crash of 1929--a stockbroker jumped out of a window and crushed him and his pushcart down below.

We believe in encouraging the talented, but we believe that while survival of the fittest may be a good working description of the process of evolution, a government of humans should elevate itself to a higher order.

Unless people like you give us a new generation, willing to take on the challenge of self-government, willing to accept its responsibilities, to reform it, to change it, to make it fairer and more responsive — unless you do, the very rich will get richer, the poor will become fired in their desperation, violence will increase and here, as in so many places around the world, the purpose of government will be reduced basically to a matter of maintaining order instead of improving conditions. 






Every time I've done something that doesn't feel right, it's ended up not being right.



And, in case you're wondering about his nickname... 

I have no plans, and no plans to plan.

I said I didn’t want to run for president. I didn’t ask you to believe me


Saturday, December 27, 2014

In Memoriam: Joe Cocker 1944-2014

Rock and blues singer.



"It's all a matter of hearing what I like and seeing if I can make it fit into my style."

"...my arm movements? I actually saw myself with Eric Clapton – you know you see all your old stuff on YouTube now – and I was horrified at myself, with my arms just flailing around. I guess that came with my frustration at never having played piano or guitar. If you see me nowadays I'm not quite so animated, but it's just a way of trying to get feeling out – I get excited and it all comes through my body."


The son of a civil servant, Cocker grew up in Crookes, a suburb of Sheffield, in the county of Yorkshire, in the country of England. 


In his teens, Cocker was a huge fan of Ray Charles, who played the piano, but not the guitar. Whether he was frustrated about the latter, I can't say.


Judging by this picture, I'd say Cocker at least flirted with the idea of becoming a drummer. That's him at about 16, seated in front of his first band The Cavaliers. For their first gig at a local youth club, they actually had to pay the price of admission.


The Cavaliers broke up after a year, after which an American basketball team appropriated the name (sorry, couldn't resist a Cleveland reference.) Cocker took on an alias and formed a new group, Vance Edwards and the Avengers, once appearing on the same bill with another blues-based rock 'n' roll band, the Rolling Stones. In 1964, Cocker recorded a sole single, a cover of the Beatles "I'll Cry Again".


Despite Cocker's own efforts to boost sales by buying a copy himself, the single didn't go anywhere. 


However, Cocker wasn't quite through with the Beatles yet.


After another short-lived band The Joe Cocker Blues, Cocker formed, and then re-formed The Grease Band as a backup band. Together they had the above major hit in 1968, by which time Cocker had abandoned the pompadour. 

"He [Cocker] was a lovely northern lad who I loved a lot and, like many people, I loved his singing. I was especially pleased when he decided to cover "With a Little Help From My Friends" and I remember him and (producer) Denny Cordell coming round to the studio in Savile Row and playing me what they'd recorded and it was just mind-blowing, totally turned the song into a soul anthem, and I was and I was forever grateful to him for doing that."

--Paul McCartney


Playing air guitar at Woodstock.

 "...like an eclipse ... it was a very special day."


I can never be sure how long these videos will stay on one of my posts since I'm at the mercy of YouTube here, but in case this one is snatched before you get a chance to see it, I can assure you Joe did NOT sing out of key.



Playwright, songwriter, actor, and all-around witty guy Noel Coward, shown here in the 1930s. Among his more amusing compositions was a little ditty called "Mad Dogs and Englishmen". Little did he know that nearly 40 years later...



...Joe Cocker would appropriate it as the name of a live album and, informally, a group of some 30 musicians, most notably Leon Russell and, as a backup singer, Rita Coolidge, that he went on tour with in 1970. Coward was still alive at the time. As far as I know he never complained (assuming he even knew about it in the first place.)



Maybe Coward saw the movie.




Among the songs on Mad Dogs and Englishmen was a cover of The Box Tops "The Letter", a Top 10 hit. 




In 1974, Cocker had this monster hit. And whoever he had in mind while singing it probably got one helluva ego boost.



Cocker and Belushi on Saturday Night Live.



