Mike Nichols’ Work… Defined by Mike Nichols… Defined by Bob Willoughby

When asked once about the material that drove his career, Mike Nichols responded: “I think maybe my subject is the relationship between men and women, centered around a bed.”

Mike Nichols leans in to direct Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on set of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", 1965.

Mike Nichols leans in to direct Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on set of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, 1965.

Mike Nichols has the attention of Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft on set of "The Graduate," 1967.

Mike Nichols has the attention of Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft on set of “The Graduate,” 1967.

James Dean: The Kid on the Lot

“I can remember the first time that I saw James Dean. I was driving on the Warner Bros. lot and saw this tousled-haired kid sitting on the ground, outside the sound stage. It was unusual, as one never saw anyone sitting on the lot like that. Later, my agent said while I was working there, to go over and take a few pictures on the set of a little film called Rebel Without a Cause. He mentioned there was a new actor from Broadway playing opposite Natalie Wood, and it might be good to have a few shots of him.

This was the kid sitting in the sun. No one could have guessed then that this ‘little film’ would make him such a legend, or how tragically soon his life would be snuffed out.”

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Barbra Streisand as an Arab Princess

Glamour magazine had assigned me to photograph Barbra Streisand, who was not well-known then, but the magazines felt she was ‘hot,’ as they say. I kept getting the runaround from her, and finally telephoned her in Lake Tahoe where she was performing. I told her, ‘Look Barbra, I’m probably just as good a photographer as you are a singer, so let’s get real!’ She seemed to respond to that, and asked me where I wanted to photograph her when she came to L.A. I said, ‘Any place except in front of a microphone.’

Close-up of a princess

Close-up of a princess, 1963

She made a date for the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and I went over on my lunch hour from My Fair Lady. She was late, but finally came out with a ‘beehive’ hairdo, and a strange young man, whom I later discovered was her husband, Elliott Gould.

She was very cooperative, and I made her look like an Arab Princess with towels, since the cabanas at the hotel pool looked like Middle Eastern tents. We had a good time, and when she was asked by Look magazine to be photographed with her new baby years later, she told them she wanted me. By then she was a big star, so Look brought a West Coast photographer back to New York, which was a first for me.”

 

Storytelling with Humphrey Bogart

“It was a thrill for me to photograph Humphrey Bogart. Columbia Studios had invited a group of photographers to the set of The Caine Mutiny when they were doing the storm at sea sequence, with tons of water splashing down on the set. I didn’t know the story, and when they broke, I stopped to ask the director Eddie Dmytryk to fill me in on what the action was that they were filming.

Bogart was talking to Eddie, and told me that I should have read the book, instead of ‘bothering our busy director!’ He then proceeded to tell me the story, much to the amusement of Dmytryk. It was great just to hear his famous voice directed to me. I knew he had not been serious in his reprimand, but to make sure I knew it, he kindly put his arm around my shoulder and walked me back to where they were filming.”

Humphrey Bogart as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny, Columbia Studios, 1953.

Humphrey Bogart as Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny, Columbia Studios, 1953.

Fête for Marilyn Monroe

“My agent Charles Block called to tell me that 20th Century Fox had a press call for a party that was to honor Marilyn Monroe, and he wanted me to cover it. Ray Anthony, the popular band leader, had written a song called Marilyn and there would no doubt be other celebrities to photograph.

Portrait of Marilyn Monroe at a party held in her honor by 20th Century Fox, 1952.

Portrait of Marilyn Monroe at a party held in her honor by 20th Century Fox, 1952.

I told him that I just didn’t feel this was my kind of photography, but the logic of his argument was too irresistible: ‘You need money to pay the bills, and anything you get on Monroe will sell!’

Reluctantly, I went. There were at least 50 other Hollywood photographers there, waiting for Marilyn to arrive. Fox had flown Marilyn from the studio to the party in a helicopter, hoping to make a dramatic entrance. As the chopper was landing, the downdraft blew all of the umbrellas, the sheet music from the orchestra, several ladies’ hats and God knows what into the pool. I was standing up above, laughing at this scene.

The photographers all rushed toward the landing helicopter, and I just stood where I was. And then an amazing thing happened: Marilyn walked right up to me, with all of the other photographers trailing behind her. For one very brief moment, I had her alone. It was probably the only single shot made of her like that, and it was just pure luck.

As I was about to take the photograph, and looking down at her through my reflex viewfinder, I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck rising. Marilyn had some sort of energy field that it would seem she could switch on or off when she posed, which I don’t think I will ever see again. Hollywood’s publicity departments called it sex appeal and thought it was achieved by showing cleavage, but they missed the point. This attractive energy is something you are born with. It is there to see at any age. Some people have more, some less, and I prefer to call it gender.”

 

 

Hello Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn photographed in the Portrait Gallery of Paramount by Bud Fraker, 1953.

Audrey Hepburn photographed in the Portrait Gallery of Paramount by Bud Fraker, 1953.

“Charlie Block at Globe Photos called me at home and told me that I was to go over to Paramount Studios to photograph another new actress. She had just finished a film in Italy called Roman Holiday, and would be at the studio to do publicity shots. Young actresses were an everyday thing, and this assignment didn’t especially thrill me. After all, I was now working for Harper’s Bazaar.

When I arrived at the studio, the still session with the Paramount portrait photographer Bud Fraker was already underway. When there was a moment and I was finally introduced to this new young lady, I was completely disarmed. I had anticipated she would be pretty, but she was really something else. She had poise and self-confidence.

A beauty, yes, maybe a forest elf would be more apt? I thought, ‘well, here is someone special!’ I wasn’t the only one that felt this. I could see the way the crew working there that day treated her; not like the new kid on the block, but as if she were a known star.

It was Audrey Hepburn. I didn’t know it then, but fate would happily bring us together many times over the coming years.”