TIME remembrance

Remembering Mike Nichols: Let’s Talk About Sex

"The Real Thing" Broadway Opening Night
Mike Nichols attend the Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway Opening Night After Party for 'The Real Thing' at the American Airlines Theatre in New York City on Oct. 30, 2014 Walter McBride—WireImage/Getty Images

From Virginia Woolf and The Graduate to the scalding Closer, this acclaimed director located the humor and pain in stories of erotic alliances

Mike Nichols, who died Wednesday at 83, built such a prodigious and protean résumé that it’s hard to pin him down. An improv pioneer with Chicago’s Compass players, a forerunner of Second City, he teamed with Elaine May to create a series of duet skits, ranging from improbable romance to social satire, that made the writer-performers the rage of nightclubs, records and, by 1960, Broadway. Then Nichols gave up acting (except for starring in David Hare’s 1997 film The Designated Mourner) and became the preeminent director of sophisticated comedy on stage and screen. Broadway: The Odd Couple and Spamalot. Movies: The Graduate and The Birdcage. When a show or a film was smart and funny, it often was one of his.

Yet across the full half-century he spent as a Broadway director, from the 1963 Barefoot in the Park to the 2013 revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, and his four decades plus making movies, from his sensational debut with the 1966 Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to the 2007 Charlie Wilson’s War, Nichols could be the very model of a serious showman. He lured movie stars off-Broadway to do Beckett — Robin Williams and Steve Martin in the 1988 Lincoln Center staging of Waiting for Godot — and to play Chekhov in Central Park, where in 2001 Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, John Goodman and Christopher Walken brought fresh luster to The Seagull. His strongest TV work may be his 2003 miniseries of Tony Kushner’s AIDS epic Angels in America, with Streep, Al Pacino and Emma Thompson. So we’ll say: Mike Nichols, all-round expert director.

We might be able to refine that epithet just a bit — for Nichols, in the age of “mature” cinema that he helped launch with Virginia Woolf and The Graduate, was arguably the wisest director of movies about sex. And we mean not Show but Tell. Films can reveal startling erotic truths about their characters, about us, without exposing so much as a breast or a butt. In Nichols movies like Carnal Knowledge (1971), Heartburn (1986) and Closer (2004), what gets naked is a man’s or woman’s most urgent, reckless feelings and animosities.

He managed all this without writing a word of the text, or at least putting his name on it. (After An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May, he took no writing credit except for the 2001 TV adaptation of the cancer play Wit.) In the age of instant auteurs, Nichols had an old-fashioned gift: energizing each moment in a good script, bringing clarity, subtlety and potency to the people on view. He was no Preston Sturges, a writer-director who created his own cockeyed caravan of stories and characters. His Hollywood model was George Cukor, a director of sublime taste and grace, who inhabited the writer’s words and world — in such film comedies as Holiday, The Women, and Adam’s Rib — and made them shine. The very least you think of a Nichols film is: This is the best this project could be.

He had directed just three Broadway plays, all comedies — Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple and Murray Schisgal’s Luv — when Richard Burton convinced Jack Warner to sign Nichols for the movie of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The tyro director promptly dismissed veteran director of photography Harry Stradling, who was trying to beautify Elizabeth Taylor in the role of a frowsy, fiftyish wife for which she had scrupulously gained a couple dozen pounds, and hired the rebel DP Haskell Wexler for the movie’s severe monochrome look. Nichols was faithful to Albee’s text; all but a few words in the movie were straight from the play. But because this all-night fight of a married couple and their younger guests (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) used words and emotions new to Hollywood movies, the film created a singeing intimacy that raised temperatures, eyebrows and hackles, and earned Oscars for Taylor, Dennis and Wexler.

