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This story first appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
1939: Berlin’s Mikhail Igorevitch Peschkowsky, 7, steps off the boat in New York two weeks before the U.S. starts turning refugee boats away. Asked in 1996 if he thinks about this day, he replies: “Always. I feel like this is all borrowed time.”
1950: He directs University of Chicago classmate Ed Asner in W.B. Yeats’ Purgatory. “Bright guy,” says Asner. “I don’t remember any of his direction, but I don’t remember the direction a guy gave me last week.”
1957: Nichols and Chicago classmate Elaine May start performing in New York, bomb on Tonight Show but conquer Broadway and nab a Grammy. “We produced four top-selling Nichols-May albums,” says Quincy Jones.
1963: He takes $500 to direct Neil Simon‘s play Barefoot in the Park, wins his first of nine Tonys and makes Robert Redford famous. By 1965, he has three Broadway hits and a new drinking buddy: Richard Burton.
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1966: Burton gets him his first feature film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It fetches five Oscars. “He made you feel the two of you shared an exclusive and special relationship,” says Woolf star George Segal.
1967: Casting Dustin Hoffman — whom he’d seen playing a Russian transvestite onstage — in The Graduate, Nichols wins an Oscar. “You took a chance on me,” Hoffman tells him at 2010’s AFI. “You should never have done that.”
1970: He directs Catch-22, which he calls “a humiliation for all concerned,” and also flops big with 1973’s The Day of the Dolphin and 1975’s The Fortune. “You learn more from failure than success,” Nichols tells THR in 2012.
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1983: After seven years making no movies (but making a mint producing the musical Annie), he directs Meryl Streep in Silkwood; she also stars in later hits Heartburn, HBO’s Angels in America and Postcards From the Edge.
1986: In the Concorde airport lounge, Nichols fatefully meets Diane Sawyer, who invites him to lunch, marries him and saves him from a Halcion problem. “I had loved other women before, but not like this,” he tells THR in 2012.
1988: His smash Working Girl does good things for Melanie Griffith as an upwardly mobile secretary, and also for bit player Kevin Spacey, who tweeted Nov. 21, “Mike Nichols gave me my start.”
1996: The Birdcage, which reteams Nichols with Elaine May, gives a tasty role to Gene Hackman, whom he’d fired from The Graduate for being too young (Hackman had been cast as Mr. Robinson at 37 years old).
1998: Primary Colors gives John Travolta a chance to turn a killer Bill Clinton impersonation into a vivid character — though when Nichols bumps into Hillary Clinton at a party after its release, she is unamused.
2003: His HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner‘s AIDS epic Angels in America demonstrates Nichols’ vast range. “There is no Mike Nichols style visually or even tonally,” says actor Dan Futterman. “It’s whatever is right for the movie.”
2005: The Tony-winning Monty Python’s Spamalot shows Nichols’ musical side (and grosses more than $175 million). “He told me he had a Bach cantata going in his head all the time like a mantra,” says George Segal.
2012: Nichols wins his last Tony Award for Death of a Salesman, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. While directing it, Nichols tells THR, “This is as good a time as I’ve ever had, and I don’t want to f— it up.”
Read more from THR‘s tribute to Mike Nichols:
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