Mike Nichols burst onto the scene as a wunderkind: 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, and ushered in a new era of Hollywood moviemaking with The Graduate, which won him an Oscar and became the third-highest-grossing movie ever. An intimate and evenhanded accounting of success and failure alike, this portrait presents the full story of one of the most richly interesting, complicated, and consequential figures the worlds of theatre and motion pictures have ever seen.
"Harris follows two outstanding works of film history (Pictures at a Revolution, 2008, and Five Came Back, 2014) with this robust biography of legendary director Mike Nichols. Harris' skill as a storyteller in on full view as he follows Nichols' immigrant's journey from Berlin in 1939, when the seven-year-old and his three-year-old brother, Robert, traveled alone to New York to join their father, through the early years as an outsider and indifferent student, and then on to his improbable and wildly successful career, first as an improv actor with Elaine May and then throughout a 50-year run as a stage and film director. This ground has been covered before, notably in the oral history Life Isn't Everything (2019), but Harris brings new dimension and context to the story, showing in vivid detail and with a novelist's feel for narrative, that Nichols' directorial career, despite its phenomenal beginning (Tony Awards for his first three Broadway shows and blockbuster success with his first two movies, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate), had its share of low points. Nichols' reactions to such film flops as Catch-22 and The Day of the Dolphin are covered much more fully here than in the necessarily celebratory oral history, and they provide some of the book's most revealing glimpses of Nichols' personal vulnerability. Like the best biographies, Harris brings his subject's life and work together in a perfectly unified whole."
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"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," which included directing the 1967 film The Graduate and the 1984 play The Real Thing. Nichols's first major success came in 1960 with An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, a comedy act that "more than doubled its investors' money"; his fame continued as he released his first feature film in 1966, an adaptation of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Though Nichols's work style--he "wasn't shy about using his personal experience to motivate his actors"--is front and center, Harris empathetically digs into his subject's private life: never far below the surface was the self-aware young Jewish immigrant from Germany who became a master of self-presentation and invention (Nichols took "great care never to look or sound too excited about anything"). Harris also doesn't gloss over Nichols's demons, including his drug use, demand for perfection, and "irritability and condescension" on set. The result is a joyously readable and balanced account of a complex man. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Feb.)"
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