His next film, The Graduate, detailed the passive, loveless affair between young Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) and the avaricious mother (Anne Bancroft) of his pretty neighbor Elaine (Katharine Ross). More daringly, it undercut the plot’s rah-rah climax. Remember that The Graduate broke a basic rule of romantic comedy and let Benjamin win Elaine just after, not during, her marriage to the blond lunk. But after this boy-steals-girl-from-another-guy triumph, they hop on a bus and, in the last shot, we see the excitement quickly drain from their faces. Ben seems to realize that he really wanted a great quest, not the Grail, and that he and Elaine are now condemned to become their parents. It’s true that ’60s audiences for this immensely popular film remembered the big win, not the post-climax depression. But Nichols gets points for plating a sour aftertaste. Hello, darkness, my old friend…

Nichols’ boldest early film was the 1971 Carnal Knowledge, which traced 30 years in the sexual lives of two perpetually immature men played by Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel. The excoriating chatter in Jules Feiffer’s screenplay would be familiar to anyone who’s attended a college-dorm tell-all, or sat at a bar while the guy three stools down pours out his little black heart, but it was a jolt for mainstream movies. Nobody learns, let alone hugs. In sour midlife, the men still abuse their women, still treat them as sex toys to attain the mystical, apocalyptic orgasm that fades almost as soon as it explodes.

In Heartburn, which Nora Ephron scripted based on her revenge novel about being married to Carl Bernstein, Meryl Streep has to cope with husband Jack Nicholson’s rampant adultery; she’s especially annoyed that he put one of his hotel assignations on a credit card and asks (as I recall), “Why can’t you pay cash like an ordinary philanderer?” Primary Colors, which May adapted from the roman à clef by Joe Klein (sorry: Anonymous), anatomizes the frailties of another charming horndog: John Travolta as, basically, Bill Clinton. The most conventional of Nichols’ movie romcoms, the 1988 hit Working Girl, threw Melanie Griffith into the arms of Harrison Ford, but only after she found her boyfriend, Alec Baldwin, in bed with another woman.

Nichols’ one sci-fi comedy, What Planet Are You From, imagines Garry Shandling as an alien from an all-male planet; he’s come to Earth to have sex with women, but they’re distracted by his humming penis). The sort-of horror movie Wolf trumpets the rejuvenative pleasures of a publishing executive (Nicholson) who, under the full moon, becomes an animal. He’s a monster, and it’s hell on his family but, in his elemental element, he feels younger, sexier — great.

The director wasn’t building a misogynistic argument in his films; he followed the tone of each script and made it better. His two-woman comedy, Postcards from the Edge, is much gentler to its flawed heroines. Daughter (Streep) is a junkie in rehab, and Mom (Shirley MacLaine) is an alcoholic — though she says that she’s recovered, and that “Now I just drink like an Irish person.” Carrie Fisher’s script could have been as devastating as Feiffer’s, a kind of Maternal Knowledge, but it finds forgiveness in human frailty; isn’t frailty what makes us human? That was the message of The Birdcage, scripted by May from the French comedy La cage aux follies. The gay twosome (Williams and Nathan Lane), playing it straight for visiting conservative in-laws, is the most prominent faithful pair in a Nichols movie.

Mostly, though, Nichols films threw a wicked curve at couples who thought they were attending a date-night movie: At least one of you is cheating.

What must this couple have thought of Closer, the blistering sex drama Nichols made from Patrick Marber’s 1997 play? Covering the intersections of four people — Dan (Jude Law), Alice (Portman), Anna (Julia Roberts) and Larry (Clive Owen) — over four years, Closer is initially playful about the deceptions this handsome quartet of characters commit while falling in love and, later, climbing out. But there are scans to be ripped off, as when Anna tells Larry she’s sleeping with Dan. In just a few minutes, Larry endures the first five stages of the cuckolded male: denial, derision, pleading, sobbing, threatening. Now, in confronting Anna about Dan, he atavizes into Caveman, the Alpha Male in competitive fury. Where did you make love: what parts of the house, what parts of the body? How did Dan perform? What did he taste like? Was he “better”? “Gentler,” she acknowledges, depleted by the hard truths he’s forcing out of her. “Sweeter.” Larry finally has what he wanted: the instant, utter and mutual eradication of their year-long tryst. “Thank you for your honesty,” he tells her. “Now f— off and die.”

The scheme of Closer is simple: two people become a couple, break up, pair off with someone new. We are shown only the beginnings and ends of each affair, when hopes are surging, or betrayal sours the air. The piece is a series of cardiograms: hearts open and shut down. “Have you ever seen a human heart?” says Larry, a doctor. “It looks like a fist, soaked in blood.” Closer is a closeup of that heart, which keeps beating even when diseased. It challenges the big movie lie that in life there are heroes and villains, that the good we seek is easily distinguishable from the good-bad we do. This Nichols film is about four glamorous folks with severe but recognizable fissures in their façades. Not like movie people. Like people.

