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A magnificent biography of one of the most protean creative forces in American entertainment history, a life of dazzling highs and vertiginous plunges--some of the worst largely unknown until now--by the acclaimed author of Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back Mike Nichols burst onto the scene as a wunderkind: while still in his twenties, he was half of a hit improv A magnificent biography of one of the most protean creative forces in American entertainment history, a life of dazzling highs and vertiginous plunges--some of the worst largely unknown until now--by the acclaimed author of Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back 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 an incomparable portrait that follows Nichols from Berlin to New York to Chicago to Hollywood, Mark Harris explores, with brilliantly vivid detail and insight, the life, work, struggle, and passion of an artist and man in constant motion. 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. Mark Harris gives an intimate and evenhanded accounting of success and failure alike; the portrait is not always flattering, but its ultimate impact is to present the full story of one of the most richly interesting, complicated, and consequential figures the worlds of theater and motion pictures have ever seen. It is a triumph of the biographer's art.


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A magnificent biography of one of the most protean creative forces in American entertainment history, a life of dazzling highs and vertiginous plunges--some of the worst largely unknown until now--by the acclaimed author of Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back Mike Nichols burst onto the scene as a wunderkind: while still in his twenties, he was half of a hit improv A magnificent biography of one of the most protean creative forces in American entertainment history, a life of dazzling highs and vertiginous plunges--some of the worst largely unknown until now--by the acclaimed author of Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back 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 an incomparable portrait that follows Nichols from Berlin to New York to Chicago to Hollywood, Mark Harris explores, with brilliantly vivid detail and insight, the life, work, struggle, and passion of an artist and man in constant motion. 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. Mark Harris gives an intimate and evenhanded accounting of success and failure alike; the portrait is not always flattering, but its ultimate impact is to present the full story of one of the most richly interesting, complicated, and consequential figures the worlds of theater and motion pictures have ever seen. It is a triumph of the biographer's art.

30 review for Mike Nichols: A Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Toni

    Note: The published book has fantastic photos! When you read that Mike Nichols is one of the few people who have won the ‘EGOT’ (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards), it would be difficult to imagine him as the awkward, gangly, friendless kid back in his early days in New York City. There is nothing worse than being all of that, plus Jewish, unable to speak English, and completely hairless. Nichols, when given a vaccine for whopping cough back in Berlin, had an allergic reaction that resulted i Note: The published book has fantastic photos! When you read that Mike Nichols is one of the few people who have won the ‘EGOT’ (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards), it would be difficult to imagine him as the awkward, gangly, friendless kid back in his early days in New York City. There is nothing worse than being all of that, plus Jewish, unable to speak English, and completely hairless. Nichols, when given a vaccine for whopping cough back in Berlin, had an allergic reaction that resulted in a complete and lifelong inability to grow hair. His father refused to buy him a wig, so he wore a cap constantly. Make no mistake, kids were bullies back then too, and they teased him mercilessly. Michael was just seven years old, and his brother, Robert, three, when they sailed from Germany to New York, alone, in 1939 to meet their father who had arrived just months earlier. His father was able to set up his own practice where the family lived in the small apartment upstairs. While they weren’t as comfortable as they had been in Germany, they were grateful to escape the Nazis and live peacefully in America. Unfortunately, conditions changed when his father died from leukemia just five years later at the age of forty-four, a result of working as an XRay technician, unshielded from radiation they emitted, while he waited for his US medical license. Without his father’s practice, the family slipped almost into poverty. As many of his peers went off to college, Mike had to find a place that would accept a bright student without a high school diploma. Fortunately, that place existed as the University of Chicago, where life really began for Mike. His world opened as he met other intellectuals as himself, well read, willing to discuss and debate any topic with sharp minds and biting wit as his. It’s also the place where he met his female counterpart, Elaine May, whose smoldering anger, and quick intelligence matched his own. Mike was already involved in the improvisational troupe which would become, ‘The Compass Players,’ predecessor of ‘The Second City,’ when he and May would team up and develop some of the freshest comedy routines heard in years. They fed off each other fluidly, as if they could read each other’s mind, it seemed almost effortless. They became the comedy duo ‘Nichols and May’ and took Chicago and then Broadway by storm. Their first of three albums won a Grammy in 1960. Then, they split up the duo in 1961. This break led to Mike’s involvement directing plays, by 1965 he had three Tony awards for ‘Barefoot in the Park,’ ‘Luv’ and Neil Simon’s ‘The Odd Couple.’ Hollywood wanted him but he knew nothing about cameras, so he asked his friend Anthony Perkins to give him a crash course on movie cameras of that era. By 1967 he famously directed Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?’ and an unknown actor, Dustin Hoffman in, ‘The Graduate.’ These plays and films started a seven-decade long career of an exceptionally long list of plays, films and TV shows too numerous for this review. You will undoubtedly recognize most of them and may have seen many of them. This is why you must read this book. Mark Harris discusses how these giant entertainment marvels came into existence, which actors said yes or no, who was fired and then who replaced that actor. Best of all, which actors were really pleasant to work with and which were the really difficult ones. Yes, of course there are many pages, there is a lot to cover. Mike directed or produced twenty-five (25) Broadway plays, twenty-one (21) Films, give or take, and approximately six television shows. The man was a genius and beloved by many. He was married four times but his last to Diane Sawyer was the match made in heaven. They married in 1988 and were together until his death in 2014. A book you will enjoy every minute reading. Thank you, Edelweiss, Penguin Press, and Mark Harris

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Blum

    I read this in three very long sittings over last weekend. What an extraordinary experience. I cannot remember the last time I was so moved by a biography. Like so many people, I’ve been obsessed with Nichols for pretty much my entire life, which in my case extends from having The Graduate blow my mind at age 12 to having gone to the University of Chicago because he did, and dropping out because Nichols dropped out – I told you I was obsessed – all the way to seeing Betrayal, his last production I read this in three very long sittings over last weekend. What an extraordinary experience. I cannot remember the last time I was so moved by a biography. Like so many people, I’ve been obsessed with Nichols for pretty much my entire life, which in my case extends from having The Graduate blow my mind at age 12 to having gone to the University of Chicago because he did, and dropping out because Nichols dropped out – I told you I was obsessed – all the way to seeing Betrayal, his last production. I even bought a ticket to his performance in Virginia Woolf at the Long Wharf in 1981. Now I know why it was cancelled, and I think I'm still waiting for my refund. But nothing prepared me for the emotional roller coaster of his life, most of which, it turns out, I didn’t know. Harris masterfully balanced deep respect and brutal honesty in ways I’ve never seen done before, and at many moments prompted me to stop and wipe tears from my eyes, or double over in laughter. (I have a recently-acquired cocker spaniel puppy, and Steve Martin’s assessment of spaniels can’t be topped.) At some points I loved him more than I ever did; at others I found him sad, or cruel, or foolish in ways I never expected. Balancing those perspectives enabled Harris to recount a narrative at once painful and inspiring to read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David

