Published On: Sun, Jan 31st, 2021

New Mike Nichols Biography Is Getting Rave Reviews

The book is entitled simply “Mike Nichols: A Life.”

Mike Nichols (PBS.Org)

A Mike Nichols biography called “Mike Nichols: A Life” by the author Mark Harris debuts this week. It is already on the bestseller lists and is getting great reviews before its official release on Tuesday.

Harris is a long time journalist who has written extensively on the entertainment industry and movies. He previously published the books “Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood” and “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War.”

“Mark Harris has produced a clear-eyed, honest, enormously entertaining, deeply moving and thought-provoking account of what a director’s life is like and of what being a director means. His particular gifts, demonstrated in each book he writes, of combining objectivity with empathy and seriousness with delight are precisely what make him Mike Nichols’s ideal biographer. I can’t think of any praise higher than to say that this book is worthy of its subject.” —Steven Spielberg

Mike Nichols died in November, 2014 at the age of 83. Born November 6, 1931 as Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin to the son of a Russian Jewish immigrant family and a German Jewish mother he was one of the only people to hit a grand slam of entertainment winning an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony.

Nichols directed 22 movies over a span of 40 years including Catch 22, Working Girl, Silkwood and his first film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton from 1966. His final movie was 2007’s Charlie Wilson’s War which starred Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, but his most memorable was probably The Graduate from 1968 with Dustin Hoffman.

Nichols and his family were fortunate as they were able to escape Germany for America just before the outbreak of World War II and the start of the Holocaust.

When he dies Mike Nichols was remembered fondly by the people who worked with him. Art Garfunkel, who appeared in Nichols’ films Catch-22 and Carnal Knowledge, and who wrote (with Paul Simon) Mrs. Robinson for The Graduate, told Billboard at the time that he truly and deeply loved the man.

“He was the most sparkling man among us. Life will be different for us now. Earth will be a little duller” Said Garfunkel. “Mike created an extraordinary star — so bright, so extremely clever — himself. When you were with him, he brought you up to your best smart self, and kept it light with humor,” he added.

Oscar winner Natalie Portman even went so far as to thank Mike Nichols for saving her life. Long before she was famous and still a teenager, the star of Black Swan was directed on stage by Nichols in a production of Chekhov’s The Seagull. In 2004, eight years before she would win an Oscar, Nichols also directed Portman in the movie Closer with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.

“The book is as smart and well-paced as if Mike had directed it. It’s Virginia Woolf brutal and Birdcage funny. I devoured the details of Mike’s fascinating life, but I also marveled at Mark Harris’s ability to lead us through it. The shaky wooden rollercoaster of collaboration, the serpent-tongued antihero’s path to love, an artist’s guide to not being trash, ten pounds of movie stars in a five pound bag—this book has it all!” —Tina Fey

Famously, Nichols agreed not to make Portman go ahead with a nude scene in that film in spite of the fact that it was in the screenplay and the original stage play on which the movie was based. About this she said of Nichols, “He saved me again and again. He was the best way to be a person and an artist. And the most, most fun. I send my deepest love to Diane, Jenny, Max, Daisy and their children, who filled his days with light.”

The New York Times said:
He’s [Mark Harris] at his best in “Mike Nichols: A Life” when he takes you inside a production. His chapters on the making of three films in particular — “The Graduate,” “Silkwood” and “Angels in America” — are miraculous: shrewd, tight, intimate and funny. You sense he could turn each one into a book.

Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate

Publishers Weekly:
Harris (Five Came Back) delivers an entertaining portrait of actor, director, and producer Mike Nichols in this bracingly candid biography. Drawing primarily on interviews conducted by himself and others …Harris captures the award-winner’s “precision and finesse” during his “five-decade career in movies and theater,”

The Los Angeles Times:
Judicious and superbly well-written . Actors must capture this essence, then somehow transfer it into highly artificial situations. If Nichols played taskmaster, it was only to remind them that what is happening here has never happened before; you have no idea what others will say or do next, you must stay spontaneous and reactive—all while subordinating yourself to a larger story. That was, finally, the great, impossible neither/nor of his genius, as it is, too, of Mark Harris’ wonderful book.”

Commentary:
“Such a wide-ranging professional life is the stuff of a major biography, and Mark Harris, author of Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back, two of the best books about film to come out in recent years, has delivered the goods. Mike Nichols: A Life is as fine a portrait of anyone in the performing arts as I have ever read . . . Mark Harris’s wonderful book, which comes seven years after [Nichols’] passing, will serve as his monument.”

Mike Nichols: A Life Hardcover – February 2, 2021, 688 pages.

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