6/25/20: Mike Nichols #poetry #America #movies #theater #improvisation

Video from Mike Nichols’ Heartburn — 30 year old me working for Mike Nichols in the brown shirt and brown hair

6/25/20: Mike Nichols #poetry #America #movies #theater #improvisation

Some of my beats are America, movies, theater and improvisation. All of those beats are in trouble right now, and also on the brink of great opportunity. Today’s segment is a song of praise that surprised me about a man who surfed time from Hitler to Obama, adapting and thriving as a human being, artist and businessman — in that order — maintaining his core and transforming his approaches to stay timely, relevant and healing until the end.

Mike Nichols was a nice man

a good man

a man from another time

I worked for him briefly

He made me feel like I was a genius and the next big thing

He did that for most everybody

He loved actors

and writers

and audiences

He personified the best of what Second City could be

during and after

he hit a sweet spot that touched art and commerce and being a mensch

He was very smart

and very warm

I didn’t set out to praise him so today

I started with the idea that Mike Nichols’ life and work and career are already of a time gone by

never to return

Nichols tracked the arc that America followed from culture to markets

he died before our descent into fascism

but he surely saw it coming

he knew it

he saw it as a seven-year old escaping Nazi Germany

and he never forgot it

He was a hybrid American

a refugee

A paradox

The ultimate insider

deflecting all eyes

from his role as precocious outsider

That was his ultimate magic trick

a master of disguise

Therefore …

He wasn’t as innocent as most of the rest of us

He knew how dark Man could be

But also how light

He was Einstein’s cousin!

What kind of crazy strains of goodness and brilliance was at his childhood dinner table

from the lesser members of the family who shared that gene pool?

He was a bard of how psychological and sociological attitudes affected ordinary people’s behaviors

His work, to me, seems to be about always finding a route to kindness, empathy, humanity

through a field of weakness, quiet desperation and temptation

He wasn’t nice just to be nice

Like everything else about him

he knew that it was smart to be nice

He got the most out of his colleagues with the sweet attitude

and he relied on them greatly

Nichols was less a creator and more of an arranger of other people’s talents

He had remarkable taste

Like a great baseball manager he knew how to put his players in the optimal positions and situations in order to win

Working that week for Mike Nichols was a great experience for me

Very instructive

Turns out, I was just a brief visitor to his world

I don’t do what Mike Nichols did

I just tell the truth

He was more subtle

He told as much truth as the audience could hear

He listened to the audience

and like a master politician

he led them as far as they could go and never went farther than what they were ready for

It’s my job just to tell the truth

I don’t think one approach is better than the other

Both are needed

Nichols was, and I am an untrained intellectual

Our type isn’t certified to understand things

We just look

I retreated to Mike Nichols yesterday afternoon

watching old videos in my sanctuary

as America goes through its necessary unraveling

and begins to

at long last

deal with racism

and capitalism

and sexism

and all the other abstractions we attach

to our fear, ignorance, arrogance,

stupidity, meanness and cruelty

and old, dead, man of the past

Mike Nichols

was less an escape

and more of a balm to me

Nichols made a lot of money

and made a lot of art

but as I watched him get progressively older in his interviews

those material things

were revealed to be means and not the end

I liked him much more than I expected to

The man dwarfed the prodigious body of work

and the gold medal career

Mike Nichols had a special life

My week with him was a special week

Nichols saw the world’s darkness with the eyes of refugee from Hitler’s Germany

its potential delights as a golden boy who enjoyed stratospheric early success

and its moral responsibility as a spoiled boy who more than anything wanted to grow up to be loving man

When I was with Mike Nichols for a week

I was in awe and nervous for that week

Stunned by the movie stars and New York intellectuals that I sat by

He was impressed by all of that too

but never to the exclusion of what really mattered

and now I see why fate sent me into that brief close proximity to Mike Nichols

and to my distant appreciation of him in the subsequent years

culminating with my video viewing yesterday

and it has nothing to do

with Hollywood

acting

show business

money

art even!

or

careers.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “6/25/20: Mike Nichols #poetry #America #movies #theater #improvisation

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