With his peripatetic creativity, knack for comic improvisation and canny ability to draw out an actor’s best performances, Mike Nichols became one of the most acclaimed theater and film directors of our time. In the sprawling yet intimate Mike Nichols: A Life, Mark Harris (Pictures at a Revolution) captures the ups and downs, the enthralling highs and ragged despair, of the man whom Harris calls “the last of a certain kind of cultural celebrity—someone who could travel between film and theater, who understood art and politics and fashion and history and money, a man of the world and of his century.”
Drawing on 250 interviews with Nichols' friends and family, Harris traces Nichols’ rag-to-riches story, beginning with the immigration of 7-year-old Igor Michael Peschkowsky (Nichols' birth name) to New York from Berlin. From there the tale follows his father’s death when Nichols was 12, an allergic reaction that resulted in his hairlessness and his eventual move to Chicago, where he took the first steps toward his eventual success. Although he had enrolled as a student at the University of Chicago—where he met and developed lifelong friendships with Susan Sontag and Ed Asner, among others—he ultimately fell in with Paul Sills, who directed Nichols in the improvisation group the Compass Players, the forerunner of Second City. In Chicago, Nichols worked as a DJ at the famed program "The Midnight Special" on WFMT, and he also met Elaine May, with whom he developed a popular comedic partnership.
Eventually Nichols left Chicago for New York City, where he would direct in quick succession the plays Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple and Little Foxes to great acclaim. He then moved into film as the director of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate. Harris artfully tracks Nichols' deep desire to work and to inspire others to embrace the power of theater and film. “Movies give us a chance to live other lives," Nichols said, "and we walk on the set every morning thinking, Anything can happen.”
Candid, colorful and chock-full of detail, Mike Nichols: A Life is the biography that Nichols well deserves.