Award-winning American director Mike Nichols dies at 83


Mike Nichols, a nine-time Tony Award winner on Broadway and the Oscar-winning director of influential films such as “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” “The Graduate,” and “Carnal Knowledge,” died on Wednesday at age 83.

The prolific director passed away at his home of cardiac arrest, his spokeswoman said. A private service for the family will be held this week, followed by a memorial at a future date.

No director had ever moved between Broadway and Hollywood as easily as Nichols, one of the few people to win the Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy Awards.

Nichols, whose career first blossomed with a comedy partnership with Elaine May in the late 1950s, was married to Diane Sawyer, former anchorwoman of ABC's “World News Tonight” broadcast.

ABC News President James Goldston announced Nichols' death in a memo to staff, saying he “passed away suddenly on Wednesday evening.”

“In a triumphant career that spanned over six decades, Mike created some of the most iconic works of American film, television and theater,” Goldston said. “He was a true visionary.”

In memory of Nichols, marquees on Broadway theatres in New York will be dimmed on Friday evening for one minute.

“Legendary director Mike Nichols shared his distinct genius for storytelling through the worlds of stage and film. Throughout his celebrated career in many mediums that spanned decades, he was always in awe of the thrill and the miracle that is theatre,” Charlotte St. Martin, the executive director of the Broadway League, said in a statement.

Fans and colleagues took to Twitter to express their sorrow.

“Funniest, smartest, most generous, wisest, kindest of all,” actress Mia Farrow tweeted. “Mike Nichols, a truly good man.”

Actor Tony Goldwyn said Nichols was the greatest of the great. “What a gigantic loss!” he added.

Nichols was born Michael Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin, where his parents had settled after leaving Russia. He came to the United States at age 7 when his family fled the Nazis in 1939.

He grew up in New York feeling like an outsider because of his limited English and odd appearance – a reaction to a whooping-cough vaccine had caused permanent hair loss. As a University of Chicago student, he fought depression, but found like-minded friends such as May.

In the late 1950s, Nichols and May formed a stand-up team at the forefront of a comedy movement that included Lenny Bruce, Jonathan Winters and Woody Allen in satirizing contemporary American life. They won a Grammy in 1961 for best comedy album before splitting, partly because May liked to improvise and Nichols preferred set routines.

In the mid-1960s, Nichols came to be a directing powerhouse on Broadway with “Barefoot in the Park,” the first of what would be a successful relationship with playwright Neil Simon. Later he would stage Simon's “The Odd Couple,” “Plaza Suite” and “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” and Time magazine called him “the most in-demand director in the American theater.”

In all, he won best-director Tonys for his four collaborations with Simon, as well as for “Luv” in 1965, “The Real Thing” in 1984, “Spamalot” in 2005 and a revival of “Death of a Salesman” in 2012, and best musical award as a producer of “Annie” in 1977.

TURNING TO HOLLYWOOD

Nichols also made an impact on American cinema with three influential movies in a five-year period.

The first, a 1966 adaption of the Edward Albee play “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It was nominated for an Oscar in all 13 categories in which it was eligible and won five of them, although Nichols did not take the best director award.

He followed that up a year later with “The Graduate,” starring then little-known Dustin Hoffman as an aimless college graduate seduced by Anne Bancroft as an older woman before falling in love with her daughter. Nichols won an Academy Award for his direction and the movie, which thanks to several memorable lines and the music of Simon and Garfunkel, became a 1960s cultural touchstone.

In 1971, Nichols put out “Carnal Knowledge,” which created a sensation because of its sexual nature. The manager of a movie theater in Georgia was arrested for showing the film and had to appeal his case to the U.S. Supreme Court before being exonerated.

Sometimes Nichols' movies did go off the road. “Catch-22,” “Day of the Dolphin” and “The Fortune” were generally considered commercially unsuccessful and he did not make a feature film from 1975 until 1983, rebounding with “Silkwood,” for which he was nominated for another Oscar.

In the second act of his movie career, Nichols also directed “Heartburn,” Simon's “Biloxi Blues,” “Postcards from the Edge,” “Regarding Henry,” “The Birdcage,” “Primary Colors,” “Charlie Wilson's War” and “Working Girl,” which earned him another Oscar nomination.

He won an Emmy in 2001 for “Wit” and another in 2003 for “Angels in America,” a TV miniseries about the AIDS epidemic.

In the mid-1980s, Nichols suffered a psychotic breakdown, which he said was related to a prescription sedative, that made him so delusional he thought he had lost all his money.

Despite his urbane, intellectual manner, Nichols once had a reputation as an on-the-set screamer. Meryl Streep told The Hollywood Reporter, “He was always the smartest and most brilliant person in the room – and he could be the meanest, too.”

The actress said that changed after Nichols married Sawyer, his fourth wife.

Nichols had three children from his earlier marriages.

