Legendary US director Mike Nichols was married four times in his 83 years, most notably to his wife of 26 years, journalist Diane Sawyer, who was by his side when he died this week in New York.
The director of 22 feature films and 23 Broadway plays, Nichols spent his entire career dissecting relationships in dramas and comedies such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, The Birdcage and Closer.
While many of his films featured tortured relationships, Nichols and Sawyer enjoyed one of the happiest marriages in show business.
Sawyer herself told Ladies Home Journal earlier this year that the secret to her and Nichols’ long lasting relationship was his romantic side.
“[Mike is] much more romantic than I am. He puts little notes in my sock drawer or in my suitcase before I leave for a work trip,” Sawyer said at the time.
“I think one of the most romantic things is simply the way he reaches for my hand all the time.”
Although he found happiness in later life, the marriages in Nichols films were super complicated. Here’s five lessons we learnt from Nichols’ hits.
Lesson 1 – Know when to quit – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The original war of the roses on film, George and Martha thrash it out in Nichols’ first feature, played by the real-life, tortured and tempestuous couple of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The at-times deranged, alcoholic couple’s love/hate relationship crackled on the screen as they tore shreds off one another.
Lesson 2 – A leopard doesn’t change its spots – Heartburn (1986)
In the Nora Ephron-penned 1986 film Heartburn, Meryl Streep (a Nichols muse) and Jack Nicholson show what can go wrong when two people marry too hastily. Nicholson’s Washington journalist character, Mark, and Streep’s New York food writer, Rachel, get hitched despite Mark’s reputation as a notorious ladies man. Streep, pregnat with their second child, leaves Nicholson when she discovers he is having an affair with her friend. The film was based on Ephron’s marriage to Washington Post ‘Watergate’ journalist Carl Bernstein.
Lesson 3 – Don’t settle – Working Girl (1988)
Tess McGill (Melanie Griffifth) chooses herself over her deadbeat fiance (Alec Baldwin) in Nichols’ Golden Globe winning 1980s classic Working Girl. Instead of winding up married to a loser from Staten Island, Tess makes a name for herself as a hotshot business woman in Manhattan and lands the sexy executive Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford). You go, girl.
Lesson 4 – Love conquers all – The Birdcage (1996)
Gay couple Armand (Robin Williams) and Albert’s (Nathan Lane) relationship is sent into a tizz on the eve of Armand’s son’s wedding. Albert is the star drag queen at Armand’s Miami club and they must band together to make him presentable, either as a straight man or as a woman, for the bride’s ultra conservative parents (Gene Hackman and Diane Weist). Not only does this gorgeous film show beauty and devotion between two men, it celebrates marriage for everybody.
Lesson 5 – Never give up – The Graduate – (1967)
Dustin Hoffman’s The Graduate character, Benjamin, falls for the love of his life, Elaine Robinson (Katherine Ross), despite the fact that he’s had an affair with her mother, the famous Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft), and she’s already getting married to someone else. The final scenes of this classic 1967 movie set Nichols career up for life, as we see Benjamin break up Elaine’s wedding, steal the bride, blockade the church and race away in the back of a bus. Brilliant.