Nichols made movies in Hollywood but his home in New York, in part because he saw L.A. as a company town that value perception over achievement. As he told ace TIME reporter Josh Tyrangiel in 2004, “One of the great dangers of living in Hollywood, and the reason it’s really unwise, is that it’s very hard to fight the virus: ‘How am I perceived?’ And once you preoccupy yourself with that question you’re pretty much lost. It’s all over Hollywood: you can see whether your stock has gone up or down in the eyes of the parking attendant.”

For all those decades, in his journey from Young Turk to Old Master, Nichols kept directing high-IQ movies attentive to the nuances of emotional and sexual brutality. He made no sequels, no flat-out action vehicles (the war movie Catch-22 comes closest) and, excepting his Broadway Annie in 1978, nothing that aims for the adorable. His one box-office smash was The Graduate (nearly $700 million in today’s dollars), followed by The Birdcage, Virginia Woolf, Working Girl and Wolf (all more than $100 million). But after The Graduate, he made the expensive, acerbic Catch-22 and that brazen jeremiad Carnal Knowledge. Nichols just wanted to tell stories that interested him, without worrying what the parking attendant thought.

He could almost be called a minority director, since his films were about adults — who sometimes behave like disturbed kids — for adults. Sitting through them, you’d laugh or smile; and on the way out you might realize there was something deeper, darker, a hard truth worth contemplating and cherishing. Which is how you may feel now, at the end of Mike Nichols’ exemplary career.

TIME remembrance

Mike Nichols: A Half-Century of Raves

The June 15, 1970, cover of TIME
The June 15, 1970, cover of TIME Cover Credit: SANTI VISALLI (NICHOLS); BOB WILLOUGHBY (ARKIN

He was 'the sort of director whom most writers and actors only meet when they are asleep and dreaming'

When Mike Nichols, who died on Wednesday at age 83, first gained notice, it was not as a director. In 1958, Nichols, then 26, appeared along with his comedy partner Elaine May, on NBC’s Omnibus revue; within six months, the two were touted by TIME as “the fastest-sharpening wits in television.” The two had met at the University of Chicago and began their dual career as sketch and improv comics in that city, as part of a group that would eventually feed into Second City.

Though they were an instant hit on TV, the question of how to translate their comedy to the censored and scripted world on screen. They found their footing on Broadway instead with An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, which debuted in 1960. “An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May,” TIME’s critic declared, “is one of the nicest ways to spend one.” From that point on, the rave reviews just kept coming.

By 1962, Nichols was acting in a play written by May, and in 1963 he directed Barefoot in the Park, earning another rave: “If the theater housing this comedy has an empty seat for the next couple of years, it will simply mean that someone has fallen out of it. Barefoot is detonatingly funny.” He would later tell TIME that it had been a turning point, the moment he realized he was meant to direct:

Nichols remembers: “The first day of rehearsal, I knew, my God, this is it! It is as though you have one eye, and you’re on a road and all of a sudden your eye lights up, and you look down and you know, ‘I’m an engine!’ ”

For his next Broadway foray, Luv, he earned the headline “The Nichols Touch” and was called “the sort of director whom most writers and actors only meet when they are asleep and dreaming.” As for 1965’s The Odd Couple, “[t]he only worry they leave in a playgoer’s head is how to catch his breath between laughs.”

In 1966, when he made his first foray into movies with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the performance he got out of star Elizabeth Taylor was deemed “a sizeable victory.” By 1970, when he made a movie of Catch-22, he landed on the cover of the magazine, with a multi-page feature that praised the maturity of the work:

Fully loaded, the bombers take flight, make their lethal gyres and return empty. Under Nichols’ direction, the camera makes air as palpable as blood. In one long-lensed indelible shot, the sluggish bodies of the B-25s rise impossibly close to one another, great vulnerable chunks of aluminum shaking as they fight for altitude. Could the war truly have been fought in those preposterous crates? It could; it was. And the unused faces of the flyers, Orr, Nately, Aardvark, could they ever have been so young? They were: they are. Catch-22‘s insights penetrate the elliptical dialogue to show that wars are too often a children’s crusade, fought by boys not old enough to vote or, sometimes, to think.

