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Renowned Theater And Film Director Mike Nichols Dies


Let's remember Mike Nichols, the director who brought us movies from "The Graduate" to "Charlie Wilson's War," and many in between. He died at age 83, and NPR's Bob Mondello is here. Bob, just as we've been talking before we went on the air, it's been amazing just to hear the enthusiasm in your voice for this man's work.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Oh, man. I've been experiencing his work since I was a kid, and I love his work so much. I was surprised to discover at some point that he was not born in this country. He was born in Germany. And when he came to this country, when he was 7 years old, he spoke no English. And so he had learned two phrases. He had learned, I don't speak English.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) OK, good.

MONDELLO: And please, don't kiss me.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

MONDELLO: Now, if you're going to set up a career which is basically improv and comedy and things like that at the beginning, that seems like he's got the right sensibility, right? Mike Nichols and Elaine May were a hugely successful - in the 1950s and '60s - comedy team. And in a clip I'd like to play for you, there is a moment where he, as a psychiatrist, calls his mother.


ELAINE MAY: (As character) Someday, honey, you'll get married.

MIKE NICHOLS: (As character) Mom.

MAY: (As character) And you'll have children of your own.

NICHOLS: (As character) Mom, please.

MAY: (As character) And honey when you do, I only pray that they make you suffer the way you're making me.


NICHOLS: (As character) OK, mom. Thanks for calling.

MONDELLO: Now, you just have to love what he's - what they're doing there. And this kind of writing is the kind of writing that he just loved.

INSKEEP: The kind of - the awkward pauses and improvisational sound to it.

MONDELLO: Oh, all that kind of - and realist. I mean, it feels like something that actually happens, and he brought that to his directing of Broadway shows like "Barefoot In The Park," like "Odd Couple." I mean, he turned those into enormous hits that then went on to have lives elsewhere.

INSKEEP: And we're talking about a guy who directed movies like "Catch-22," "Silk Wood," "Working Girl," "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?" and of course "The Graduate," where I think we're now about to hear another one of these scripted, but exceedingly awkward-seeming moments. We have Dustin Hoffman here, and he's being, well, seduced, he thinks, by an older woman, Mrs. Robertson. Let's listen.


DUSTIN HOFFMAN: (As Ben Braddock) You got me into your house. You give me a drink. You put on music. Now you start opening up your personal life to me and tell me your husband won't be home for hours?

ANNE BANCROFT: (As Mrs. Robinson) So?

HOFFMAN: (As Ben Braddock) Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me.

BANCROFT: (As Mrs. Robinson, laughter).

HOFFMAN: (As Ben Braddock) Aren't you?


INSKEEP: Anne Bancroft there, great performance.

MONDELLO: They were just lovely, and you know what's interesting there, he's playing a 21-year-old at that point, but he was almost the same age as Anne Bancroft when he was doing that part. Dustin Hoffman got his start late in life. Mike Nichols knew what to do with actors in ways that most directors sort of do.

But if you've done it yourself, I guess - you know, a lot of great directors, like Clint Eastwood and people who come from acting, turn out to be great. He had a way of getting into the seriousness of comedy and bringing comedy to seriousness that was kind of fascinating. And I don't think there were any of his movies where you weren't surprised by the humor behind them and then also sort of ambushed by the feeling.

INSKEEP: Which makes it feel appropriate that we've ended up laughing on this occasion marking his death at the age of 83. Bob Mondello, thank you very much.

MONDELLO: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's our film critic Bob Mondello, talking with us this morning about the death of Mike Nichols, who died at 83. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 19, 2014 at 11:00 PM CST
In the original version of this report we said that Mike Nichols cast Elizabeth Taylor in The Taming of the Shrew. In fact, the movie was Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. We also said Nichols directed Annie on Broadway. In fact, he was one of the show's producers.
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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