Remembering Marvin Hamlisch: One singular sensation… and what he did for love


It was early 1989, and TV producer Terre Blair called her mother with the exciting news.  “I’m engaged”, she announced.  “I’m getting married to Marvin Hamlisch!”  “Marvin Hamlisch?” the prospective mother-in-law replied.  “You mean the boxer from Las Vegas?”  “No, Mom.  That’s Marvin Hagler,” Terre laughed.  “Marvin Hamlisch is a composer;  he writes songs, and he tours.”  “Just what this family needs,” said Mom.  “An out-of-work songwriter.”

Actually, by the time Hamlisch was 31, he had accomplished as much and certainly won more awards than most composers do in an entire lifetime.  But the Pulitzer Prize and Tony award, as well as three Oscars and four Grammys, are part of his past.  “I don’t know whether it’s my Type A personality, or the way I was raised, or what it is,” mused Hamlisch, “but there’s something in me that tends to only look forward, and not back.”

A clear example of that occurred after his wedding to Terre, which was attended by Liza Minelli, Carly Simon, Ann-Margret, and Roberta Flack, who serenaded the couple with “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” “I have a house on Long Island, and when I was single, my office there had most of my memorabilia in it.  When I got married,” recalled Hamlisch, “I decided to take down all the awards, all the photos, and just have a picture of my wife there and a nice little reproduction from the Museum of Art.  So when I’m sitting there, looking at the piano, I’m not thinking about what I should have done, what I could have done, what I had done… I’m just thinking in terms of, now what can I do?” 

The composer also believes all the acclaim can put a crimp in the creative process.  “You never start out focused on trying to win an award or have something become famous.  You just start out wanting to write something good, and I think what happens, unfortunately, is that the trappings of celebrity get in the way.”  Hamlisch also has a new-found perspective on fame and fortune.  “You know, when you’re a bachelor for 45 years, as I was, the things that make you happy tend to be entwined with the things that you do.  If you do a good movie or have a hit song, you go, ‘Ooh, I’m happy!’  Any kind of happiness on its own, like walking along the ocean, or looking at a good piece of art, is never as good as the three Oscars.”

“But when I got married,” he continued, “all that stuff went into another category, so the three Oscars are real fine, but that’s a professional happiness.  That doesn’t beat the happiness of waking up to your wife or sitting in the office with her or walking and talking with her or just thinking about her.  Separating the music world from the ‘world world’ allowed me to get back to how I was when I started all this.  And that’s what you have to do, I think, in order to do well.  You have to always go back to how it was.”

How it was, for the writer of “The Way We Were,” was a Manhattan childhood that included being the youngest student ever admitted to the Juilliard School of Music.  While still in college, he began working on Broadway shows, and composed the Lesley Gore hit “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows.”  Hamlisch’s burgeoning career truly soared when he scored a series of films, including “Take The Money And Run,” “The Way We Were,” and “The Sting.”

In 1974, Hamlisch began a year-long tour as accompanist and straight man to the legendary and, at the time, elderly Groucho Marx.  “He was the grandfather I never had, a nice old Jewish man, not at all grouchy.  A real sweetheart of a guy.  But he was getting a little senile, and he used to tell the same joke over and over.  He would say, ‘I bought an anklet for this girl, and I had it inscribed.’  I would ask, ‘What did it say?’  He would answer, ‘Heaven’s above.’ “  Was this joke told onstage or off?  “Anywhere.  Always.  Constantly.”

During that tour, Hamlisch composed the score for “A Chorus Line”.  The day before the play received its first New York press reviews in 1975, he approached its director/choreographer, Michael Bennett.  “I asked him, what happens if we were wrong about the show, if it’s not as good as we think it is?  Michael looked at me and said, ‘Have you done your best?’  I said yes.  He said, ‘Do you think you’ve wasted any time?’  I said no.  He asked, ‘Is there anything up there you’re ashamed of?’  I said no.  He said, ‘That’s all you can do.’”  The Pulitzer, Tony, and a record run on the Great White Way confirmed the duo’s belief that they had a winner.

Hamlisch is busy these days with commercial projects, but he seems more enthused with a symphonic work called “The Anatomy of Peace,” inspired by a book of that name.  “I’m grappling with some big issues right now,” he says.

Fame and fortune has granted Marvin Hamlisch that opportunity, but to him, that aspect of his career is secondary.  “You’re going to think this is really hokey,” he confided, “but I really don’t care if people remember I wrote ‘The Way We Were.’  I mean, hopefully, they’ll play it at a Bar Mitzvah here or there;  that’s fine with me.  But I just hope people connect me somehow with music that had a kind of integrity, and that was melodic.  That’s all I care about.  Forget awards, forget accolades.  I started all this to write good music, and I just want to keep doing that.”


Steve North is a broadcast journalist with CBS News.

Composer Marvin Hamlisch dies at 68


Composer Marvin Hamlisch, who earned critical acclaim and popularity for a prolific output of dozens of motion-picture scores and shows including “The Way We Were,” “The Sting” and “A Chorus Line,” has died in Los Angeles. He was 68.

