Hot Air

Plastics

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. 

Benjamin Braddock: Yes, sir. 

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening? 

Benjamin: Yes, I am. 

Mr. McGuire: Plastics. 

Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?

From "The Graduate"

One Word, Benjamin

And so went perhaps the most famous exchange between characters in a Mike Nichols movie — or, for that matter, any movie made in the 1960s. The Graduate shot Nichols into the Hollywood firmament in 1967. It was his second directorial effort, following some pretty good success the  year before with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

In The Graduate, he took an absolute unknown, Dustin Hoffman, who was short, whose look screamed his Jewishness, and who had a honker of monumental proportions, and turned him into the object of a bored, spectacularly gorgeous suburban housewife’s desires. “Mrs. Robinson,” he blurts to Anne Bancroft, reclining alluringly on her bed, “you’re trying to seduce me.”

“Huh?” she says, chuckling.

“Aren’t you?”

She was.

As much as The Wild Bunch, and Rebel Without a Cause in the 1950s, The Graduate defined the new, post-WWII youth generation. Youth — the word itself became almost a brand. Almost? Hah! Youth culture was sold like jeans, record albums, Pepsi, and sex — all of which which were inextricably tied in with the young.

The Graduate, when all was said and done, was about pointless, directionless rebellion. Revolution, as Abbie Hoffman once shouted, for the hell of it. Well, a mild revolution. A revolution waged from the safety of the revolutionaries’ backyards.

Adults were hypocritical, shallow, materialistic, hyper-status conscious, and, well, bad guys. The young were disaffected, alienated, and somehow aware of the over-30 generation’s sanctimonious affectations. Only they became so aware while lounging in the sunken swimming pools their parents had built for them.

Mike Nichols’ The Graduate was a work of genius. Not too surprising, considering he came from the star nursery that eventually became known as The Second City.

A bunch of then-current and former University of Chicago students and hangers-on started the Compass Players in Chi-town’s Hyde Park neighborhood in the mid-’50s. The Compass gang, including David Shepherd, Del Close, Paul Sills, Shelley Berman, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Alan Alda, Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, and others, performed improvised commedia dell’arte skits at a local bar called The Compass. Nichols joined the group and met Elaine May there. The two quickly became lovers and co-performers. They formed a duo act and rocketed to fame far beyond that of the rest of the Compass people at the time. As the Compass Players morphed into The Second City in 1958, Nichols and May struck out on their own, eventually performing on Broadway together in “An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May” and winning a 1962 Grammy award for Best Comedy Album.

Nichols/May

Nichols & May

Nichols has given us so much comedy — just check out his IMDb page — that he can be forgiven for marrying former Richard Nixon speechwriter Diane Sawyer.

One more thing. The final scene of The Graduate, as much else from the movie, has become iconic. The story goes that nobody knew how the movie would end. Nichols directed Hoffman and Katherine Ross to run out of the church where Ross’s character — coincidentally (or not) named Elaine — had left her fiancé at the altar. The two were to run down the street and eventually board a city bus. They dashed to the rear of the bus and plopped down, out of breath and sweaty, she still in her wedding dress and veil. Hoffman and Ross thought the shot of them, huffing and puffing, would be a brief one and they anticipated there would be another, closing shot.

Instead, Nichols instructed his cameraman to keep shooting. Hoffman and Ross sat in the back of the bus, wondering when they’d hear the word “Cut!” It wasn’t to come for long moments. The actors, puzzled, remained half in-character and half out of it, glancing around, the bafflement beginning to cloud their faces.

Only then did Nichols yell “Cut.” The scene was perfect. Nichols knew that the couple had no idea where they were going nor what they’d do when they got there. The quizzical looks that crossed their faces conveyed it better than anything they could have ever conjured as actors.

Who’s Next

Judging by my unscientific, non-comprehesive, seat-of-the-pants survey of some of Bloomington’s most plugged-in citizens, this town’s next mayor may either be John Whikehart, former Ivy Tech-Bloomington chancellor and current deputy mayor under outgoing boss Mark Kruzan, or City Council member Darryl Neher.

This despite the fact that Whikehart is 65 years old and hasn’t made any public utterances about wanting the job.

One or two have even implied that Whikehart was brought into city government for the express purpose of succeeding Kruzan. This conspiracy theory has it that Kruzan knew he’d be getting out before being chased out, especially after the downtown parking meters hoo-ha, and wanted a trusted lieutenant to carry on after him.

Neher, on the other hand, seems a far more likely challenger for the throne.

See for yourself whose names are being bandied about:

Neher

Darryl Neher

Bloomington City Council, District. V. The smart money is on Neher to run.

Ruff

Andy Ruff

Bloomington City Council, At Large. Another great bet to run, at least acc’d’g to knowledgeable observers.

Whikehart

John Whikehart

Bloomington Deputy Mayor, former chancellor of Ivy Tech-Blooomington.

Hamilton

John Hamilton

Ran against Kruzan in the 2011 Democratic primary. A risky bet — a good authority whispered into my ear a year ago that he’s not interested in running anymore. Then again he won’t have to run against Kruzan this time. Hmm.

Yoder

Shelli Yoder

A good bet to run. She’s ambitious and, presumably, looking for a job with a higher profile than that of her current gig as 1st District representative on the Monroe County Council, the better to leapfrog into the US Congress seat she really wants.

Volan

Steve Volan

Bloomington City Council, District VI. Don’t waste your dough on this bet. Tall Steve already has gone on the record saying he won’t run.

Some half a dozen other names have been floated as well. None of them is worth mentioning here. Note no Republicans have been mentioned. This is Bloomington — duh.

One thought on “Hot Air

  1. Dave Torneo says:

    Mike, I’m glad you acknowledged the death of Mike Nichols. He and Elaine May were geniuses together. Sometimes I wonder if their sensibility, their rapport, and of course humor, can be appreciated by younger generations. Of course I hope so because so much can be viewed via the internet.

    I truly appreciate your take on things, and your writing!

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