Richard Gere got the girl (Debra Winger, as if you didn't know) at the end of the 1982 film An Officer and a Gentleman.




In his own way, Cocker got the girl, too--in this case, Jennifer Warnes. OK, this relationship was platonic, but it did yield the Number 1 hit from the soundtrack of that movie "Up Where We Belong".

If there's anything to that Heaven stuff, Joe Cocker is right now up where he belongs.





Monday, December 22, 2014

The Time-Space Continuum Crackup Before Christmas

London, circa 1843

"Tomorrow is Christmas, Uncle. Come dine with us!"

"And they're hanging their stockings!" Scrooge snarled with a sneer,
"Tomorrow is Christmas! It's practically here!"
Then he growled, with his Scrooge fingers nervously drumming,
"I MUST find some way to keep Christmas from coming!"
For Tomorrow, he knew, all the London girls and boys,
Would wake up bright and early. They'd rush for their toys!
And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise!
Noise! Noise! Noise!
That's one thing he hated! The NOISE!
NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!
Then the Londoners, young and old, would sit down to a feast.
And they'd feast! And they'd feast! And they'd FEAST!
FEAST! FEAST! FEAST!
They would feast on London-pudding, and rare London-roast beast.
Which was something Scrooge couldn't stand in the least!
And THEN They'd do something He liked least of all!
Every Londoner down in London, the tall and the small,
Would stand close together, with Christmas bells ringing.
They'd stand hand-in-hand. And the Londoners would start singing!
They'd sing! And they'd sing! And they'd SING!
SING! SING! SING!
And the more Scrooge thought of this London Christmas-Sing,
The more Scrooge thought, "I must stop this whole thing!"
"Why, for fifty-three years I've put up with it now!"
"I MUST stop this Christmas from coming! But HOW?"
Then he got an idea! An awful idea!
EBENEZER SCROOGE GOT A WONDERFUL, AWFUL IDEA!

"Really, Uncle, you just can't sit there grinning to yourself. After me there's two chaps from a charity and your underpaid clerk waiting to talk to you. Also, you're looking a little green."

Whoville, circa 1957

Max and Cindy Lou gave each other a  shrug.
"Why can't the Grinch come up with a rhyme for humbug?"

Beautiful Downtown Burbank, circa 1968








"God bless Us, Every one!"









Monday, December 8, 2014

Quips and Quotations (Caucasian Film Auteur Nostalgia Edition)






























I’m not against the police, I'm just afraid of them.

--Alfred Hitchcock.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

In Memoriam: Mike Nichols (1931-2014)

Director (both stage and screen), actor, improvisational comedian. Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony award winner.
  


 "The reason you do this stuff--comedy, plays, movies--is to be seized by something, to disappear in the service of an idea."


"I never understood when people say, 'Do you do comedy or tragedy?' I don't think they're very much different. They both have to be true, and there isn't a great play in the world that doesn't have funny parts to it--as [Death of a] Salesman does, as King Lear does. The whole idea is to reflect life in some way, which means you surely have to have both."

"I asked a shrink: 'Everything is so great. Why am I still so angry?' He said, 'Anger doesn't go away.' I always thought it was kind of a good engine."


Though he had no trace of an accent as an adult, Nichols spent the first seven years of his life in Germany.



  
This is the Old Town Hall in Munich. I have no evidence that Nichols lived in that particular German city, but the fellow who made this painting--it recently sold for 130,000 euros at an auction in, of all places, Nuremberg--did spend some time there...



...and he soon would have a profound effect on the future improv comic/director, whose family was Jewish.



"The things that you saw earlier in your life generally have more power than the things you saw last week."


Fortunately, Nichols family got out in time.

“American society to me and my brother was thrilling because, first of all, the food made noise. We were so excited about Rice Krispies and Coca-Cola. We had only silent food in our country, and we loved listening to our lunch and breakfast."


