He was more than just a filmmaker. With his passing at age 83, Mike Nichols leaves behind a legacy filled with awards and attitudes which influenced every medium he was involved in.
Mike Nichols won nine Tony Awards, four Emmys, a Grammy and an Oscar, making him one of the few artists in any medium that can claim such honors. Not bad for a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who thought of becoming a doctor but, instead, dropped out of the University of Chicago to try the theater. It was there where he met partner Elaine May, and the two would soon become the toast of contemporary ('50s) pop culture.
He was accepted into the Actor's Studio and studied under the great Lee Strasberg before joining the Windy City's Compass Players in 1955. Along with May, Shelley Berman, Del Close, and Nancy Ponder, they were the predecessors for the noted Second City improv troupe. In 1960, Arthur Penn directed the Broadway smash An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and soon both were huge household names.
But when he stepped onto the board to take on Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park in 1963, Mike Nichols knew immediately that all he wanted to do for the rest of his life is direct. When the show was a hit, he became much in-demand. Over the course of his career, such shows as The Odd Couple, Plaza Suite, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, and Annie would feel his input, with the mandatory awards to follow.
Thanks to his initial success, Warner Bros. choose him to helm an adaptation of Edward Albee's controversial Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , a job made even more difficult thanks to the casting of passionate press darlings and current married couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the leads. His efforts resulting in a bevy of awards season accolades.
As an artist, Nichols was never far away from the spotlight. He acted here and there, one of his best roles being that of Jack in David Hare's adaptation of Wallace Shawn's The Designated Mourner. He was also instrumental in getting the groundbreaking drama Family on the air. There were flops along the way (The Day of the Dolphin, The Fortune) as well as frequent return visits to the stage (The Gin Game, Gilda Live!, The Real Thing, Hurlyburly).
During the late '80s and early '90s, Nichols' name became synonymous with big stars in big parts, guiding Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver through Working Girl, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep through Heartburn, and Streep again, along with Shirley MacLaine in Postcards from the Edge.
In 1998, just as Bill Clinton was entering his final two years in office, Nichols brought the damning book Primary Colors to the big screen. Along with What Planet Are You From? , Closer, and Charlie Wilson's War, it would represent one of his final forays into film. For HBO, he turned such plays as Wit, and Angels in America into must-see TV, all while continuing his streak of Great White Way successes. With his passing, Nichols leaves behind his fourth wife, news anchor Diane Sawyer (he has three children from his previous marriages), a wealth of worthwhile work, and perhaps most importantly, a major impact on the modern film.
With that in mind, and in celebration of his very special life, we highlight five films in the director's oeuvre which marked major turning points in cinema. We're not saying that such topics -- sex, martial dysfunction, LGBT issues, corporate corruption, the coming-of-age -- would not have found their form elsewhere. Instead, thanks are due to Mike Nichols, for his films and the topics they address are benchmarks for the way we watch movies today.