Mike Nichols: A life
Penguin Press, $52.99 hb, 688 pp
On 8 November 2015, a year after his death, a celebration was held for Mike Nichols in the IAC building in New York. The audience included the likes of Anna Wintour, Stephen Sondheim, Tom Stoppard, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Meryl Streep. Seventy-six years earlier, less than a mile away, seven-year-old Igor Mikhail Peschkowsky walked down the SS Bremen’s gangplank into America and a new life. The transformation of the angry, bewildered immigrant Peschkowski into the outwardly charming, debonair, outrageously talented Nichols is at the heart of Mark Harris’s comprehensive, compulsively entertaining biography.
Nichols was born into an artistic, intellectual Russian-Jewish family in Berlin. His maternal grandmother, Hedwig Lachman, translated Oscar Wilde’s Salome; Richard Strauss used it as the basis for his libretto. Einstein was a distant cousin, a fact on which Elaine May riffed to hilarious effect at Nichol’s AFI Lifetime Achievement celebrations in 2010 (not to be missed on YouTube).