Despite his much-acclaimed career — which would continue for decades — not every one of his projects won applause.

In 1967, for example, TIME gave one of his films a rare pan. The picture in question “unfortunately shows his success depleted” because “[m]ost of the film has an alarmingly derivative style, and much of it is secondhand” with “a disappointing touch of TV situation comedy.”

But, as befits a comedian by training, he had the last laugh: that movie was The Graduate.

Read the full cover 1970 story here, in TIME’s archives: Some Are More Yossarian Than Others

TIME remembrance

See Mike Nichols’ Legendary Career in Photos

Famed director dies at 83

Mike Nichols, whose many accolades include the Academy Award for Best Director for The Graduate, died on Wednesday at 83.

The German-born comedian, writer and director made a name for himself across film, television and theater during his career spanning more than five decades. Nichols, who was married to ABC’s Diane Sawyer, directed a range of titles including the 1966 film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the 1971 comedy-drama Carnal Knowledge and the 2007 biopic Charlie Wilson’s War.

He said in a 1996 interview with the Associated Press that, on advice from Orson Welles, he didn’t try to interpret common themes in his work. “Leave it to the other guys, the people whose whole job it is to do that, to make patterns and say what the thread is through your work and where you stand,” Nichols recalled being told by Welles. “Let somebody else worry about what it means.”

TIME remembrance

Mike Nichols Dies at Age 83

He was one of the few to win an EGOT

Entertainer Mike Nichols, the legendary director and husband of Diane Sawyer, died suddenly Wednesday. He was 83 and his death was confirmed by ABC News on Thursday morning.

Nichols’ career spanned jobs and genres within the entertainment industry, but it was his time as a director that sealed his legacy. He won the Oscar for Best Director for 1967’s The Graduate and found fame later on with Working Girl and The Birdcage. Two years ago, he won his eighth Tony for his revival of Death of a Salesman.

“He was a true visionary, winning the highest honors in the arts for his work as a director, writer, producer and comic and was one of a tiny few to win the EGOT—an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony in his lifetime,” ABC News President James Goldston said in the statement. “No one was more passionate about his craft than Mike.”

TIME remembrance

Motown Singer Jimmy Ruffin Dies at Age 78

Jimmy Ruffin
American soul singer Jimmy Ruffin in London, 1973 Michael Putland—Getty Images

"Jimmy Ruffin was a rare type of man who left his mark on the music industry"

(NEW YORK) — Jimmy Ruffin, the Motown singer whose hits include “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” and “Hold on to My Love,” died Monday in a Las Vegas hospital. He was 78.

Philicia Ruffin and Jimmy Lee Ruffin Jr., the late singer’s children, confirmed Wednesday that Ruffin had died. There were no details about the cause of death.

Ruffin was the older brother of Temptations lead singer David Ruffin, who died in 1991 at age 50.

“Jimmy Ruffin was a rare type of man who left his mark on the music industry. My family in its entirety is extremely upset over his death. He will truly be missed,” a statement from Philicia Ruffin and the Ruffinfamily said. “We will treasure the many fond and wonderful memories we all have of him.”

Jimmy Lee Ruffin was born on May 7, 1936, in Collinsville, Mississippi. He was signed to Berry Gordy’s Motown Records, and had a string of hits in the 1960s, including “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” which became a Top 10 pop hit.

He had continued success with songs such as “I’ve Passed This Way Before” and “Gonna Give Her All the Love I’ve Got,” but Ruffin marked a comeback in 1980 with his second Top 10 hit, “Hold on to My Love.” The song was produced by Robin Gibb, the Bee Gees member who died in 2012.

Ruffin worked with his brother David in the 1970s on the album, “I Am My Brother’s Keeper.”

Ruffin also lived in England for many years.

Funeral arrangements are pending, the family said.

“We appreciate all of the love and prayers from our family, friends, his colleagues and his adoring fans,” the statement said.

TIME Media

9 Essential Berlin Wall Stories

As the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaches, look back at its history from beginning to end

From the Aug. 31, 1962, issue of TIME

For a structure that stood only about 12 ft. high, the Berlin Wall left quite a mark on modern history. Throughout the 28 years during which it endured, TIME followed the wall’s surprise construction, those who died attempting to get across, and finally its fall and aftermath.

