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Elaine May

Elaine May

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Also Known As: Elaine Berlin, Esther Dale Died:
Born: April 21, 1932 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA Profession: actor, screenwriter, director, playwright, advertising copywriter

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A true pioneer with a sardonic wit and keen insight into the human condition, Elaine May rose to prominence as one-half of an improvisational team, alongside future director Mike Nichols, before becoming a greatly revered writer-director-actor in her own right. After working together in the Chicago improv troupe The Compass Players, Nichols and May joined forces as a comedy team, performing in nightclubs and on stage and television, before dissolving the partnership to pursue separate interests. For May, that initially led to the theater, with efforts such as her play "Adaptation" receiving excellent notices. She soon turned her attention to film, with hilarious appearances in films like Rob Reiner's "Enter Laughing" (1967). Not long after, May wrote, directed and starred in the off-the-wall comedy "The New Leaf" (1971), co-starring Walter Matthau. As a director, she scored another triumph with the Neil Simon-scripted "The Heartbreak Kid" (1972), a quirky comedy that played like an inverse of pal Nichols' earlier seminal work "The Graduate" (1967). As a writer, May made an indelible mark in cinema when she co-wrote the much-beloved romantic comedy "Heaven Can Wait" (1978), along with its star, Warren...

A true pioneer with a sardonic wit and keen insight into the human condition, Elaine May rose to prominence as one-half of an improvisational team, alongside future director Mike Nichols, before becoming a greatly revered writer-director-actor in her own right. After working together in the Chicago improv troupe The Compass Players, Nichols and May joined forces as a comedy team, performing in nightclubs and on stage and television, before dissolving the partnership to pursue separate interests. For May, that initially led to the theater, with efforts such as her play "Adaptation" receiving excellent notices. She soon turned her attention to film, with hilarious appearances in films like Rob Reiner's "Enter Laughing" (1967). Not long after, May wrote, directed and starred in the off-the-wall comedy "The New Leaf" (1971), co-starring Walter Matthau. As a director, she scored another triumph with the Neil Simon-scripted "The Heartbreak Kid" (1972), a quirky comedy that played like an inverse of pal Nichols' earlier seminal work "The Graduate" (1967). As a writer, May made an indelible mark in cinema when she co-wrote the much-beloved romantic comedy "Heaven Can Wait" (1978), along with its star, Warren Beatty. Unfortunately, when she helmed the historically reviled comedic misfire "Ishtar" (1981), May's reputation as a director took a hit from which it never truly recovered. Although her light as a filmmaker never again burned as brightly, May continued to work steadily as a respected script writer - both credited and non - adding hits like Mike Nichols' "The Birdcage" (1996) and "Primary Colors" (1998) to her already impressive résumé.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Ishtar (1987) Director
2.
  Mikey and Nicky (1976) Director
3.
  The Heartbreak Kid (1972) Director
4.
  A New Leaf (1971) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Small Time Crooks (2000) May
2.
 In the Spirit (1990) Marianne Flan
3.
 California Suite (1978) Millie Michaels
4.
 A New Leaf (1971) Henrietta Lowell
5.
 Enter Laughing (1967) Angela
6.
 Luv (1967) Ellen Manville
8.
 Nichols and May -- Take Two (1996) Interviewee
10.
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1938:
Began appearing on stage in father's productions
1938:
Worked as child radio actress
1942:
Moved to Los Angeles after death of father
:
Settled in Chicago
:
Was member of the ground-breaking improvisational troupe, The Compass Players (members included Mike Nichols and Alan Arkin)
1957:
Moved to NYC with Mike Nichols; began appearing in Greenwich Village nightclubs
1957:
TV debut (with Nichols), "The Jack Parr Show" (NBC)
:
Was panelist on the CBS audience participation quiz show "Keep Talking"
1959:
Quit TV series "Laugh Line" (NBC) after three weeks
1960:
Broadway debut in "An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May", directed by Arthur Penn
1962:
Ended creative partnership with Nichols
1962:
Off-Broadway debut as playwright, "Not Enough Rope"; also wrote "A Matter of Position", performed at Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre
1964:
Stage directing debut, "The Third Ear"
1967:
Film acting debut in "Enter Laughing"; also acted in that year's "Luv", her first association with Peter Falk
1969:
Wrote "Adaptation", performed Off-Broadway on double bill with Terrence McNally's "Next" under title "Adaptation-Next"; also directed
1971:
Film writing and directing debut, "A New Leaf"; also starred opposite Walter Matthau as a terminally klutzy and unworldly botanist and heiress
1971:
Wrote Otto Preminger's "Such Good Friends" under pseudonym Esther Dale; adapted from Lois Gould's novel
1972:
Helmed "The Heartbreak Kid", adapted by Neil Simon from a Bruce Jay Friedman story; reportedly provided uncredited polish on script; daughter Jeannie Berlin played the part of the dumped spouse and earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination
1976:
Third film, "Mikey and Nicky", starring Falk and John Cassavetes, taken away by studio (Paramount) when editing process dragged on; Paramount cut film and released it; a director's cut was later screened at the 1980 Toronto Film Festival
1978:
Reteamed with Walter Matthau as co-stars in one segment of Herbert Ross' "California Suite"; screenplay written by Neil Simon based on his play
1978:
Co-wrote the remake "Heaven Can Wait" with Warren Beatty (who produced, co-directed with Buck Henry and starred); received first Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay
1980:
Reunited with Nichols to co-star in stage production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, Connecticut; Nichols had directed the 1966 movie version starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton
1982:
Made uncredited contribution to the screenplay of "Tootsie", starring Dustin Hoffman
1983:
Directed stage productions of "The Disappearance of the Jews", "Gorilla" and "Hotline", all at Chicago's Goodman Theatre
1987:
Scripted and helmed "Ishtar", reteaming her with Beatty and Hoffman; also co-wrote songs
1990:
Acted with daughter Berlin in "In the Spirit", co-scripted by Berlin; film also reteamed her with Falk
1991:
Wrote play, "Mr. Gogol and Mr. Preen", presented at the Mitzi E Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center
1996:
Scripted Nichols-directed "The Birdcage", an Americanization of the French farce "La Cage aux folles"
1998:
Wrote "Primary Colors", directed by Nichols; earned second Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination
1998:
Returned to Off-Broadway as playwright and star (with daughter Berlin) of "Power Plays"; also co-starred opposite Alan Arkin
2000:
Wrote the Broadway comedy "Taller Than a Dwarf"
2000:
Resumed screen acting career with role in Woody Allen's "Small Time Crooks"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Playwrights Theatre: Chicago , Illinois -
University of Chicago: Chicago , Illinois - 1950