    I soared through Harris' remarkable biography like an arrow in flight! But then, I've always felt a unique affinity towards Nichols - not for who he was as a person (his real personality always seemed elusive; the bio largely explains why) but because of his directorial style. I've seen all of his films (some of them over and over) and was lucky enough to see a number of his NY stage productions. His scope, of course, put him in a class by himself. Not only was he a gifted performer but - general I soared through Harris' remarkable biography like an arrow in flight! But then, I've always felt a unique affinity towards Nichols - not for who he was as a person (his real personality always seemed elusive; the bio largely explains why) but because of his directorial style. I've seen all of his films (some of them over and over) and was lucky enough to see a number of his NY stage productions. His scope, of course, put him in a class by himself. Not only was he a gifted performer but - generally speaking (meaning, aside from his occasional 'bombs') - he was equally at home as director of both theater and film. Smart, sophisticated - at his best, he was incomparable. Some say he had no recognizable style but his hid in plain sight. As Harris relates: "Style," he said, "is a way of doing everything in a play so that all the things called for by the author can actually happen." The same applied to film. And especially to actors - the 'authors' of their own work. Nichols was well-known for doing what was necessary - drawing them out - in order for actors to show themselves at their very best. That was maybe less surprising in the case of someone like Meryl Streep (whom he worked with several times, including guiding her through several roles in 'Angels in America') - but it's significant when you think of the sterling work done by Ann-Margret in 'Carnal Knowledge', Cher in 'Silkwood' and Melanie Griffith in 'Working Girl'. None of them (though sometimes good) were ever better than when they worked with Nichols. If, by chance, you have ever (maybe on YouTube) seen Nichols interviewed or chatting with his longtime collaborator Elaine May, you will probably not be aware of how Nichols felt about talking in public. Or, more to the point, about being in his own skin in a non-working environment. Harris clarifies: "I think people try to become famous because they think, 'If you can get the world to revolve around you, you won't die.'" he remarked at the time. But his dry detachment was a posture--the only acceptable mode of self-preservation for a young man who wanted a great deal but had, since his first day at the University of Chicago, taken great care never to look or sound too excited about anything. Throughout this meticulously prepared and immensely readable story of a life, Harris approaches Nichols in a way not unlike that of a respected psychiatrist who, in turn, has nothing but admiration for his patient. Many Nichols fans will come to this book having known almost nothing about the extent of his insecurities. It seems that, the more renowned Nichols became, the less he felt he knew - which led to battles with self-doubt: And he started to try to understand why his life had felt like a cyclical series of ascents and crashes. "You work better and better and you feel okay about it and people seem to go for it," he said, "and then [depression] comes creeping in, and you don't know when it started." When Harris approached Nichols' widow Diane Sawyer for her consent to his project, she gave it without conditions, saying nothing was off limits, and did not request pre-publication approval. So he was free to deploy a 'warts and all' strategy. Still, in spite of how satisfying this bio seems in terms of what it reveals, it may still (to a degree) mystify. ~ esp. when it comes to the one aspect which - along with the enigma of being human - dominated his work: Nichols prodded his actors to explore the story's darkest ramifications. "To me, it's about how mysterious sex is," he said. "Sometimes it's great. Sometimes it's not so great, but it's still great ... It can ruin you, it can make people lose everything they have ... but if anyone understands it, I don't know them."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Matt Goldberg

    Another incredible book from Mark Harris, who has once again shown us that he is easily among the foremost film historians of our time. I didn’t realize how little I understood about what it means to direct actors until I read this book, and I think the reason Nichols doesn’t get his full due among the mainstream is because you can’t easily see what he’s doing. It’s not like Kubrick or Hitchcock who are hitting you with so much visual language. Instead, Nichols’ gift was understanding actors in Another incredible book from Mark Harris, who has once again shown us that he is easily among the foremost film historians of our time. I didn’t realize how little I understood about what it means to direct actors until I read this book, and I think the reason Nichols doesn’t get his full due among the mainstream is because you can’t easily see what he’s doing. It’s not like Kubrick or Hitchcock who are hitting you with so much visual language. Instead, Nichols’ gift was understanding actors in such an intimate way that he could transport you through the power of performance (although I should note that Nichols’ absolutely had an eye for some really impressive visuals). This book is a gift; another meticulously researched and yet fully humanistic tone that approaches its subject with love without trying to hide the blemishes. Anyone who writes about film should aspire to do it as well as Harris.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Glenn

    An magnificent biography. Full of wit, insight, compassion. Harris understands show people better than any other critic alive and chronicles their foibles with both precision and compassion.

  6. 5 out of 5

    J.D. Frailey

    This is a big big big book, in a lot of ways. 688 pages but it’s more than that. As of today it is getting g 4.72 stars on GR, by far the highest I’ve seen. I didn’t know who Nichols was till this book, a complicated genius director of stage—5 Tonys for best director--and screen: The Graduate, Virginia Woolf, Silkwood, Working Girl, on and on, plus a hugely successful comic actor himself. Larger than life in many ways, starting with a weird fucked up childhood—fleeing Europe and the Nazis at 7, This is a big big big book, in a lot of ways. 688 pages but it’s more than that. As of today it is getting g 4.72 stars on GR, by far the highest I’ve seen. I didn’t know who Nichols was till this book, a complicated genius director of stage—5 Tonys for best director--and screen: The Graduate, Virginia Woolf, Silkwood, Working Girl, on and on, plus a hugely successful comic actor himself. Larger than life in many ways, starting with a weird fucked up childhood—fleeing Europe and the Nazis at 7, bullied and ridiculed due to hairlessness caused by Alopecia—to impoverished struggling actor to bright lights big city, riches and fame, cocaine and crack and 4 marriages, the last and happiest to Diane Sawyer. The book advances in 2-3 year segments, with a huge amount of background and anecdotes on the making of each of his plays and movies, struggles with writers, studios, actors, and himself. I kept stopping to research more on google, to watch classic movies he relied on for technique and inspiration; he said he watched the movie A Place in the Sun at least 250 times, if someone wanted advice he told them to watch it 25 times then they could talk. He was super dedicated and committed to hard work and craft, to getting what he needed—from everybody—to achieve his vision. I got the book from the library, but will now buy my own copy and really work through it, re-reading it as I watch all 18 of his movies in chronological order, and as many of his plays as I can find on film, after I’ve reread the section on the making of each. If you know someone who is a theater or movie buff, and who is a serious reader, give them this book for Christmas or just because, and they will thank you. It’s amazing.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Peyton Van amburgh

