Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966, dir. Mike Nichols)
“I hope that was an empty bottle, George! You can’t afford to waste good liquor. Not on your salary, not on an associate professor’s salary!”
Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967, dir. Mike Nichols) (via nytimes.com/corbis)
On playing Mrs. Robinson:
“Film critics said I gave a voice to the fear we all have: that we will reach a point in our lives, look around, and realize that all the things we said we’d do and become will never come to be. And that we’re ordinary.”
Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate (1967, dir. Mike Nichols)
Mike Nichols, on casting the part of Benjamin Braddock:
“I interviewed hundreds, maybe thousands, of men. Robert [Redford] wanted the part. I said, ‘You can’t play it. You can never play a loser.’ And Redford said, ‘What do you mean? Of course I can play a loser.’ And I said, ‘O.K., have you ever struck out with a girl?’ and he said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he wasn’t joking.”
“We looked and looked and looked and when we saw Dustin Hoffman on film, we said, ‘That’s it.’ And I had come all the way from seeing the character as a super-goy to being John Marcher in The Beast in the Jungle. He had to be the dark, ungainly artist. He couldn’t be a blond, blue-eyed person, because then why is he having trouble in the country of the blond, blue-eyed people? It took me a long time to figure that out—it’s not in the material at all. And once I figured that out, and found Dustin, it began to form itself around that idea.”
Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate (1967, dir. Mike Nichols) (photo by Bob Willoughby)
“How sheepish one feels, realizing the movie is no work of genius. In fact, what was once an all-important signpost to adulthood is really little more than a simple romantic comedy whose ‘countercultural’ message, insofar as it has one, is decidedly retrograde.
Or perhaps The Graduate is really a tragedy, considering that what we thought we were watching was something altogether different than what’s actually on the film. (Women, in particular, may be disappointed to rediscover that Ben’s coming of age requires them to participate from the wrong side of the bed sheet.)
What’s alarming is that the film, which so perfectly captured its era, seems to have turned on us. No longer a blueprint for liberation, it’s practically an anthem to conformity.
In The Graduate we remember, Ben rebels against that model of the world, racing to steal Elaine away from the altar, beating off her family and her would-be future (and his) with a crucifix he pulls off the wall of the church. One of the first ’60s movie characters to say “Fuck You” to the Establishment, Ben lives in our memory as a rebel who hijacked his own awful fate.
On actual celluloid, it’s a different story.
You don’t need Nichols’ one moment of supreme, painful insight, that awful, final glimpse of the couple ‘escaping’ at the back of the bus, barely able to look each other in the eye, to see that nothing Ben does is particularly heroic. Rather than striking a blow for self-determination, he ends up with the exact girl his parents have picked out for him.
He barely knows her, but he pursues her because she’s everything her mother isn’t: respectable, safe, ready to forgive him for having no vision at all. ”
-excerpts from Robin Dougherty’s essay, Here’s to You, Mrs. Robinson
Sandy Dennis in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, dir. Mike Nichols)
“Sandy is really one of the most genuine eccentrics I know of. She sat on the set of Virginia Woolf like a schoolmarm and suddenly produced the most gigantic belches, like a drunken sailor. Elizabeth [Taylor] is also a good belcher, so they had competitions, but Sandy nearly always won.”
Elizabeth Taylor as Martha (“the best performance I ever gave”) in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, dir. Mike Nichols) (photo by B. Willoughby)
George Segal, Elizabeth Taylor, Sandy Dennis, and Robert Burton on the set of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966, dir. Mike Nichols) (photo by Bob Willoughby)
On the struggle to get Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a milestone in cinematic cussing, past the censors:
“Disguising profanity with clean but suggestive phrases is really dirtier. It reminded me of an old Gary Cooper movie when somebody said, ‘He’s so poor he hasn’t got a pot to put flowers in.’ Everybody in the audience got what was intended: echoes of wild talk, it seems to me, are deliberately titillating. People do certain things in bed we all know they do, and people say things to each other that we have all heard.
The whole point of the sexual revolution that’s happening today is to let those things take their place and then go back into proportion. We feel the language in Woolf is essential to the fabric; it reveals who the people are and how they lived.”
-Mike Nichols, 1966