I met Mike Nichols in the lobby of New York's Alvin Theater in the spring of 1977. I was attending a preview performance of a musical and stepped outside because, quite frankly, the show wasn't that good. Nichols also stepped outside, smiled and lit up a cigarette, volunteering to me that he had been brought in to help the show, which struggled out of town. It required quite a few cast changes and the script and score still needed a lot of tightening-up.
Nichols would later joke that he wasn't exactly sure what he did when he produced or directed the scores of stage shows and movies that became legend. To that end, he was lying through his teeth, because everybody else knew that what Nichols did was magic. On Broadway, he was responsible for Barefoot in the Park
, The Odd Couple
, The Real Thing
and an amazing 2012 revival of Death of a Salesman
with Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Nichols' movie career is even more stunning, as he was responsible for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
, The Graduate
, Carnal Knowledge
, Working Girl
, The Birdcage
and HBO's phenomenal 2003 adaptation of Angels in America
But my favorite memories of Mike Nichols are of watching old kinescopes of his great comedy performances in the late 1950s and early 60s with Elaine May. Together, Nichols and May helped redefine sketch comedy and you see their influences in comedic stage performances through much of the latter half of the 20th century.
By the way, that show that Nichols was shepherding in 1977? It was Annie
, which won him one of his many Tony Awards. In fact, Nichols was an elite member of the famed EGOT "club," having won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony (on many occasions).
Nichols died Wednesday, Nov. 19, at the age of 83. ABC News reported that the cause of death was cardiac arrest.