    This was very impressive! I'm not a huge Mike Nichols fan, aside from liking a handful of his movies over the years, but whats really fascinating about the book and makes it hard to put down is the intensly detailed runthrough of his whole career and process, which was incredibly stressful and fraught with egos, disagreements, passive-aggression, unspoken greivances, failures, surprise successes, depression, addiction, illness etc. It's a really blunt and honest portrait of a certain type of cre This was very impressive! I'm not a huge Mike Nichols fan, aside from liking a handful of his movies over the years, but whats really fascinating about the book and makes it hard to put down is the intensly detailed runthrough of his whole career and process, which was incredibly stressful and fraught with egos, disagreements, passive-aggression, unspoken greivances, failures, surprise successes, depression, addiction, illness etc. It's a really blunt and honest portrait of a certain type of creative process and life in film and theater that devotes equal time to the good and bad qualities Nichols exhibited over his careeer, making the low points or bad movies/plays just as meaningful and illuminating as the great experiences. This is such a brutal portrait of actors and writers, many of which are/were absolutely miserable! Often throughout, Nichols can be pretty unsympathetic, but I found the way the book ends to be profoundly empathetic and very moving, as you see how complicated and intense his whole life was and how hard he was on himself. Exhausting read, but worth it, depending on your tolerance for indulgent egos and intense personalities.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jim Gladstone

    This book provides a thorough reminder of Nichols' remarkable 5 decade-long impact on American theater and film. The behind-the-scenes looks at his projects, from THE GRADUATE to ANGELS IN AMERICA, are priceless, and the amazing network of fellow artists he collaborated and clashed with, from Elizabeth Taylor to Whoopi Goldberg is fascinating to trace, guided by Harris, who is remarkably efficient at leading readers along the tangled paths of Nichols' interwoven careers as director, performer an This book provides a thorough reminder of Nichols' remarkable 5 decade-long impact on American theater and film. The behind-the-scenes looks at his projects, from THE GRADUATE to ANGELS IN AMERICA, are priceless, and the amazing network of fellow artists he collaborated and clashed with, from Elizabeth Taylor to Whoopi Goldberg is fascinating to trace, guided by Harris, who is remarkably efficient at leading readers along the tangled paths of Nichols' interwoven careers as director, performer and producer. Harris' explanations of Nichols' directorial style—which was rich with psychological insight about both characters and actors—are perhaps the best passages in the book. What's disappointingly absent is much real revelation or explication of Nichols' own psychology and personal relationships beyond the long-lasting residue of his childhood. His crucial relationships with Elaine May and later with fourth wife (for 25+ years) Diane Sawyer remain cryptic to the reader. The emotional engines of his relationship with Sawyer, especially, are particularly elusive. Harris (the husband of Tony Kushner) only gingerly touches on Nichols' sexuality, despite assertions by Richard Avedon, one of his closest friends, that the pair had a longtime love affair and the essentially long-distance nature of Nichols' relationships with his quartet of wives. I wasn't hoping for anything lurid or salacious, but this volume just doesn't dig as deeply into what made Nichols tick. He sometimes comes across as a baby and a diva; he's sometimes generous and sometimes remarkably stingy; he seems obsessed with status as much as art; he displays strokes of genius and wide stripes of misanthropy. All fascinating, but not all tied together with a coherent authorial theory about his overall driving force, motivations or Achilles heels. A great and well-organized compendium of facts with not enough reflection or interpretation for this reader.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Director Mike Nichols (1931-2014) won an Academy Award, a Grammy, three BAFTAs, four Emmys and nine Tony awards during his prolific career, and Mark Harris has written a superb and definitive biography that Nichols and his fans deserve. Harris ("Pictures at a Revolution") is part film historian, theater buff and investigative reporter, which makes this rich, compassionate and candid biography soar with fresh, first-hand anecdotes from Nichols's co-workers and Harris's astute observations about t Director Mike Nichols (1931-2014) won an Academy Award, a Grammy, three BAFTAs, four Emmys and nine Tony awards during his prolific career, and Mark Harris has written a superb and definitive biography that Nichols and his fans deserve. Harris ("Pictures at a Revolution") is part film historian, theater buff and investigative reporter, which makes this rich, compassionate and candid biography soar with fresh, first-hand anecdotes from Nichols's co-workers and Harris's astute observations about the director's work. What may surprise many is how often Nichols's career bounced from universal acclaim ("Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "The Graduate" were his first two films; Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" was his first Broadway production) to failures ("Day of the Dolphin" and "Catch-22") and back again. A perfectionist with a short temper and a lacerating tongue, Nichols was a neurotic, insecure workaholic who was in therapy for decades and by the 1980s had suffered a heart attack, a nervous breakdown and was addicted to cocaine and crack. When he married his stabilizing fourth wife, Diane Sawyer, in 1988, he said she "turned Pinocchio into a real boy." This biography offers a treasure of backstage gossip (including the nightmare of directing Plaza Suite starring two alcoholic lead actors in three different roles in three acts). Despite missteps, Nichols was king of the comebacks ("Silkwood" in 1983, "The Birdcage" in 1996, "Angels in America" in 2003) and generally beloved by his co-workers. Harris's definitive biography of the iconic director, producer and comedian is the ideal gift for anyone interested in the creative arts. Theater buff and journalist Mark Harris delivers a dazzling and definitive biography of the complex and driven director.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Janie A. Hutchison

    A remarkable man with unlimited talent. A must read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    A wonderful, beautifully written biography of Mike Nichols who made great movies, plays, and comedy skits. I found myself slowing down my reading to savor the prose.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michael Ritchie

    I am not a particular fan of Nichols work, but this book is one of the best celeb bios I've read in some time. Well-written and deeply researched, this brings Nichols to life on the page and it makes me want to go back and revisit movies like Catch-22 and The Fortune to see what I might have missed the first time. Harris's previous movie books (Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back) are both great reads as well. I am not a particular fan of Nichols work, but this book is one of the best celeb bios I've read in some time. Well-written and deeply researched, this brings Nichols to life on the page and it makes me want to go back and revisit movies like Catch-22 and The Fortune to see what I might have missed the first time. Harris's previous movie books (Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back) are both great reads as well.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Pola Changnon

    Amazing read, filled with vividly researched stories of this “Zelig” of modern pop culture. From pioneer improv with Elaine May to Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf to Angels in America, Mike Nichols has a career that spans theater, movies and television. Also, my key takeaway: tell your stories! Work them til they gleam. And use these stories to instruct others! Not always a great guy, but ultimately a great artist.

