For those that know me, you know that Whoopi Goldberg is my idol. So much so, that while in New York pursuing my dream to get to Broadway, I chose to do a scene from “Ghost” in acting class. While my teacher lauded my performance, he kinda read me by saying, “You were really funny, but we already have a Whoopi Goldberg…why don’t you try being the best and funniest version of Carla”. Ouch!!!! While my feelings were hurt, I still got praise for the comedy and I owe that to Miss Whoopi!
However, the real praise goes to Academy Award winning director Mike Nichols. For had it not been for his discovery of Whoopi Goldberg, I, nor millions of other fans, would not have the pleasure of being entertained by her sheer, comic genius today.
Through “Becoming Mike Nichols”, the audience is treated to a master class with one of the iconic, cinematic geniuses to direct for the silver screen. Mike’s humble beginnings as an improv actor with his partner Elaine May, gave him a secret door to what makes actors tick, how to get their best work onstage and onscreen, as well as, knowing when to step out of the way and just letting the magic unfurl.
Like most people in America, at the time, Nichols was a Russian-Jew immigrant from Germany who barely spoke English upon arrival. Ironically enough, it was the movies and the theatre that helped him to overcome that obstacle.
In Summer of 2014, Nichols decided to sit down with friend/colleague Jack O’Brien to discuss his early career over two days at the Golden Theatre where it all began for him decades ago. The stories are fascinating! We learn that one of the brightest, funniest women in comedy (Carol Burnett) opened for Nichols and May at the Blue Angel in New York City. He speaks fondly of witnessing the brilliance of Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy and Karl Malden on Broadway in “Streetcar Named Desire”, making friends with some of the most legendary names on Broadway and film though the “alley” on 45th Street that connects the Majestic, Golden and Jacobs stage door entrances, working with Neil Simon on “Barefoot in the Park” (originally called “Nobody Loves Me”) and “The Odd Couple” with Art Carney from “The Honeymooners” and Walter Matthau.
Although, think the most entertaining anecdotes come from his chance meeting with Richard Burton, which ultimately brings him to hanging out with and becoming lifelong friends with Elizabeth Taylor. Those two events would lead to his directing the legends in their most memorable onscreen pairing, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”…with Liz walking away with an Oscar for her performance. Wo knew that Anthony Perkins (“Psycho”) would be the one to contribute to the photography aspects of that film simply through a few innocent question from Nichols regarding camera lenses.
However, it is his story of discovering a young Dustin Hoffman and the soundtrack for the movie he is most remembered for “The Graduate” that leaves you breathless.
“Becoming Mike Nichols debuts TONIGHT on PBS at 9pm (check your local listings for the time in your area)