Hamlisch collapsed after a brief illness and died on Monday, a family spokesman said in a statement. The spokesman gave no more details.

The composer and conductor was the creative force behind more than 40 film scores, including original compositions and musical adaptations such as his arrangement of ragtime composer Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” in the 1973 film “The Sting.”

[From the archive: ‘Chorus Line’ composer’s music still has a kick]

He won two Oscars for best score and best song for “The Way We Were,” also released in 1973, which starred Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand. Hamlisch first worked with Streisand as a rehearsal pianist for “Funny Girl.”

His other film scores included “Sophie’s Choice,” “Ordinary People,” “The Swimmer,” “Three Men and a Baby,” “Ice Castles,” “Take the Money and Run” and “Bananas.” His latest effort was for a film based on the life of pianist Liberace.

On Broadway, he won a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize for the 1975 musical “A Chorus Line,” which at the time became the most successful show on the Great White Way. He had been working on a new Broadway musical called “Gotta Dance.”

Hamlisch earned the rare distinction of winning Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards.

At the time of his death, he held the position of principal pops conductor for several symphony orchestras across the United States and was scheduled to conduct the New York Philharmonic in this year’s New Year’s Eve concert.

He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Terre.

Reporting by Christine Kearney; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Matthew Lewis

Wendy Wasserstein to Give a Little Peek


Fertility therapy, Jewish identity, pressure to marry,
single parenting. All are themes that flow through both the personal life and
creative work of playwright Wendy Wasserstein, who won a Pulitzer Prize and
Tony in 1998 for “The Heidi Chronicles.”

In a rare peek behind the curtains on Broadway, Wasserstein
will share some scenes out of her own theater experience at the Newport Beach
Public Library on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. The $36 cost per person includes a
complimentary copy of Wasserstein’s latest book, “Shiksa Goddess (Or How I
Spent My Forties),” essays chronicling challenges facing contemporary women in
America.

A more intimate dinner with Wasserstein for patrons of the
Orange County Jewish Community Scholar Program will precede the library event.
It will take place in the dining area of Corona del Mar’s Heath Food Emporium
and will be an opportunity to question Wasserstein directly, said Arie Katz,
founder of the Orange County Community Scholar Program, which organized the
event.

Wasserstein’s first book of essays in 10 years is the result
of a “to do” list composed of items left over from when she turned 30. The list
included perennial resolutions: lose weight, exercise, read more, improve
female friendships, improve male friendships and a holdover from a second-grade
to do list: become a better citizen. The more recent additions were: move, fall
in love, decide about a baby.

Each quest and midlife obsession is annotated with
Wasserstein’s well-known gift for prose. Reviewers called her observations humorous
and disarming in their honesty.

“Wendy Wasserstein reveals in inimitably witty fashion the
hard work that underpins her glamorous playwright life — and charts hilariously
her tussles with personal trainers, directors, philistine congressmen and, of
course, her mother…. A remarkable volume of essays, with much wisdom and some
moral outrage detectable in a rollercoaster of theatrical thrills and dietary
spills,” said Flora Fraser, excerpted at the Borzoi Reader, an online
publication of the book’s publisher, Alfred K. Knopf.

At least 200 people are expected at the library, having
already purchased tickets for her previously scheduled appearance last month.
Wasserstein, who was unavailable for an interview, postponed because of
illness. Should demand outstrip the library’s capacity, the venue may be
changed, Katz said.

Within the theater community, Wasserstein is known as a
mentor to other writers and for using her stature in institutions and in
government for arts advocacy.

“Her presence on Broadway gave her a platform that she used
to benefit others more than herself,” said Jerry E. Patch, who years ago
directed a college production of Wasserstein’s first play about her roommates
at Mount Holyoke College, “Uncommon Women and Others.” Patch serves as South
Coast Repertory Theater’s dramaturg.

Her earliest work won accolades for capturing the impact of
the women’s liberation movement on the middle class. “When change happens, it’s
sometimes difficult to chronicle,” Patch said. “Wendy writes plays that are
really insightful and quietly revolutionary. She makes that kind of change
accessible.”

A native of Brooklyn, Wasserstein graduated from Mount
Holyoke and the Yale School of Drama. She wrote a string of successful,
award-winning plays, including “Uncommon Women,” “The Sisters Rosensweig,” “An
American Daughter” and her most recent, “Old Money.”

In an offstage version of life imitating art, Wasserstein is
taking a cue from her famous heroine, Heidi, who became a single parent. At 48,
Wasserstein gave birth to her first child, Lucy Jane, in September 1999.

Patch as well as others suggest that Wasserstein’s work
speaks for a generation of first-wave feminists, who assented to the dogma that
family and career were mutually exclusive. Personally, Wasserstein rejects such
doctrine.

Just listen to her answering machine. A husky voice that
signs off is joined by the squeaky soprano of a child’s voice. They slowly
chant the ABCs in unison.

To purchase tickets or more information, call (949)
717-3890.