  14. 5 out of 5

    William Evans

    Attn: Mark Harris - STOP TWEETING AND DEDICATE ALL YOUR TIME TO YOUR WORK. You’ve written three straight masterpieces. I want at least three more!

  15. 5 out of 5

    James Beggarly

    Thanks to Edelweiss and Penguin Press for the ebook. This is really an exhaustive epic on a theatrical renaissance man who helped reimagine standup comedy with Elaine May, usher in real emotion with comedic plays on Broadway, most notably with Neil Simon and take films in a completely new direction in the late sixties and early seventies when the studios seemed clueless. The author seems to have interviewed hundreds of people who have just as many moving and hilarious stories about Mike Nichols, Thanks to Edelweiss and Penguin Press for the ebook. This is really an exhaustive epic on a theatrical renaissance man who helped reimagine standup comedy with Elaine May, usher in real emotion with comedic plays on Broadway, most notably with Neil Simon and take films in a completely new direction in the late sixties and early seventies when the studios seemed clueless. The author seems to have interviewed hundreds of people who have just as many moving and hilarious stories about Mike Nichols, but the absolute heart and center of the book comes from the man himself. In any room he was in it seems that he was the funniest, smartest, most ambitious, by far the angriest and probably the most talented. It’s lovely to spend this much time with a director this heartbreaking and entertaining.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Roger

    MIKE NICHOLS: A LIFE is a remarkably engaging book about a man who, himself, could be remarkably engaging, though often not. Before reading this book I knew that Mike Nichols was married to Diane Sawyer and directed THE GRADUATE, a favorite movie during my college years when it appealed to my sense of entitled angst. Dig a little deeper and I may have recollected that Mike Nichols directed THE BIRDCAGE, SILKWOOD, and some plays, and did some kind of comedy bit in the olden days. The truth as laid MIKE NICHOLS: A LIFE is a remarkably engaging book about a man who, himself, could be remarkably engaging, though often not. Before reading this book I knew that Mike Nichols was married to Diane Sawyer and directed THE GRADUATE, a favorite movie during my college years when it appealed to my sense of entitled angst. Dig a little deeper and I may have recollected that Mike Nichols directed THE BIRDCAGE, SILKWOOD, and some plays, and did some kind of comedy bit in the olden days. The truth as laid out by author Mark Harris is much broader, deeper, and more interesting, abetted by the wealth of familiar names who contributed to the research behind this book. Every few pages introduces, or rather re-introduces, familiary names. Ed Asner shows up, as does Alan Alda, George Segal, Stockard Channing, and Swoozie Kurtz. That's not even counting the superstars like Burton and Taylor, Nicholson, and Meryl Streep. The figures who dominated (or even just showed up--Nichols knew them all it seems) the movies and the television shows I watched as a youth were all in Mike Nichols's world. He knew the stars and the working stiff actors in Hollywood and especially on Broadway. Even Buck Henry, the genius behind GET SMART, my favorite childhood show, was a friend and collaborator. Make sure you read the acknowledgements. The list of interviewees is a romp through the past 60 years of American entertainment. Nichols left a vast legacy for American theater and comedy, and his movies will stand the test of time as well. But, the path to that legacy is bumpy, primarily because of Nichols's own personal burdens. As a child he escaped Nazi Germany and he often wondered why his Russian Jewish family survived and so many others did not. He carried that guilt. To further complicate his life, as a child an adverse reaction to a whooping cough vaccine left him hairless. When he came to New York as a young boy in the 1930s he not only was the immigrant Jewish outsider but the bald little boy. He fought with teachers so that he could wear his cap indoors, he skipped school, and he found refuge in movie theaters. His discomfort with his personal appearance led him to start wearing wigs in his teens; cheap ones because his family was poor. As a young man, at night he used acetone to dissolve the adhesive that kept the wig in place. The smell was so bad his friends would gag a bit when they entered his modest apartment. Even as a successful man in later life he could be hurt by smirking asides, in print or behind his back, about his hairlessness. It added to his sense of not belonging, of being lesser. Later in life, these burdens led to drug abuse and mental health issues, and on a lesser level a sometime dilatory approach to projects that left colleagues hanging. But Nichols was too smart and too complicated to be defined by his burdens. He was whip smart and knew it. His wit could be a weapon and was his ticket to early stardom in the comedy team of Nichols and May. They rejected the old vaudvillian comedy and brought insightful improv to the fore. His intelligence and ambitions brought him opportunities that he grabbed. After high school he was unsure of what to do for a bit, so he ended up applying to and enrolling in the University of Chicago. Not community college, the University of Chicago. When the chance arose, he made friends with the best and brightest. Going to Hollywood in the early 1960s to start a career making movies, with no experience behind him, he had lunch with Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz to elicit their advice. Why not the best? Why not make friends with interesting people? The bridge between his insecurities and his desires to grab the brass ring are exemplied when he befriends Elizabeth Taylor, and in return she tells him he needs better more expensive wigs. She knew someone. Mike Nichols found success and he eventually found peace, but he was not without flaws that may make any reader wonder why he was so beloved. He could be mean, as a host of people who fell prey to his withering tongue could attest; just look to his relationship with Garry Shandling. Mark Harris knew Mike Nichols, but this relationship doesn't seem to shadow the author's work. Harris lets the life tell the story. There are warts, but mostly there is art, and at the end there is peace and love. Not a bad story.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sergio GRANDE

