This article was first published in the February 26, 2010 issue of the Forward.
On the celebrity family tree, a Jewish film director has been revealed as the missing link among Albert Einstein, Meryl Streep and TV’s Dr. Mehmet Oz.
Mike Nichols, the Oscar-winning director of the 1967 film “The Graduate,” learned that he shared connections with a surprising set of “cousins” in “Faces of America,” a new PBS series that traces the background of a dozen prominent participants. Hosted by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., the show uses a combination of genealogical records and DNA testing to make a series of unexpected discoveries, some of them stretching back dozens of generations.
For Nichols, born in Berlin in 1931 as Michael Igor Peschkowsky, those discoveries both confirmed old family legends and turned up new information. In a vindication of the filmmaker’s mother, genealogical records showed that Nichols’s great-grandfather was indeed a second cousin to Einstein — a claim the filmmaker said he’d long dismissed as family lore.
(Reuters) — Few directors have moved between Broadway and Hollywood as easily as Mike Nichols. Here are six facts about Nichols, who died on Wednesday.
1) A bad reaction to a whooping-cough vaccine at age 4 left Nichols permanently hairless, according to the New Yorker magazine. Later he would come to rely on wigs and fake eyebrows.
2) Nichols told the New York Times that when he came to the United States from Germany in 1939 at age 7 as Michael Igor Peschkowsky, he knew only two English sentences: “I do not speak English” and “Please, do not kiss me.”
3) Nichols met ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer in 1986 in a Paris airport lounge as they waited for a Concorde flight to New York. He said he approached Sawyer and told her that she was his hero and she responded by saying he was her hero. In 1998 Sawyer became Nichols’ fourth wife.
4) Nichols and Buck Henry were boyhood schoolmates in New York. Later Henry would write the screenplays for Nichols’ movies “The Graduate,” “Catch-22” and “The Day of the Dolphin.”
5) When not directing, Nichols often concentrated on breeding prize-winning Arabian horses.
6) During a tribute to Nichols at the 2003 Kennedy Center Honors ceremony, Meryl Streep and Candice Bergen read Nichols’ “Five Rules for Filmmaking”: 1: The careful application of terror is an important form of communication. 2: Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting dirty for. 3: There’s absolutely no substitute for genuine lack of preparation. 4: If you think there’s good in everybody, you haven’t met everybody. 5: Friends may come and go but enemies will certainly become studio heads.
What if Tatooine were a warped version of 1960s suburban California, Aunt Beru was Mrs. Robinson, and Luke Skywalker just a blonder Benjamin Braddock?
Replace John Williams’s Darth Vader theme with Simon and Garfunkle, and my guess is, it would look something like this. Enjoy your trip to Scarborough Fair. Via land speeder, that is.
Mike Nichols is to Simon & Garfunkel as Yoko Ono is to The Beatles.
Art Garfunkel revealed at a recent panel discussion in New York that when the film director hired the duo to act in his 1970 film version of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” — but then dropped Simon from the project — he did the partnership in.
“I had Paul sort of waiting: ‘All right, I can take this for three months. I’ll write the songs, but what’s the fourth month? And why is Artie in Rome [the filming location] a fifth month?’ What’s Mike doing to Simon & Garfunkel?’” Garfunkel recalled Simon’s take on the situation at the time.
Garfunkel spoke at an event following a special screening of his and Simon’s controversial 1969 documentary “Songs of America” on February 6 at New York’s Paley Center for Media.
Riding to the rescue is the American Film Institute, which will present Nichols with its 38th AFI Life Achievement Award today. Nichols will thereby be placed alongside great directors like John Ford, William Wyler and Billy Wilder.
In recent years actors like Kirk Douglas, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand and Michael Douglas have received the same award, and if no Ford, Wyler, or Wilder, Nichols has proven himself to be a masterful combination of performer and director.
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