Mike Nichols was a Jewish theater and film director who was born in Germany and later immigrated to the United States. He is celebrated for his achievements in both fields and is one of the few artists to have won all four major American entertainment awards: the Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy. Nichols is best known for directing films such as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "The Graduate."
Mike Nichols, originally named Igor Peschkowsky, was born into a Jewish family in Berlin, Germany. His father, Pavel Peschkowsky, was a doctor by profession. When it became prohibited for Jews to practice medicine in Germany, Dr. Peschkowsky recognized the danger and immigrated to New York City, where he eventually found work in his field. In 1939, he was able to bring his wife, Brigitte Landauer, who came from a Jewish family in Germany, and their two sons to join him in the United States. Notably, Mike Nichols is a cousin of the renowned physicist Albert Einstein.
In his youth, Nichols suffered an allergic reaction to a whooping cough vaccine, which caused him to lose all of his hair. Throughout his life, he wore wigs due to his inability to grow hair. He also struggled with nerve issues and was hospitalized for mental health reasons several times.
In the 1950s, Nichols attended the University of Chicago, where he started a folk music radio program. He later partnered with Elaine May, an actress, and together, they performed as a comedic duo on television, in theater, radio, and even recorded three successful albums. Some of their sketches were translated into Hebrew and performed in Israel.
In 1961, Nichols transitioned from acting to directing. He directed four successful stage productions of Neil Simon's plays: "Barefoot in the Park" (1963), which launched Robert Redford's career; "The Odd Couple" (1965); "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" (1971); and "Plaza Suite," starring Maureen Stapleton. For these productions, Nichols received Tony Awards for Best Director, although he didn't direct film adaptations of these plays. It wasn't until 1988 that he directed "Biloxi Blues," a film adaptation of Neil Simon's play.
Over the next five decades, Nichols directed numerous theater productions, earning him seven Tony Awards in various categories, including Best Director for plays and musicals. He was one of the few directors to win both Tony Awards for directing plays and musicals.
Nichols' first feature film as a director was the critically acclaimed "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966), based on Edward Albee's famous play. The film was a commercial success and won five Oscars out of thirteen nominations. Just a year later, Nichols won his own Oscar for Best Director for "The Graduate," which catapulted Dustin Hoffman to stardom.
Throughout his career, Nichols demonstrated versatility by directing both successful dramas like "Silkwood" and "Regarding Henry" and comedies like "The Birdcage" and "Working Girl." He also ventured into science fiction and fantasy genres with films such as "Wolf" and "What Planet Are You From?"
Nichols had a knack for working with talented actors and actresses, including Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Harrison Ford, and Emma Thompson, all of whom garnered Oscar nominations or wins for their performances in his films. In total, 16 different actors from Nichols' films received Oscar nominations.
In the 2000s, Nichols shifted his focus to directing made-for-TV movies. He directed two highly acclaimed productions: "Wit," starring Emma Thompson, which won three Emmy Awards, including Best Director, and "Angels in America," a six-episode miniseries that won more than 11 Emmy Awards, with Nichols earning two, for directing and producing. In 2004, Nichols directed the film "Closer," an adaptation of Patrick Marber's play, which earned Natalie Portman and Clive Owen their first Oscar nominations.
In 2010, Nichols was honored with the Life Achievement Award by the American Film Institute.
Nichols was married four times, with his last marriage to Diane Sawyer in 1988. He had three children. His son Max Nichols married Rachel Nichols in a Jewish ceremony in Venice.
Awards and Achievements
* Academy Awards (Oscars): Nominated 5 times, Won 1 Oscar for Best Director ("The Graduate").
* Emmy Awards (Emmys): Nominated 6 times, Won 4 Emmys for various productions.
* Tony Awards (Tonys): Nominated 13 times, Won 7 Tonys, including Best Director for both plays and musicals.
* Grammy Awards (Grammys): Won 1 Grammy for Best Comedy Album (with Elaine May).
Mike Nichols left an indelible mark on both theater and film, demonstrating his mastery in storytelling and direction across multiple genres and mediums. His ability to bring out stellar performances from actors and his penchant for tackling diverse subjects made him a legendary figure in the entertainment industry.
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