You can trace that tale through our timeline of the Berlin Wall’s history or, below, read how the wall went down in the words of those who were watching it happen:

Aug. 25, 1961: Berlin: The Wall

The Berlin Wall went up quickly and with no warning on Aug. 13, 1961. Though it was at that point less a wall than a fence, it startled the world. For nearly a decade, Berlin — a divided city situated within the Eastern portion of a divided country — had been the easiest way to cross from East Germany to West, but the East had been facing a dwindling population and took drastic measures despite earlier promises to preserve freedom of movement:

The scream of sirens and the clank of steel on cobblestones echoed down the mean, dark streets. Frightened East Berliners peeked from behind their curtains to see military convoys stretching for blocks. First came the motorcycle outriders, then jeeps, trucks and buses crammed with grim, steel-helmeted East German troops. Rattling in their wake were the tanks — squat Russian-built T-34s and T-54s. At each major intersection, a platoon peeled off and ground to a halt, guns at the ready. The rest headed on for the sector border, the 25-mile frontier that cuts through the heart of Berlin like a jagged piece of glass. As the troops arrived at scores of border points, cargo trucks were already unloading rolls of barbed wire, concrete posts, wooden horses, stone blocks, picks and shovels. When dawn came four hours later, a wall divided East Berlin from West for the first time in eight years.

Aug. 31, 1962: Wall of Shame (see map at top)

A year later, protests erupted in West Berlin, sparked by cruel treatment of an attempted escapee named Peter Fechter — who was shot and left to bleed in the no-man’s-land between the two sides. TIME explored whether extended violence and further protest was likely to become a constant in the divided city, finding that many Berliners believed such an outcome unlikely but felt that the Wall would stand for the rest of their lives:

In flat, open country within the city’s northern boundary, the land to the west is checkered with brown wheatfields and lush, green, potato gardens. Eastward stretches a no-man’s land where once fertile fields lie desolate and deathly still. They could be in two different worlds—and, in a sense, they are. Even the countryside outside Berlin is divided into East and West by a vicious, impenetrable hedge of rusty barbed wire and concrete. As itsnakes southward toward the partitioned city, it becomes the Wall.

Seldom in history have blocks and mortar been so malevolently employed or sorichly hated in return. One year old this month, the Wall of Shame, as it is often called, cleaves Berlin’s war-scarred face like an unhealed wound; its hideousness offends the eye as its inhumanity hurts the heart. For 27 miles it coils through the city, amputating proud squares and busy thoroughfares, marching insolently across graveyards and gardens, dividing families and friends, transforming whole street-fronts into bricked-up blankness. “The Wall,” muses a Berlin policeman, “is not just sad. It is not just ridiculous. It is schizophrenic.”

Aug. 18, 1986: East-West Tale of a Sundered City by Jill Smolowe

On the 25th anniversary of the wall’s construction, TIME checked in on the city and found that Germans on the two sides of the Wall had evolved into two very different groups of people. West Berlin was more modern, East Berlin was quieter, their economies were distinct — but Berliners from both sides still harbored hopes that they would one day be reunited. Even with a quarter-century of division under their belt, they felt that they could all get along:

West Berliners have managed to make an uneasy peace with the monstrous Wall. Almost every Berliner’s emotional survival kit includes a wisecracking sense of humor. Standard encounter: an American, returning to Berlin after 60 years, asks his taxi driver to run down the events during his absence. Responds the driver: “The Nazis came, the war came, the Russians came. You didn’t miss much.” No less mordant are the graffiti spray-painted on the western side of the Wall. ALL IN ALL, YOU’RE JUST ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL, reads one bit of wisdom. DONALD DUCK FOR PRESIDENT, declares another. One of the newest decorations is a purple cake, divided in two by a brown wall. The inscription: HAPPY 25TH BIRTHDAY.

There are no clever messages on the eastern side of the Wall. East German officials regard the barricade with pride. To celebrate its anniversary, they plan to stage a parade and have already issued a commemorative postage stamp. “Since its construction,” says Karl-Heinz Gummich, a representative in the East German Tourist Office, “the economy has grown strong, relations with West Germany have been stabilized, and the threat of war has been removed.”

