Mike Nichols, the acclaimed director of such film classics as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Graduate (1967), as well as one half of the legendary comedy duo of Nicolas & May with Elaine May (b. April 21, 1932) in the '50s and '60s, has died at 83. He'd been married since 1988 to journalist Diane Sawyer (b. December 22, 1945).
Nichols won the Oscar for The Graduate, only his second film, and delivered many other memorable movies as diverse as Catch-22 (1970), Carnal Knowledge (1971), Gilda Live (1980), Silkwood (1983), Postcards from the Edge (1990), The Birdcage (1996) and his last film, Charlie Wilson's War (2007).
In 2001, he brought the highly regarded play Wit to TV, and three years later directed an ambitious Angels in America adaptation for HBO.
Nichols & May were known for their improvisational comedy, which led them to the successful Broadway show An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May. They split, both creatively and personally, but later buried the hatchet and teamed up on plays and films. (May wrote both The Birdcage and the Clinton parody Primary Colors.)
Elizabeth Taylor (1932—2011) & Richard Burton (1925—1984) in the indelible Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Nicholas was extremely active and frequently rewarded for his efforts in the theater, including directing enduring classics Barefoot in the Park (1963—his debut), The Odd Couple (1965), The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1971), Annie (1977), Hurlyburly (1984), Whoopi Goldberg's blank-titled one-woman show (1984) and the relatively recent runaway hit Spamalot (2005). His final work on Broadway was as the director of Betrayal in 2013, starring Daniel Craig and his wife Rachel Weisz.
Peter Falk (1927—2011) & Lee Grant (b. October 31, 1925) in The Prisoner of Second Avenue on Broadway in the early '70s
Apparently, Nicholas had not been in ill health, but died suddenly of a heart attack. A major loss for the entertainment world.
My high school graduation was celebrated with a The Graduate-themed party thrown by my mom.
In truth, I thought Roddy McDowall's photographs of Elizabeth Taylor were pedestrian, but I told him I thought he'd taken some of the best shots ever of his good friend because I knew he would love to hear that. He looked up from signing my book—his book—to thank me, and seemed pleased that I was a cute college kid.
I'd come to see him in Chicago because I knew, had heard, he was gay. That was the attraction, not his movies, his sexual orientation. He was someone I knew to be secretly gay. I was also secretly gay, at least, I was secretly gay in Chicago. A bunch of my Michigan friends knew, but my Chicago friends hadn't gotten an official press release just yet.
Well, I got him to sign that book and he signed a postcard of one of his Elizabeth Taylor portraits (to my mom because I'd mentioned we used to say she looked like La Liz), but I didn't have the courage to engage him further. Wish I had. He died less than 10 years later.
“'Fuck the Pope!' I screamed in childbirth. And fuck the Taliban who behead their women for baring their heads, and fuck the crazy Orthodox Jews taking land away from a people so like themselves and for teaching nothing but myths. Fuck them for making proud Lenny Bruce crawl. Fuck them all!”—Lee Grant, I Said Yes to Everything (2014)
Lee Grant's (b. October 31, 1925, or maybe 1926?) new memoir I Said Yes to Everything (Blue Rider, $28.95) is as absorbing a read as I've had in years, a self-reflective, unapologetically feminist tour de force sprinkled with just enough Hollywood revelations to make you feel both enlightened and titillated without ever feeling preached to or guilty for craving gossip.
BOY CULTURE RATING: **** out of ****
Grant has always excelled at playing neurotics, so it wasn't surprising to me that she self-identifies as having...issues...in the book, but I was taken aback by just how frankly and intelligently she discusses the hang-ups that have limited her (especially her career) in several ways—her worries about her age (some sources put her at 88, others a few years younger), about looking beautiful enough for casting directors (she had a facelift in the '50s at age 31!), about being able to remember her lines (after the jump. watch her recall the incident that ended her celebrated stage career), about being a good mother, wife, person.
Instead of being a linear cataloguing of every project she's ever done—no mention of Columbo (1971), The Spell (1977), Backstairs at the White House (1979), For Ladies Only (1981), Dr T. and the Women (2000), Mulholland Drive (2001) or her last-ever movie Going Shopping (2005)—the book instead is an intensely personal remembrance of how she came to be the person she is, the things that gave her joy, the things that perplexed her about life, her embarrassingly short-sighted mistakes, her wise choices.
Most movingly, Grant reveals herself to be an expert at observing others (real people and characters on the page) and summing them up with breathtaking sincerity, sometimes humorously, sometimes unsparingly, but without cruelty.
Achingly, Grant recalls her mother, Witia, and her aunt Fremo as a pair of fun-loving kindred spirits who doted on her, who believed she was God's gift, and who taught her the beauty of being a woman, and of being herself, a lesson she would need to re-learn after a painfully restrictive early marriage to much-0lder control freak and Communist Arnie Manoff (April 25, 1914—February 10, 1965) left her ego decimated and led to her being blacklisted from working in film or on TV for a dozen years.
