Friday, November 05, 2021 (November’s fullest moon [“Beaver”] rises on the 19th.)
I pulled up the membership of a customer waiting to be checked out and stared at her name: Elaine May. I teased her, “Are you THE Elaine May!”
She shook her head, “I’m often asked that.” A pause, “Was she really good?”
“Better than good, more like an incredibly pure-genius.”
I didn’t suggest that the woman check the internet for May’s work and simply finished checking her out. I couldn’t quit thinking about May. Remembering her meant remembering, too, her once-partner in comedy, Mike Nichols. The two worked together wonderfully to improvise comedy routines. Their creative sketches, and combined talents in acting them out, achieved near mega-genius.
They were a wildly popular team, onstage and in recordings. Their innovative work inspired many young comedians, like Lily Tomlin, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, David Letterman, and others. At the height of their popularity as a team, May decided to break the team apart and go in new directions. The split devastated Nichols, but himself a genius embarked on an appropriate and rewarding path.
I loved those two, and their split devastated me! In time, I easily followed the work of Nichols. As a movie director, he made memorable hits. In my early viewing days, I disliked foreign films. They seemed grittier than Hollywood movies and often too poetic. After my senses matured, foreign films were my favorites. That led me to discover Elaine May’s film directing work.
Like Nichols, she had became a Hollywood movie director, no small achievement in those days. Women didn’t have directing roles, and perhaps May was the first in Hollywood to follow Ida Lupino as a woman director. May’s movies were more “foreign-like”. They starred innovative actors, searched for the “inner-person”, and called for thoughtful viewers. Americans then were less prepared to embrace May’s works than those of Nichols.
Today’s sophisticated viewers better perceive earlier, highly-creative work. May’s directing has earned worldwide recognition, with high regard for insight and brilliance. So has her writing work, for example, her terrific script for the hit movie, “Birdcage”, directed by her friend, Mike Nichols.
Still thinking about her work and finding it’s impossible to run out of memories doing with her creative talent and innovative boldness. Elaine May was, and since she’s still alive, is a sheer genius!
Dear Friends: Remembering May, with love; remembering also, sans love, to reset clocks tonight. Diana