American Masters, PBS’s terrific series that produces documentaries about writers and artists, has announced that its upcoming 30th season premiere episode will be on the late Oscar-winning director Mike Nichols. But in even better news, the two-hour doc will be directed by the creative person most identified with Nichols, especially in the early part of his career, Elaine May.
Nichols and May first met over 60 years ago at the University of Chicago. As a comedy team they performed in a 1959 Broadway show, An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, which was also turned into a Grammy-winning comedy album that same year. As a team, their comedy focused on the clipped neurosis of modern life, as in this clip in which Nichols plays a New York City renter seeking an apartment lease from a management company run by May:
The duo split up in 1961 to both pursue different career paths. In Nichols’ case, he was hired five years later to direct the film adaptation of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and then 1967’s The Graduate, which won him an Oscar. He would also win Emmys and Tonys for his direction of such projects as Angels in America and Spamalot. Eventually he collobrated again with May, who wrote the screenplays for his films The Birdcage and Primary Colors.
Nichols died one year ago at the age of 83. According to a press release, May, 83, has also assembled an extraordinary bench of Nichols’ friends and collaborators for the film, including Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Dustin Hoffman. Thirteen’s American Masters: Mike Nichols will air on PBS stations on Jan. 29.