Notes

"You wouldn't dare fuck with [Elaine], because she was right back so fast, people fell left and right . . . Elaine was more interested in taking chances than being a hit. I was more interested in making the audience happy." --Mike Nichols quoted in PREMIERE, March 1994

Nichols: Miss Loomis?

May: Yes, sir?

Nichols: May I speak with you for a moment, please?

May: Certainly.

Nichols: Will you come into my office?

May: Yes. (pause) Yes, sir?

Nichols: Miss Loomis, Kravitz tells me you've been coming into office naked.

May: Yes, sir.

Nichols: Can you explain yourself?

May: Well, I have the south office, and there are no windows. It's enormously warm in there, and it's more comfortable to work naked than with clothes on.

Nichols: Oh, Miss Loomis, but you can't walk through the offices naked. This is an insurance company. You're not working at a bank, you know.

May: Well, I've asked them to put in an air-conditioner . . .

--sample Nichols and May sketch, reprinted in The New York Times, May 19, 1996.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Marvin May. Married in 1948; divorced.
companion:
Mike Nichols. Director, producer. Met in 1954; had brief romance before forming their well-known stage partnership.
companion:
Harvey Miller. Screenwriter, actor. Died in January 1999 at age 68.
companion:
Edmund Wilson. Author. Met in the late 1950s.
husband:
Sheldon Harnick. Lyricist. Married in April 1962; divorced in 1963; wrote lyrics for "Fiddler on the Roof", among other musicals.
husband:
Reuben Fine. Doctor. Married in 1963; divorced.
companion:
John Calley. Producer, executive. Together in the late 1960s.
companion:
Stanley Donen. Director. He reportedly proposed in spring 2000.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

father:
Jack Berlin. Actor, director. Died in 1942.
daughter:
Jeannie Berlin. Actor, screenwriter, acting teacher. Born on November 1, 1949 in Los Angeles, California; raised partly by her grandmother.

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