(John Lahr’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 2/21/2000; via Pam Green.)
Once, in the early seventies, Mike Nichols was sitting in a commercial jet as it took off from J.F.K. Moments after it was airborne, the plane went into what Nichols recalls as “an unnervingly steep bank. Everybody looked at each other. Nobody knew what it meant.” The pilot came on the intercom. “We are experiencing—” he began in his best “Right Stuff” drawl. Then, suddenly, he said, “Just a minute!” The mike went dead. In the long silence that followed, the people on the airplane started to panic. A woman a few rows in front of Nichols turned around and looked squarely at him. “What do we do now, Mr. Success?” she said.
Nichols, who has a sharp American wit but courtly European manners, bit his tongue. “All those ‘Mr. Success’ years would have been hard to explain to anybody if I tried,” Nichols, now sixty-eight, says. “What I really wanted to say to that envious woman was ‘Don’t worry: There’s still nothing happening inside me. I’m not experiencing success or anything much.’ ”