Though it doesn't compare to what would have happened had he stayed in Germany, the rest of Nichol's childhood was far from idyllic. For one thing he was, and would remain, bald, the result of a rare negative reaction to a whooping cough vaccine at the age of four. He eventually took to wearing hairpieces and fake eyebrows. For another, he didn't know the language of his adopted country very well, at first only able to utter, "I do not speak English" and "Please don't kiss me." He later got the hang of the lingo, as his future success as an actor proved.


Before he took up acting, however, Nichols enrolled in the University of Chicago as a pre-med student--his father had been a doctor--but became more interested in theater. He soon dropped out and moved back to New York where he enrolled in the newly-opened Actors Studio, studying under Lee Strasberg. Meanwhile, some friends of his back in Chicago had formed The Compass Players, one of the first improvisational acting troupes (which in a few years would spin off the more famous Second City group) and asked Nichols to join. That's him in the above picture with the cigarette. That's Shelly Berman on his immediate left, and a seemingly napping Barbara Harris on the right. However, it's the woman to the left of Berman that I'm most interested in, the one looking at Nichols, or at least in his direction. She's none other than...


...Elaine May! 


Nichols and May spun themselves off from the rest of the troupe... 



...becoming one of the most successful comedy teams of the late 1950s and early '60s.


In case you were wondering about that Grammy I mentioned earlier.


Honor thy mother.


Teeth Encounter.


The 1950s quiz show scandal was the talk of the water cooler. The Van Doren mentioned here is Charles Van Doren, a college professor who became a celebrity while a contestant on the highly rated quiz show Twenty-One. Doren, a witty, telegenic intellectual, was the main reason for those high ratings, a reason not lost on the show's producers, who fed him all the right answers. Ralph Fiennes played Van Doren in the 1994 movie Quiz Show.



Death be not proud.



The two also did commercials.

I was born in 1961, the same year the duo broke up, so all of the above clips are really before my time. I first came across a mention of the comedy team in a 1977 or '78 newspaper article about Mike Nichols, who by then was well-known for something else. Though I caught Elaine May in the 1978 Neil Simon movie California Suite and a few other things over the years, I never saw her and Nichols perform together until about 15 years ago when a PBS documentary played a lot of their old bits in full. I immediately became a fan of the duo, when I later became comfortable enough on the Internet, sought out their routines on YouTube. That's a good 45 years after the fact. I envy those of you who saw them in the beginning.

"They set the standard and then they had to move on.

--Arthur Penn, who directed them on Broadway.

Nichols and May are perhaps the most ardently missed of all the satirical comedians of their era. When Nichols and May split up, they left no imitators, no descendants, no blueprints or footprints to follow. No one could touch them.

--Comedy historian Gerald Nachman (nice to know there are historians for that kind of thing.)


At loose ends after the breakup, Nichols thought he'd give directing a try. First up was a revival of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest in Vancouver B.C. Must have done well because Neil Simon picked him to direct his 1963 Broadway play Barefoot in the Park, which ran for 1530 performances and won Nichols a Tony Award. Above are original cast members Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley.

“On the first day of rehearsal, I thought, ‘Well, look at this. Here is what I was meant to do.’ I knew instantly that I was home”.


Another big hit was Luv by Murray Schisgal, and starring Alan Arkin, Anne Jackson, and Eli Wallach.


Nichols reunited with Neil Simon again for another monster Broadway hit, as well as another Tony winner, this one about two divorced men living together, one of whom seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown: The Odd Couple.  Above are the original Oscar and Felix, Walter Matthau and Art Carney. Matthau also appeared in the film version. Carney didn't, so if you haven't seen him on stage, as I haven't, his take on Felix Ungar seems to be lost forever. How did the man who gave us Ed Norton stack up against Jack Lemmon or Tony Randell? We'll never know, though we have a clue. In his review, New York Times theater critic Walter Kerr described Carney as "immensely funny quivering his lip like an agitated duck, clearing his ears by emitting foghorn hoots, and clawing his hands through what is left of his hair to indicate pride, despair and all of the other seven deadly virtues. His problem is tension (“It’s tension. I get it from tension. I must be tense,” he says) and ours is to keep from laughing through the next good line." Carney may have resembled his character a bit too much. Not to long after he left the production, HIS marriage ended, leading to a nervous breakdown.