    Three children, three grandchildren, four wives, eight Tonys, one Oscar and four nominations, two Baftas, two Emmys. Best friends with Stephen Sondheim and Richard Avedon, with Nora Ephron and Barry Diller. You know the expression ‘larger than life’. It doesn’t apply here. There’s nothing that seems larger than Mike Nicholls’ life. Not his acting intuition, his appetite for drugs, beautiful women and knowledge, not the opportunities he was given or the place he occupies in the history of XX Cent Three children, three grandchildren, four wives, eight Tonys, one Oscar and four nominations, two Baftas, two Emmys. Best friends with Stephen Sondheim and Richard Avedon, with Nora Ephron and Barry Diller. You know the expression ‘larger than life’. It doesn’t apply here. There’s nothing that seems larger than Mike Nicholls’ life. Not his acting intuition, his appetite for drugs, beautiful women and knowledge, not the opportunities he was given or the place he occupies in the history of XX Century arts and culture. A life like his deserved a better title and also a less clunky book. For some reason, Mr. Harris chose to overburden this book with pages and pages naming every single film and theatre critic of the past fifty years from the New York Times, Variety, New York Post, Chicago Tribune, and others and quoting reviews such as these after every Nicholls’ film or stage production: “…a few reviewers complained that Nichols couldn’t possibly have found anything in Neil Simon’s play to engage his intellect or his talent. “Isn’t it time for Nichols to start acting more like a real filmmaker and less like a guy on retainer?” Roger Ebert wrote. Even those who enjoyed the movie, like New York’s David Denby, conceded that “a more lightweight film couldn’t be imagined.” “Here is one adaptation of a stage piece that has no identity crisis,” wrote Vincent Canby. “Never for a minute does it aspire to be anything but a first-rate service comedy.” There was condescension even in the praise—“now that Nichols has resigned the auteur claims of his early film career in favor of more self-effacing commercial assignments, he seems a much stronger director; he has learned to serve his material,” said the Daily News the Daily News”. This is the story of a self-taught performance director who was handed his debut film staging the classic “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” when he was only 34 and had never been in the vicinity of a film camera (the film got 13 Oscar nominations, including Best Director for Nicholls, and collected 5 statuettes –one of them Elizabeth Taylor’s second and last acting Oscar). The leads of the show were the two biggest stars in the world at the time: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. His next film, “The Graduate” received seven Oscar nominations and earned Nicholls’ his Best Director award, apart from becoming the cornerstone of Dustin Hoffman’s career and getting him nominated for Best Actor on debut. Following John Kennedy’s assassination, Jackie Kennedy relied on her close friend Mike Nicholls to become her social escort (later he was asked to present a eulogy at her funeral); when Meryl Streep was recipient of an American Film Institute Life Achievement Award, she requested that Mike Nicholls present it. Six years later she returned the honour when Nicholls received his. On that occasion, “we sent save-the-date cards to the twenty-five most imperative people,” says AFI head Bob Gazzale. “Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Elaine May, Robin Williams, Meryl Streep . . . In one day, twenty-four of them said, ‘I’ll be there.’ It was one of the first times people called to say, ‘Can I come?’ Steven Spielberg said, ‘I want to be there for Mike.’ Oprah Winfrey said, ‘How do I buy a table?’ It had never happened before, and I don’t know that it will happen again.” And these are just footnotes in a book that deserved a far better and more imaginative title than “A Life” (he had chosen himself the title of a never written autobiography: The Wrong Jew).

