When I was a little kid growing up in Omaha, I loved listening to each of my parents' comedy records. Bob Newhart and Jonathan Winters were great, but the one that was most seductive, most redolent of a (New York) world of wit and urbanity and sophistication and hovering melancholy, was the Nichols and May album.
In 8th grade, a friend and I went to see the second movie Mike Nichols directed, The Graduate, at the mall. The new MPAA ratings system had not yet gone into effect, so free-range 13-year-olds were still free to buy tickets to a witty, sophisticated, slightly melancholic and very racy movie. I entered the theater a child and came out, I felt, a young adult.
As an actual adult in New York, I met and chatted with Mike Nichols a few times at large social events and then, a few years ago, had dinner with him. This, I thought as I listened to amazing story after amazing story in a dining room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the New York of my dreams. The last time I saw him, at a mutual friend's book party, I mentioned a piece I'd just written about Kurt Vonnegut — which launched him on a surprising, generous, breathtakingly knowledgeable exegesis of Vonnegut. I wanted to take notes.
I know plenty of people who are variously smart, or funny, or thoughtful, civilized, erudite, entertaining, accomplished. But all those things at once and so extremely? Mike Nichols wins.