By 1966, Mike Nichols was the most successful director on Broadway.


This guy was doing all right, too. Edward Albee had written several well-received plays, one of which did so well Hollywood purchased the film rights. 




Now, Nichols had never directed a movie before...


But then, there had never been a movie like this before. 


Liz and Dick, here playing George and Martha, a middle-aged married couple with issues. Though tame by today's standards, this film's colorful use of language ("son of a bitch" "up yours" "great nipples" "goddamn" "hump the hostess") was largely responsible to bringing about an end the old Hays production code (the same one that resulted in a $5000 fine for Gone With the Wind producer David O Selznick, not that he gave a damn) to be replace by G, PG, R, and X (and later PG13 and NC-17) But, really, the real worth of this film is the two stars amazing performances, be they potty mouthed or spouting literary allusions (sometimes both at the same time!) I've seen this film numerous times and never tire of it. If this was all Mike Nichols was known for, I've still would have done an obit on him.


George and Martha do their thing in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. George Segal and Sandy Dennis are their captive audience.


Man, oh, man, had that OTHER George and Martha behaved that way, we'd still be a British colony!

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was considered such a cinematic breakthrough upon release, one wondered if Nichols could ever top it.


He did. The Graduate, Oscar's Best Picture of 1967. I never tire of this one either. It's a simple story, really. Boy meets girl...Well, OK, boy meets WOMAN. Boy also meets girl, who happens to be woman's daughter. Boy loses both woman and girl. 


Boy gets girl back.


Boy and girl not so sure movie has happy ending.

Sorry if I gave something away, but you really should have seen this by now.

One of the explanations I've read for the long faces at the film's conclusion is that Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross thought the camera had stopped rolling and thus went out of character. Director Nichols decided to use the shot anyway, as it lent a touch of ambiguity to the ending.


Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson. Self-loathing has never been sexier.

"And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know.
God bless you, please Mrs. Robinson.
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey...



"...Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio,
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson.
Jolting Joe has left and gone away,
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey"


Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. "Mrs Robinson" won them a Record of the Year Grammy. No Oscar, though,  the song appeared on an album of theirs as well as in the movie.


Buck Henry, on the right, co-wrote the screenplay with Calder Willingham.


Elaine May makes a brief, uncredited appearance.


Here's a bit of trivia for all you Bewitched fans out there. The woman on the very left is Alice Ghostly, and that's Marian Lorne right next to her. Lorne played bumbling Aunt Clara, a semi-regular on the supernatural sitcom, and when she died in 1968, was replaced by Ghostly, who played the similarly bumbling Esmeralda. Yet The Graduate is the only time these two very funny actresses appeared on film together. A coincidence (or magic!)


Trailer for The Graduate.

A comedy that doesn't always play like a comedy. The naturalistic acting, Robert Surtees impressionistic cinematography, and Simon's and Garfunkel's poetic music belies the fact that so much of what you're watching is flat-out funny (Hoffman's and Bancroft's scenes in the hotel room in particular.) The incongruity works brilliantly. Plus The Graduate made money, and for a while Hollywood filmmakers were given the free rein to be as enigmatic as they please.


Until something came along that WASN'T enigmatic, but made money anyway.


As for Mike Nichols, well, you can only be revolutionary so many times. After the twin sucessess of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate, he backed off on making cinama history and concentrated on merely making good cinema. He largely succeeded.


As he did on Broadway, to which he kept returning to no matter how well his movies did. In 1968, he teamed up again with Neil Simon...


...and won himself another Tony for Plaza Suite. George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton played three different characters in three different acts.



Cinematic history aside, Nichols also, perhaps inadvertently, made constitutional history as well. Jack Nicholson and Art Gunfunkel spend the postwar years trying to figure out the opposite sex in 1971's Carnal Knowledge. This now-but-not-then tame film actually led to the Supreme Court ruling that a city, town, or village can ban a movie if it violates "community standards" (trying mightily to define obscenity Justice Potter Stewart wrote "I know it when I see it." Fortunately for Nichols, he didn't see it just then.)