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kevidently

    I didn’t know much about Mike Nichols when I picked up Mark Harris’s new book. I was familiar with Nichols & May due to a steady diet of Doctor Dimento as a youth. I was vaguely aware that he’d directed The Graduate, and that was because of Harris himself; I’d read his Pictures at a Revolution and was bowled over by it. Nowadays, I’m usually willing to trust an author I like, no matter what they’re writing about. That keeps working out for me. I wonder if knowing only a little bit about Mike Nich I didn’t know much about Mike Nichols when I picked up Mark Harris’s new book. I was familiar with Nichols & May due to a steady diet of Doctor Dimento as a youth. I was vaguely aware that he’d directed The Graduate, and that was because of Harris himself; I’d read his Pictures at a Revolution and was bowled over by it. Nowadays, I’m usually willing to trust an author I like, no matter what they’re writing about. That keeps working out for me. I wonder if knowing only a little bit about Mike Nichols worked in my favor, because the whole book was a continuing journey of discovery. We get the whole narrative, from his early days of working on two-person sketch comedy and improv with Elaine May, to his initial terror of directing plays and then movies, to his strings of hits and misses, to his uneasy time as an elder statesman. But it doesn't read like a novel, because Nichols's was idiosyncratic, and messy, and sometimes intense. I'm not sure if it's endemic to how Hollywood works (or used to work), but the way Nichols takes on huge projects seems almost accidental. Sometimes he stumbles into things. Sometimes he dares a studio to pay an outrageous salary, daring them to not hire him. Sometimes he basically begs to be convinced. It's as if, at least sometimes, he wants someone to drag him into something so that he'll have something to prove. Once he's inside a film or a play, Nichols usually seems to have a grasp on his talents. Before and after, he is a complete wreck. But that's not always, and that's a big part of the mystery of Mike Nichols. Anything can affect his confidence: drugs, weight gain, poor health, a misunderstanding of the project or the actors he's working with. Almost always, a project eventually clicks with him and that's satisfying. The few times when he seems completely at sea is so frustrating, but it makes you root for him more. That's one of the best things about this book: no matter what Nichols is doing or has done, you always root for him. And I have to applaud Harris for not taking the "greatest hits" way out of things. Often, when I read biographies about people, the focus is either on only their early career, with a gloss on the later stuff, or a "they did THIS!!!! and then a bunch of stuff for years and THEN THEY DID THIS!!!" Harris is just as fascinated as why The Graduate worked and why, in his opinion, Wolf didn't. (By the way, did you know Mike Nichols directed Wolf, with Jack Nicholson!? I didn't! Wow!) Thoroughly engaging, absolutely entertaining, and reverential and critical in equal measure, Mark Harris' Mike Nichols: A Life is a terrific book, one of the best I've read so far this year. Highly recommended.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    4.5 stars. This was really great. I don't know if I'd necessarily recommend it if you don't have at least some interest in movie productions and tidbits about random famous people who have crossed paths, but I don't think you need to be a die-hard fan of Mike Nichols to enjoy this. I certainly wouldn't claim to be a huge fan – I love Working Girl and Angels in America, really like Postcards from the Edge and Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf, mixed feelings about The Graduate and Charlie Wilson's Wa 4.5 stars. This was really great. I don't know if I'd necessarily recommend it if you don't have at least some interest in movie productions and tidbits about random famous people who have crossed paths, but I don't think you need to be a die-hard fan of Mike Nichols to enjoy this. I certainly wouldn't claim to be a huge fan – I love Working Girl and Angels in America, really like Postcards from the Edge and Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf, mixed feelings about The Graduate and Charlie Wilson's War, and dislike Closer. I haven't seen anything else of his (and had no idea how involved he was in the New York theater scene for decades), but I found this incredibly captivating. I love behind-the-scenes stories about movies being made, so all of that was interesting enough for me without needing to be a huge fan of all of his movies specifically or him as a person (not that I think he was a terrible person or anything, but he was certainly very flawed). I almost found this most fascinating just for hearing about the projects that didn't end up happening, or happened in a different form than originally planned. Like The Remains of the Day — I remember enjoying that movie a lot, but a version with Mike Nichols directing Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons is something I'd be interested in seeing. I will say, thank god Mike Nichols didn't get his way on Working Girl's male lead — I can't imagine Alec Baldwin in that role over Harrison Ford, but if that had happened, I feel fairly confident my enjoyment of that movie would have dropped quite a bit. I also enjoyed reading about all the people he had even brief brushes with. Like seeing Lin Manuel-Miranda in some production, getting in contact with him, and LMM telling him about Hamilton (which he was in the process of writing at the time) and inviting him later to a workshop of it. Or him being a fan of Mad Men and suggesting to Matthew Weiner that Don should get remarried quickly after his divorce. This also made me more eager to watch the rest of his films. Even stuff like The Day of the Dolphin, which got horrible reviews, but sounds absolutely bonkers and hilarious and I kind of want to check it out now. And I found myself really emotional at the end of this! It's not like I didn't know how it would end, and it's not like his death had a huge impact on me at the time in 2014, either. But I think I was particularly struck by one of his last major productions being a Death of a Salesman revival in 2012 with Phillip Seymour-Hoffman and realizing that they both passed away just 2 years later. Anyways, this was just really great, and I'm glad I checked it out.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together: our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipped them not; and our crimes would despair, if they were not cherished by our virtues.” That quote from ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL sums up my feelings about an incredibly flawed hero of the American stage and cinema revealed in MIKE NICHOLS: A LIFE. The book, at 594 pages, feels very complete but left me ultimately feeling very mixed about that life. The portrait painted here is of a v “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together: our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipped them not; and our crimes would despair, if they were not cherished by our virtues.” That quote from ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL sums up my feelings about an incredibly flawed hero of the American stage and cinema revealed in MIKE NICHOLS: A LIFE. The book, at 594 pages, feels very complete but left me ultimately feeling very mixed about that life. The portrait painted here is of a very clever, talented, and often generous man who was also very often horribly mean to actors, crews, and colleagues with whom he worked. My father gave me the Nichols & May In Retrospect album when I was a young teenager and I found it revelatory and damn funny--I wanted to be like this Mike. In the late 90's I saw Mike Nichols at a production of Oscar Wilde's AN IDEAL HUSBAND on Broadway-(he was in the third row, I was about ten rows back) and I was stunned to see this icon in the flesh. I could only stare for a few moments and note that Nichols seemed to not have eyebrows. I think my takeaway from this book is that Nichols' childhood escaping from Germany just prior to WW2, his permanent baldness (including lack of eyelashes and eyebrows) caused by a whooping cough vaccine, and the subsequent bullying he endured in America as a youth, and the early death of his father, damaged him to a degree to which he never recovered but, perhaps held at bay, and that we can be grateful for his brilliant creative accomplishments, theories on acting & directing, and for his many kindnesses to some, while we condemn the often harsh and vicious treatment he inflicted on others. The book gives you all the details you could want regarding the projects that made up his oeuvre and some you don't want but I felt that I ultimately came to understand, from a distance, a true master of our art and fellow human being. I'm grateful for the complete picture.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Howard Christie

    Firstly this is a 660 page book including 60 pages of notes and sources, but it doesn’t matter because I think you barely want it to stop. Secondly it’s a terrific read as they say. Mike Nichols knew everyone important in the theater and movie world and they are all included here in some form. If you love entertainment, this book will grab you with its well detailed stories of movies and plays and actors. Thirdly, behind every great man is a great woman. No truer than in this case. Elaine May wa Firstly this is a 660 page book including 60 pages of notes and sources, but it doesn’t matter because I think you barely want it to stop. Secondly it’s a terrific read as they say. Mike Nichols knew everyone important in the theater and movie world and they are all included here in some form. If you love entertainment, this book will grab you with its well detailed stories of movies and plays and actors. Thirdly, behind every great man is a great woman. No truer than in this case. Elaine May was the brains behind the humor and the writer of the words. Though they broke the act up and in fact were less than friendly, it seems, for many years , they worked steadily together in projects in later years. May was the fixer when scripts or screenplays weren’t going in the right direction. It did seem like they had a deep connection and each was there for the other one. None of this is to say Nichols wasn’t skilled. A young Jewish boy coming to America from Nazi germany with his brother, leaving his mother behind and meeting his father who had left earlier. Not really knowing what he wanted to be, he was entranced by a stage production of On the Waterfront. Meeting May was probably the key moment as that got him to comedy clubs in Chicago and eventually to fame and fortune as part of the top comedy act in the country. Broadway was what enticed him however and by directing Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple and winning directing Tonys for both he was pulled into film with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Nichols bounced between film and Broadway for the rest of his career, winning numerous awards but having his share of failures. In fact, in going thru his films, I see The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge, Silkwood, Working Girl and The Birdcage. He did Angels in America for HBO. Not exactly an extensive A list of works. Personally his movies never hit me. I remember enjoying Working Girl and laughing at Birdcage, but if TCM did a full retrospective, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf “ is likely the only one of interest to me. I think his plays may be more interesting and his work with stage actors is described as quite meaningful. You do come away from this admiring his skills with people. But, I can’t say I cared for Mike Nichols after reading this. He seemed arrogant, haughty, prone to excess and overly flamboyant. He wasted money, did drugs, moped when things weren’t great and often didn’t seem like that nice a person. But he had a life that’s for sure. He did lots of great, fun stuff. He met people and lots of folks loved him deeply ( Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Steven Sondheim, Richard Avedon and others) so I think there was more to him than I discerned. It’s really a fascinating and enjoyable book however you might decide to feel about him.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rob Smith