June 22, 1987: Back to the Berlin Wall by George J. Church

The Berlin Wall had already been the site of much speechifying when President Ronald Reagan appeared there in 1987 — but by that point, something that changed. In the USSR, the words glasnost and perestroika had entered the political vocabulary. Mikhail Gorbachev spoke of openness, and his influence in East Germany presented a glimmer of hope that the Berlin Wall might not be forever. Reagan urged that hope on with one of the most famous lines of his career: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall.”

Before an audience estimated at 20,000, the President rose to the occasion. Referring to the city’s division and deliberately inviting comparison with John F. Kennedy’s famed “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963, Reagan expressed “this unalterable belief: es gibt nur ein Berlin” (there is only one Berlin). Taking note of the violent demonstrations against U.S. foreign policy that swirled through West Berlin before his arrival, Reagan asserted, “I invite those who protest today to mark this fact: because we remained strong, the Soviets came back to the table” and are on the verge of a treaty “eliminating, for the first time, an entire class of nuclear weapons.”

Oct. 16, 1989: Freedom Train by William R. Doerner

On the occasion of Eat Germany’s 40th birthday, the Berlin Wall had begun to lose its oomph. Originally meant to prevent traffic between the two sides of the city, it was made far less effective when it became possible to get to West Germany by other routes:

So far this year, more than 110,000 East Germans have left, far and away the most since the Berlin Wall went up in 1961. Slightly more than half have departed with official permission, a sign that the Honecker regime has been forced to relax its policy of limiting emigration to the elderly and a few political dissidents. According to West German officials, some 1.8 million East Germans — more than 10% of the population — have applied to leave, despite the risk of job and educational discrimination.

But growing numbers refuse to wait for permission. In August and September, more than 30,000 vacationers took advantage of the newly opened border between Hungary and Austria to cross into West Germany. East Berlin tightened controls on travel to Hungary, yet new refugees continue to slip over at the rate of 200 to 500 a day. Hungary has rejected any suggestion that it close its borders.

Nov. 20, 1989: Freedom! by George J. Church

Until the Wall fell at midnight on Nov. 9, 1989 — losing its power as suddenly as it had gone up, though it would take many months for the concrete to be dismantled — TIME had been planning to run a cover story about the election of the first black governor in the United States, Doug Wilder of Virginia. But, as then-managing editor Henry Muller recounted in a letter to readers, “then came the stunning announcement that East Germans be allowed to travel through the Berlin Wall and would be granted freer elections as well. Bonn bureau chief Jim Jackson called me to urge that we change the cover, but my fellow editors and I hardly needed to be persuaded.” The result was 12 pages of reporting and photography and, as Muller put it, “history as it is made, each day and each week”:

What happened in Berlin last week was a combination of the fall of the Bastille and a New Year’s Eve blowout, of revolution and celebration. At the stroke of midnight on Nov. 9, a date that not only Germans would remember, thousands who had gathered on both sides of the Wall let out a roar and started going through it, as well as up and over. West Berliners pulled East Berliners to the top of the barrier along which in years past many an East German had been shot while trying to escape; at times the Wall almost disappeared beneath waves of humanity. They tooted trumpets and danced on the top. They brought out hammers and chisels and whacked away at the hated symbol of imprisonment, knocking loose chunks of concrete and waving them triumphantly before television cameras. They spilled out into the streets of West Berlin for a champagne-spraying, horn-honking bash that continued well past dawn, into the following day and then another dawn. As the daily BZ would headline: BERLIN IS BERLIN AGAIN.

Dec. 4, 1989: Selling a Piece of the Rock

Coverage of the wall’s fall wasn’t all about serious pronouncements on the future of Europe. There were also some gems like this one, the story of some American entrepreneurs who were marketing chunks of the Wall as timely gifts for that holiday season:

Last week two shipments of gray and white rubble, totaling 20 tons, were airlifted from Germany to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The Missouri entrepreneurs who imported the debris swear that it comes from demolished portions of the Berlin Wall. Just in time for the Christmas shopping season, they will split it into 2-oz. chunks to be sold, along with an “informative booklet and a declaration of authenticity,” for $10 to $15 in gift shops and department stores.

