MIKE NICHOLS ON THE SET OF THE GRADUATE
The 30th of October, 2001 was memorable. It was a crisp fall evening and the opening night of the NBA basketball season. Michael Jordan had come out of retirement one last time and donned the uniform of the Washington Wizards. He’d been granted an equity stake in the team, and had gotten that itch to lace ‘me up again. Coincidentally, the old Knick killer was scheduled to make his season debut at Madison Square Garden against a Knicks team that was in decline. I was a newly installed Executive Vice President of a fresh start-up record company that was based in LA, and I was traveling back and forth between both coasts while trying to sign artists and establish a New York office. I got a pair of tickets for the game and a date.
New York was still on it’s heels after having taken a devastating combo on the chin when both World Trade Center towers were destroyed on 9/11. National Guardsmen were patrolling the streets and paranoia filled the air. Buildings that you could previously walk through in order to take a shortcut were closed. Metal detectors were everywhere, and anyone with a Middle Eastern appearance was mistrusted on sight. Racist propaganda was spouted from every possible source, and patriotism was the thing that made it okay. The Bush administration was preparing to take advantage of the patriotic fervor by invading two countries that we still haven’t fully gotten out of, and by directing then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to use the moment to empower all intelligence services to begin to monitor civilian communication by phone, and the web – they called it the Patriot Act. We were badly in need of an evening’s entertainment.
This particular night, the game was being played in the stands. Jordan brought the A-list out and seated next to me was SNL’s Darrell Hammond, and his date, Lorraine Bracco of the Sopranos. My seats were cool – right on the aisle of the first row behind the fold-ups on the Eighth Avenue baseline. We were in the corner nearest the Knicks bench. The networking thing was in full effect. My date was a leggy Italian attorney with a great smile and gorgeous eyes. I’d given her the seat on the aisle and she was being chatted up by one of the City’s great power couples, Good Morning America anchorwoman, Diane Sawyer and her husband, the great film, and theater director, Mike Nichols. Lovely people. It was an honor to spend an evening in their company.
Of course, at that point, I had already been a Nichols fan for nearly 35 years after seeing his satirical groundbreaking masterwork “The Graduate” as a child. And since then, I’ve seen it many, many times more, along with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, Working Girl, Silkwood, The Birdcage, Postcards From The Edge, Wolf, Heartburn and his unforgettable contemplation on morality, fidelity and the Internet, Closer.
Earlier today, news came to us that Nichols died of a heart attack. I do remember that the Knicks beat the Wizards that night, but I most remember meeting one of the greatest directors that America has produced. I am grateful to have lived during the era that formed him. R.I.P. Mike Nichols, you did your thing.