Carnal Knowledge trailer. See if it piques your prurient interest.


1971. Yet another Tony for yet another Neil Simon play, The Prisoner of Seventh Avenue with Peter Falk and Lee Grant. Curiously, Nichols never directed any movies based on Simon stage successess. Maybe there was a feeling of been there, done that.


As odd as it is mentioning Mike Nichols and Aaron Spelling (Charlie's Angels, Melrose Place) in the same sentence, they co-produced the well-regarded 1970s TV drama Family. Clockwise from bottom: Michael or David Schackleford, Meredith Baxter-Birney, Gary Frank, Sada Thompson, James Broderick, and, lest we forget, Kristy McNichol.


Actually, for a few years there in the late 1970s, it was IMPOSSIBLE to forget Krisy McNichol. Such was her fame that her brother became famous simply for being her brother! (And you thought that kind of thing only happened on 21st century reality shows.) 

  
In 1977, Nichols directed Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in the Broadway production of The Gin Game.





 After a few Broadway and Hollywood flops, Nichols came back strong with Silkwood (1983). That's Meryl Streep on the left as doomed real-life nuclear industry whistleblower Karen Silkwood. Kurt Russel and a deglamourized Cher play her co-workers.


Silkwood trailer. Make sure to put on your Hazmat suit before watching this.


I keep going back and forth between Hollywood and Broadway. Well, in 1984, Nichols directed the Broadway production of David Rabe's Hurlyburly, which took place in Hollywood. 



Working Girl (1988) Secretary Melanie Griffith arranges a merger behind ailing boss Sigourney Weaver's back and merges with Harrison Ford to boot. Don't feel too sorry for Weaver. She brought it all on herself by stealing one of Griffith's ideas. Rather misleading promo shot here. By the time Ford feels comfortable enough to put his arm around Griffith's shoulder, he's completely on the outs with Weaver, his fiancee, who doesn't much like Griffith at that point. Can't they be at least have them hissing at each other?


Working Girl trailer. 



Mike Nichols smooching TV journalist Diane Sawyer, whom he married in 1988. They were still married at the time of his death. 



Debbie Reynolds and--oops, I mean Shirley MacLaine and Meryl Streep as mother and daughter in 1990's Postcards From the Edge, based on the novel by Carrie Fisher.


Nichol's former comedy partner Elaine May scripted 1996's The Birdcage, an American version of the 1978 French comedy  La Cage aux Folles. Starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.


Oh, and Gene Hackman was in it, too.


Trailer for The Birdcage.


John Travolta and Emma Thompson as an ambition southern politician and his equally ambitious wife looking to get to the White House in Primary Colors (1998) based on the novel by Joe "Anonymous" Klein, screenplay also by May. Maybe they could make a sequel, except this time the ambitious wife, now a former senator and secretary of state, wants back in that White House. Whadya think?


In 2003, Nichols directed the highly-rated HBO mini-series Angels in America, based on a play, or rather two plays (Millennium Approaches, which won a Pulitzer, and Perestroika) by Tony Kushner, a mixture of the real and unreal dealing with the 1980s AIDS crises. Above is Al Pacino as Joe McCarthy sidekick  Roy Cohn, who was, in fact, a real person, though I'm sure some wish he would have been purely fictional.


Angels in America trailer.


In 2005, Nichols directed the musical Spamalot, based on the 1975 comedy movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. From left to right: Hank Azaria, David Hyde-Pierce, Nichols, and Tim Curry.


In 2010, Mike Nichols won the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievemant Award...


...And Elaine May was on hand to pay tribute.

If you watched the above clip--I know it's long but it's pretty funny--Elaine May made an amazing claim about Nichols.


I looked it up. IT'S TRUE!!! They were related! Third cousins, twice removed!

Let's end it there. Talent, genius, whatever you want to call it, obviously ran in that family.