Grant & raves
She writes glowingly of her gifted daughter, Dinah Manoff (b. January 25, 1958), but also reveals how rocky their relationship was for 15 years. Things were even worse with an adopted daughter, Belinda, whom she admits to outright buying, with her producer husband Joey Feury (b. circa 1936), in Thailand:
“The doorbell rang, and a shortish man stood in the doorway with what looked like a two-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl, one under each arm. Joey checked them out and said, 'We'll take her. Let's have lunch!' We had met our daughter...The little girl's mother met us in a park near the hotel, bringing two fair-haired, fair-skinned sons with her...I asked her about [the little girl's] father. 'I don't know,' she said. 'I don't remember.' She was pleasant and ordinary and matter-of-fact. We gave her five hundred dollars; she gave me Lindah.”
And in case you're worried it's all about Grant's family, there are unforgettable speed-portraits of everyone from Elizabeth Taylor (February 27, 1932—March 23, 2011) to “cunt!” Shelley Winters (August 18, 1920—January 14, 2006) to Bruce Willis (b. March 19, 1955) to “fish-headed” David Gest (b. May 11, 1953).
Willis screwed Grant over—big-time—when he pulled out of her film Broadway Brawler in the '90s.
Grant sums up her work impressionistically, and almost always to underscore a life lesson learned or to ruminate on her motivations as an actor, director, artist. The book is a must-read for thesps.
The camp classic Airport '77 (1977) takes flight in just a few lines:
“My character was a brittle rich woman married to Christopher Lee (of Dracula fame); she is not someone you want around in an emergency. Olivia de Havilland is traveling with a black female companion (whom she later saves, of course). My old friend George Furth was there, too, playing a cranky person.”
She doesn't give us all the behind-the-scenes details of the making of that (or any) film, but instead uses an anecdote about de Havilland's excitement at drowning on screen to make light of her own diva attitude (Grant sheepishly admits she'd demanded a body double). Our heroine wound up doing the drowning scene herself, having been shown up by the older Hollywood legend's professionalism and curiosity, even that late in her silver-screen journey.
With good pal Sidney Poitier (b. February 20, 1927) in In the Heat of the Night
Grant's career trajectory was offbeat, starting like gangbusters with a raved-about stage debut and an Oscar nomination for her first film [1951's Detective Story, in which she could be playing the mother of Cyndi Lauper (b. June 22, 1953)], getting sidetracked by a long stint on the Blacklist for refusing to name names to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and then a mixture of high-class classics like In the Heat of the Night (1967), The Landlord (1970), Shampoo (1975) and low-brow dreck like Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981). Of the latter, she writes of young Michelle Pfeiffer (b. April 29, 1958) excitedly talking to a co-star about how her vegetarian diet was affecting her bowel movements.
Why did she do this offensive, inane piece of shit? She had a yen for paying her rent!
The ping-ponging from success to failure is relatable, and is related with warmth and with regret. Finding out she was still struggling financially in her fifties, post-Oscar, is illuminating, as is her recounting of how she re-invented herself whenever reality demanded it.
Most charmingly to me, Grant doesn't hesitate to say when she doesn't remember something, even things she could have Googled and pretended to remember perfectly. This is sorely lacking in so many other Hollywood memoirs. I mean, who believes that Shelley Winters remembered specific meals she had with people in the '50s? Okay, maybe.
In short, this memoir is dazzling. Don't miss it.
Keep reading for a clip of Grant talking about Peter Falk's inability to save her when she needed saving...
Is it a book with a gay theme? One with no gay theme but whose author is gay? One specifically about being gay, written by a gay author? Must it be pro-gay, or can it be anti-? Does it count if it's exploitative and prurient?
Regardless of your definition, the heyday of the gay novel is behind us. Yes, there are still books by, for, and about gay people, but it's not like in the '70s and '80s, when gay novels took off, or the early '90s, when they'd become a bona fide boom business.
Not long after, they went bust, and the days when you might read a review calling a work of fiction, “The best gay novel of the year!” went with them. As did gay bookstores...when was the last time you were inside a gay bookstore? Were there any woolly mammoth footprints pressed into the clay?
Gore, Gore, Gore...how do you like it, how do you like it?
Part of the reason a booming literary niche was decimated is good—we became less concerned with obsessing over our place in the world as the world became less convinced we were aliens and/or carriers of disease and/or agents of Satan. (Not that a huge chunk of the world doesn't still ponder those questions.) As we have been assimilated, we've become less excited by existentialist literary endeavors and more likely to spring for, say, books about the first time various anonymous narrators had gay sex, or coffee-table books of nude men or books with no discernible gay sensibility at all.
But I miss the days when the gay novel was a big deal. I miss being in my college bookstore and grabbing an Edmund White tome and flipping it to a passage where two farmboys “cornhole” each other, and realizing that it wasn't pornography, but rather was frank, familiar, terrifyingly emotional art.
For fun, I'm including a collection of the first and last sentences of as many gay novels as I could readily lay my hands on. I'm sticking with the books' proper first and last sentences, so am leaving out things like dates and places (“New York, 1983") in the case of books that begin or end with letters, and I'm also ignoring the “hmmm”-inspiring epigraphs that so often appear at the beginning of a novel.
These are not meant to be my choices for "the best gay books." But most of my favorite gay novels are included and you will undoubtedly have read and loved many of them.
Actually...how many have you read?
If these tantalizingly brief samples don't make you curious to read some of these books, nothing will.
I would absolutely love to receive your contributions (title, year, author, first line, last line) so I can make this a living post...