Mike Nichols

November 6

Mike Nichols (1931)

It was on this date, November 6, 1931, that American film director and screen writer Mike Nichols was born Michael Igor Peschkowsky, into a Russian-Jewish family, in Berlin, Germany. The family escaped Nazi Germany just before the outbreak of World War Two and Nichols put himself through the University of Chicago. He studied acting briefly in New York with Lee Strasberg, then returned to Chicago to co-found the comedy troupe Second City. In the 1950s, with partner Elaine May, Mike Nichols developed a clever, satirical, male-female comedy act that made it to Broadway before breaking up in 1961.

Nichols won six Tony awards: five for directing and one for producing on the stage. His debut as a film director came with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1966, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The next year Nichols scored an Oscar for directing the Dustin Hoffman star vehicle The Graduate. He went on to direct Catch-22 (1970), Carnal Knowledge (1971), Silkwood (1982) and Working Girl (1988). For television, Nichols directed Wit (2001), based on the Pulitzer-prize winning play about a woman with terminal ovarian cancer, and the critically acclaimed and much-awarded miniseries about AIDS, Angels in America (2003).

No stranger to satire on God and religion, dating back to his days of "An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May" (1956-1961), Nichols discussed his 2001 TV-movie Wit in an interview on NPR's "Fresh Air" program admitting that what happens beyond death doesn't concern him:

I've just always assumed that everything just sort-of stops. You know, I'm not one of the people who imagines heaven and hell and so forth. I'm therefore more concerned with what the actual dying is like. Do you bring some courage to it? Can you say goodbye to people properly? Can you accept it and be glad of your life? ... But I don't go on to "afterward."*
In the same interview, Nichols described his idea of immortality after death:
I've found that having children has made a real difference. In some weird way you do feel that you're going to go on. My stepfather died last year and they've been very concerned that he not be forgotten, you know, and worried that nobody's talked or thought about him for awhile now, let's do that. And I agree with them. You know, it's nice when there's somebody around who remembers you.*

* "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross, broadcast 21 March 2001 over National Public Radio.

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Cesare Lombroso

Cesare Lombroso (1835)

It was also on this date, November 6, 1835, that Italian-Jewish anthropologist and criminologist Cesare Lombroso was born in Verona, Italy. He studied at Padua, Vienna and Paris, knew Chinese, Chaldaic, and Hebrew before he was twenty, and was appointed in 1862 professor of psychiatry at Pavia. By age 40, Lombroso was the most famous criminologist in Europe, which coincided with the publication of his L'Uomo Delinquente (Criminal Man) in 1875, a work widely translated and greatly influential.

Although Lombroso's science of criminology was largely based on the thoroughly discredited pseudoscience of phrenology — the study of the shape and size of the head as a supposed indicator of character and criminality — he transformed criminology from a legalistic art to a true science. Throughout his career, Lombroso was an outspoken Atheist and materialist, and became an honorary associate of the British Rationalist Press Association.

Toward his death, Lombroso was duped into the popular passion for Spiritualism, a fraud later exposed and rarely remembered. In her biography of her father, his daughter Gina Lombroso-Ferrero says he was physically frail and susceptible to adverse influences in the three years before his death.*

Lombroso died in Turin, Italy on 19 October 1909. It was Cesare Lombroso at the height of his powers who said: "If ever there was an individual in the world opposed to spiritism by virtue of scientific education, and I may say, by instinct, I was that person. I had made it the indefatigable pursuit of a lifetime to defend the thesis that every force is a property of matter and the soul an emanation of the brain."**

* Gina Lombroso-Ferrero (1872-1944), Cesare Lombroso: Storia della Vita e delle Opere, Narrata dalla Figlia (Cesare Lombroso: Story of His Life and Works, recounted by his Daughter). Turin: Fratelli Bocca; 1915.
** Cesare Lombroso, After Death, What?. London: T.F. Unwin, 1909.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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