Dec. 18, 1989: What the Future Holds by Frederick Painton

About a month after the Wall fell, TIME gathered five experts on European politics and economics to predict what would be next for the continent — including whether the end of the Wall would inevitably lead to the reunification of Germany:

For the third time in this century the old order is crumbling in Europe, and the world waits anxiously for a new one to be born. The transition promises to be long, difficult and hazardous. But rarely if ever has the vision of a peaceful and relatively free Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals seemed so palpably within grasp. Thus 1989 is destined to join other dates in history — 1918 and 1945 — that schoolchildren are required to remember, another year when an era ended, in this case the 44-year postwar period, which is closing with the rapid unraveling of the Soviet empire.

Oct. 8, 1990: Germany: And Now There Is One by Bruce W. Nelan

In their rush toward unification over the past 11 months, East and West Germany struck down the barriers between them like so many tenpins. The most unforgettable and heart-quickening breakthrough was the first, the fall of the Berlin Wall last Nov. 9. Then came free elections in the East on March 18, economic union on July 1, and the Sept. 12 agreement of the four World War II Allies to end their remaining occupation rights in Berlin.

Any of those could be taken as the date on which unification became inevitable. But the date that will be celebrated in the future Germany comes this week, Oct. 3, when the Freedom Bell in West Berlin’s Schoneberg city hall tolls and the flag of the Federal Republic of Germany is raised in front of the 96-year-old Reichstag building. At that moment, the German Democratic Republic, a relic of Stalin’s postwar empire, ceases to exist.

Read more about the fall of the Berlin Wall here in TIME’s archives, where the Nov. 20, 1989, cover story is now available.

TIME remembrance

How Tom Magliozzi Explained the Reason for Car Talk

Car Talk
Ray Magliozzi, left, and Tom Magliozzi, hosts of National Public Radio's Car Talk, in Cambridge, Mass. on June 19, 2008. Charles Krupa—AP

In 2000, the late NPR host and his brother spoke to TIME's Joel Stein

Tom Magliozzi, the co-host of NPR’s Car Talk who died Monday at 77, wasn’t always a radio guru.

Both he and his brother Ray, his co-host, went to MIT; before 1973, when they opened the garage that first got them invited to talk about cars on the radio, he was an engineer.

But in 2000, when the Magliozzis spoke to TIME’s Joel Stein about a book released that year, they explained that they decided back in the 1970s to pay ample attention to their “work-to-play ratio,” as Ray phrased it.

They could have made more money than they did, they could have been more famous — though just barely, considering Car Talk‘s reach — and they could have done something more prestigious, but they didn’t want to.

Their dedication to the accessible, nothing-fancy ethos was, they explained, part of the reason why they did a radio show about cars in the first place:

Cars, they insist, bond all Americans. “We can do a show about cars because everybody has cars,” Tom explains, straightening his Home Depot hat and throwing his backpack over his shoulder. “We couldn’t do a show called Brain Talk.”

Read the full article, free of charge, here in TIME’s archives: Four-Wheel Expertise

TIME remembrance

Peter Sagal Remembers ‘Car Talk’ Host Tom Magliozzi

Ray Magliozzi; Tom Magliozi
Brothers Ray, left, and Tom Magliozzi, co-hosts of National Public Radio's Car Talk, pose for a photo in Cambridge, Mass on June 19, 2008. Charles Krupa—AP

Magliozzi, one half of public radio's famous 'Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers,' died Monday aged 77. His NPR colleague remembers a career filled with laughter

I met Tom Magliozzi along with his brother Ray for the first time at a public radio convention in Orlando, Fla. in 2000, when they had been convinced to leave their comfortable homes in Their Fair City (“Cambridge, Mah”) with the promise of a pool to sit next to and the obligation to do nothing. I said something that made them both laugh, uproariously, and felt cocky for a second until I realized that everything made them laugh uproariously.

That was Tom’s great gift. All that raucous, distinctive laughter—who knew you could laugh with a Boston accent?—was genuine. Whether he was laughing at his brother or a caller with a car problem or his own silly jokes, his pleasure was too immense to be kept private. Everybody knows that Car Talk wasn’t about cars. It was about Tommy Magliozzi and his little brother Ray, as they continued their life-long refusal to take each other, themselves, or anything else seriously. And by sheer force of will the self-regarding gray edifice known as public radio eventually did the same.