    Overall, a good read. It did make me finish it within a week or so, the book has something going for it. The first half of the book is a lot stronger, more engaging and more interesting. I think more detailed too. I have mixed feelings on the second half. Harris has strong sources, quotes, interviews, he's very thorough with who he talks to and what resources he draws from to write the text. The last half of the biography seems a bit rushed. I really can't tell if I Liked the first half more beca Overall, a good read. It did make me finish it within a week or so, the book has something going for it. The first half of the book is a lot stronger, more engaging and more interesting. I think more detailed too. I have mixed feelings on the second half. Harris has strong sources, quotes, interviews, he's very thorough with who he talks to and what resources he draws from to write the text. The last half of the biography seems a bit rushed. I really can't tell if I Liked the first half more because I fine the stuff up to 1975 (May & Nichols, The Graduate, New Hollywoodish era) more interesting or if its just better. Walking away from finishing the biography I'm not sure I like Mike Nichols. Liking the subject isn't really a good pretext for making good biogrpahies, but the guy just seemed to coast through the rest of his life post 1975. It's tough to empathize with a guy who at one point put more thought into his Arabian horse auction than a lot of the movies he was making at the time. The book doesn't really answer the question I think many people my age will have about Nichols. It's not the story of the guy who directed The Graduate I wanna know, and maybe its another generational thing, I wanna know how the guy who directed The Graduate, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, became the guy who directs Charlie Wilson's War? And maybe the book does answer that, with just endlessly depicting Nichols being Mr. Success and no longer having that original fire he had til then.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    Mark Harris' MIKE NICHOLS: A LIFE is a rich, beautifully assembled portrait of an artist through the lens of his career and process, and it stands out for being an incredibly fun read. Nichols seems to have been a complex subject about whom to write because there is a clear fracturing of his personality between the smart, droll public persona he affected (which I love) and the artist whose emotional life was cracked open by the process of making theater and films (which I also love). His ability Mark Harris' MIKE NICHOLS: A LIFE is a rich, beautifully assembled portrait of an artist through the lens of his career and process, and it stands out for being an incredibly fun read. Nichols seems to have been a complex subject about whom to write because there is a clear fracturing of his personality between the smart, droll public persona he affected (which I love) and the artist whose emotional life was cracked open by the process of making theater and films (which I also love). His ability to process the text of a story through performance and staging underscores his inability to deeply analyze his own life; his addictions, relationships, his childhood, himself. Still, Harris gives the sense that there is something in the act of making comedy and drama that released what was inside of Nichols and. as someone who shares that impulse-- I am always opened up somehow when the lights go down in a theater or cinema-- I found the tension between Nichols' public/creative/inner selves incredibly moving and perfectly conveyed in the book. I was also fascinated by his complex relationship with Elaine May, another hero of mine, and the unique energy between the two of them (she absolutely demands her own book!)... I will 100% be re-visiting his filmography; I already love it, but now feel a much deeper connection to his work. On top of it all, the book is laugh out loud funny (so many absolute mic drops!), dishy, knows which details matter and when to move on (a masterclass in biographical pacing) and is a joy to read. Enjoy!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Dishy (albeit lengthy) bio of Mike Nichols. I know the name but knew very little about him. Had no idea he immigrated to the US from Nazi Germany, changed his name to Mike Nichols and didn’t have great childhood (parents had tumultuous marriage where they each cheated and his dad died of leukemia when he was 12). Tested into university of Chicago where he met Susan Sontag on day 1 and Elaine May with whom he had a very prolific comedic relationship. The book is divided chronologically, and I ten Dishy (albeit lengthy) bio of Mike Nichols. I know the name but knew very little about him. Had no idea he immigrated to the US from Nazi Germany, changed his name to Mike Nichols and didn’t have great childhood (parents had tumultuous marriage where they each cheated and his dad died of leukemia when he was 12). Tested into university of Chicago where he met Susan Sontag on day 1 and Elaine May with whom he had a very prolific comedic relationship. The book is divided chronologically, and I tended to skim the earlier years when I was not familiar with his work and read more carefully what I knew i.e. The Odd Couple (Walter Matthau an asshole), Graduate (character was originally supposed to be a wasp; Redford wanted the part badly), Silkwood (& professional relationship with Meryl Streep), Heartburn (Nicholson replaced Mandy Pantikin), meeting wife Diane Sawyer (on the Concorde), Biloxi Blues (last collaboration with Neil Simon), Working Girl (Melanie Griffith drug issues), Regarding Henry, Remains of the Day (Streep was pregnant so he went with Emma Thompson resulting in only Nichols-Streep tiff) Broadway play Death and the Maiden (the lack of Latinx actors; Hackman thought he was going to get fired again; Nichols revamped (less comedy) after bad reviews), mean drunk Geo C Scott, friendships with Jackie Kennedy and Lorne Michaels. Having won the prized EGOT, he obviously knew everyone.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    An amazing book of the life of an actor, director, producer of films and Broadway. Not all were successes and this is a fascinating look into the process, the ins and outs of a production. With three pages of famous and infamous people who contributed to the author, the list is awesome. Many funny stories of things that happen on sets - from how he got better toupees (he was bald from a young age). His methods of getting actors to be able to give the performance Nichols knew they had in themselve An amazing book of the life of an actor, director, producer of films and Broadway. Not all were successes and this is a fascinating look into the process, the ins and outs of a production. With three pages of famous and infamous people who contributed to the author, the list is awesome. Many funny stories of things that happen on sets - from how he got better toupees (he was bald from a young age). His methods of getting actors to be able to give the performance Nichols knew they had in themselves - I'm sure came from his experience as a actor - but he had insight into the process that others did not. Born Igor in Berlin he held many feelings about the religious persecution and it took years to be able to deal with. Four marriages that he said the first and fourth were the best and that surprised me because the third sounded good for the most part. The life of a person in the theater has to be hard - from traveling for sets, preliminary preparations and tryouts in other cities and then NYC - it would be so hard to have a family life too. So glad he found happiness with Diane Sawyer. His struggles with addiction and mental health issues, and then health - all presented clearly. An excellent read of a long book with insight and be prepared as it is a heavy (literally) book too.

  26. 4 out of 5

    CJ

    I loved this book. At the risk of seeming to give a backhanded compliment or faint praise, this a classic case of forgetting there was a writer involved. It is that smooth, that fluid, that spectacularly well crafted that you never see the effort. You are just watching a life unfold as if you were a part of Mike Nichols' inner circle. That's great writing, folks. No surprise, really, coming as it does from the writer of "Pictures at a Revolution" and "Five Came Back," both equally as stellar as I loved this book. At the risk of seeming to give a backhanded compliment or faint praise, this a classic case of forgetting there was a writer involved. It is that smooth, that fluid, that spectacularly well crafted that you never see the effort. You are just watching a life unfold as if you were a part of Mike Nichols' inner circle. That's great writing, folks. No surprise, really, coming as it does from the writer of "Pictures at a Revolution" and "Five Came Back," both equally as stellar as this latest work of art from Mark Harris. Honestly, I wished for 600 more pages. And bear this in mind, too, Harris lays it all out -- the complete life of the brilliant genius that was Mike Nichols -- in completely linear and chronological fashion. No zigzags, no flashbacks, no artifice, no smoke and mirrors. Just a compelling story of a compelling man told compellingly well. Hell, I'm even bowled over by the exquisitely chosen and stunningly perfect titles for each chapter. Please let me endeavor to write as skillfully and naturally and invisibly as Mark Harris (After years of voluminous research and conducting hundreds of interviews, mind you.). And he reminded me that "The Graduate" has one of my favorite openings lines of any movie: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to begin our descent into Los Angeles."

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    An exhaustive account of Nichol’s projects but not very much about his life. It really read more like a history of his work and not a biography to me. Aside from his childhood and some of his work with Elaine May, his personal life, habits, thoughts are a mystery. I never got a sense of who he was as a person. Oddly, I got a solid sense of what many actors he worked with were like but not Nichols. I’ve never read a biography with such little insight or depth given to the subject’s personality. An exhaustive account of Nichol’s projects but not very much about his life. It really read more like a history of his work and not a biography to me. Aside from his childhood and some of his work with Elaine May, his personal life, habits, thoughts are a mystery. I never got a sense of who he was as a person. Oddly, I got a solid sense of what many actors he worked with were like but not Nichols. I’ve never read a biography with such little insight or depth given to the subject’s personality. A lot of the book was just a recounting of the minutia of his various projects (not all projects got equal billing and some that you thought would be the most in-depth were not—and I’m still wondering how he got into television exactly) and then suddenly he was getting divorced or married or it was mentioned he was doing crack regularly or hadn’t seen his child for most of her childhood. What? No mention on how his interpersonal or professional life was affected by his apparent heavy substance abuse or what his personal relationship with pretty anyone was really like. Very odd take on a biography, it would have been better if they had not pretended it was a biography and focused what it really was about, the work of Mike Nichols, not Mike Nichols the man.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Muriel Benedict

    A terrific biography of a man who had an enormous impact on so many aspects of our culture - comedy theatre and film. I am 68 and I have been aware of Mike Nichols since childhood - my mother had a Nichols and May album that she loved. This biography covers his entire life from child Jewish refugee from Nazi Berlin to much- honored director of theatre and film - and how he got there. After a fairly quick look at his childhood and early years of acting and the fascinating tale of his meeting and A terrific biography of a man who had an enormous impact on so many aspects of our culture - comedy theatre and film. I am 68 and I have been aware of Mike Nichols since childhood - my mother had a Nichols and May album that she loved. This biography covers his entire life from child Jewish refugee from Nazi Berlin to much- honored director of theatre and film - and how he got there. After a fairly quick look at his childhood and early years of acting and the fascinating tale of his meeting and work with Elaine May, it really takes off once his true calling as a director is realized. The book goes into detail of each project he directs. And it is not boring. The astounding number of people willing to speak to the author about their work with Nichols makes it a simply fascinating read for anyone who loves theatre and film. There have been few directors who moved easily between theatre and film. I can only bring to mind Elia Kazan in the past and Sam Mendes and Kenneth Branagh today. There is a lot in this book, much about his personal life that I was unaware of and also terrific humor and grand stories about work on various projects. Highly recommended.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Glenn Miller

    Excellent, entertaining biography of one of America's most important directors over the past 50 years. Harris is even-handed in his approach to Nichols, someone he, presumably, knew well. It is difficult to categorize a director who has the film classics "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," "The Graduate," and "Angels in America" under his belt, while also having "Wolf" and "What Planet Are You From?" on the resume. Nichols might be artistically criticized, but he might also be faulted for agreeing Excellent, entertaining biography of one of America's most important directors over the past 50 years. Harris is even-handed in his approach to Nichols, someone he, presumably, knew well. It is difficult to categorize a director who has the film classics "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," "The Graduate," and "Angels in America" under his belt, while also having "Wolf" and "What Planet Are You From?" on the resume. Nichols might be artistically criticized, but he might also be faulted for agreeing to several weak or insignificant projects throughout his career. Harris beautifully weaves his way through a hefty lineup of Broadway and Hollywood projects, lingering where he should, quickly moving past those less important endeavors of Nichols. Throughout, Harris retained a journalists' objectivity toward his subject. Nichols was a human being, not a god. Harris accomplishes what all biographers aim for: communicating Nichols' life in a way that allows the reader to feel like they have been in Nichols' presence.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Philip

    I read/listen to a lot of showbiz biographies, I can confidently say this is one of the best I have come across to date - these are the reasons why I think Mike Nichols: A Life is so successful: 1. The title of the book should be Mike Nichols: Three Lives, because he so easily traversed between TV, film and stage and his artistic genius is so wonderfully rendered in Harris' descriptions of his many hits, as well as his failures and near-misses. 2. Harris is always very careful to keep the discussi I read/listen to a lot of showbiz biographies, I can confidently say this is one of the best I have come across to date - these are the reasons why I think Mike Nichols: A Life is so successful: 1. The title of the book should be Mike Nichols: Three Lives, because he so easily traversed between TV, film and stage and his artistic genius is so wonderfully rendered in Harris' descriptions of his many hits, as well as his failures and near-misses. 2. Harris is always very careful to keep the discussion within arm's reach of his central subject - many biographies get too bogged down in superfluous details and detours, or stretch waaaay too far back into the past than is necessary - this book is long, but it is meticulously organized, never boring. 3. Mike Nichols is simply a fascinating person. Now, the one biography I am dying to read, and Mark Harris please take note: we need Elaine May: A Life.

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