Tom was opinionated, passionate, and occasionally profane, but very much the man he seemed to be on air. He leaves behind his brother and a large family, but also millions of listeners he convinced—if only for an hour a week—to just relax and enjoy themselves as much as he did.

Peter Sagal is the host of NPR’s weekly news quiz ‘Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!’

TIME People

Who’d Want to Murder Harry Houdini?

Houdini Milestones
From the Nov. 8, 1926, issue of TIME TIME

Oct. 31, 1926: Harry Houdini dies from complications of a ruptured appendix

In the cutthroat world of magicians and mediums, Harry Houdini made enemies.

He had racked up so much ill will by the time of his mysterious death, in fact, that some people suspected he had been poisoned by psychics whose claims he regularly debunked.

The cause of Houdini’s death — on this day, Halloween, in 1926 — was officially a combination of appendicitis and peritonitis, an infection of the abdominal lining. But its onset was swift and surprising in the otherwise healthy 52-year-old, known for superhuman strength and the ability to escape every tight spot he had ever found himself in — including being buried alive, one of four “close-ups with death” of his career, according to a New York Times story.

The Times reported on the bizarre string of events that led up to the fatal infection, including a barrage of gut punches from a college student who wanted to test the strength of Houdini’s stomach muscles. Although a doctor told him that his appendix had likely ruptured, Houdini performed in a scheduled show rather than undergo immediate surgery, his obituary reveals.

A theory soon emerged that his death was no accident, however, and the rumor stuck. As recently as 2008, Houdini’s grandnephew sought permission to exhume his body and test for poison, noting that the outspoken magician had given many people motive for murder.

In addition to being a masterful escape artist who broke free from handcuffs and straightjackets, prisons and padded cells, a leather mail pouch and a giant milk can filled with water, Houdini was an acerbic critic of clairvoyants he believed were defrauding the public. He denounced famed mediums as a member of the Scientific American Committee on Psychic Phenomena in 1924, as TIME reported, and went on to recreate their tricks before his own audiences later.

In 1926, he testified before Congress in favor of a bill to regulate mediums and fortune-tellers, toward whom he showed both skepticism and contempt. It was easy to see why they might want him out of the way.

Notwithstanding his suspicion of séances, he hadn’t ruled out the possibility of communicating with spirits. He and his wife agreed that when one of them died, they’d each attempt to get in touch with the other from whichever world they found themselves in.

Wilhelmina Houdini held up her end of the bargain: For more than three years after his death, she attempted to make contact. And while a number of so-called spiritualists told her they’d had gotten messages from her husband, it was easy to tell they were fakes, according to a 1930 dispatch in TIME: “She and Houdini prearranged a code, in which no medium has yet brought word from him.”

Finally she gave up, taking his silence as a sign that the spirit world does not exist — or at least, it doesn’t talk. Houdini’s psychic foes, on the other hand, took it as a sign that he continued to spite them from beyond the grave.

According to TIME: “Spiritualists retorted that it proved nothing. Some even charged that Houdini’s spirit is being stubborn.”

Read more about Mrs. Houdini’s conclusion, here in TIME’s archives: Houdini, Doyle

Photos: Houdini Being Houdini

TIME remembrance

Pulitzer Prize–Winning American Poet Dies at 87

Poet Galway Kinnell speaks during Poets House's 17th Annual Poetry Walk Across The Brooklyn Bridge on June 11, 2012 in Brooklyn, New York.
Poet Galway Kinnell speaks during Poets House's 17th Annual Poetry Walk Across The Brooklyn Bridge on June 11, 2012 in Brooklyn, New York. Ilya S. Savenok—Getty Images

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Galway Kinnell, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who opened up American verse in the 1960s and beyond through his forceful, spiritual takes on the outsiders and underside of contemporary life, has died at age 87.

Kinnell’s wife, Bobbie Bristol, said he died Tuesday afternoon at their home in Sheffield, Vermont. He had leukemia.

Among the most celebrated poets of his time, he won the Pulitzer and National Book Award for the 1982 release “Selected Poems” and later received a MacArthur Genius Fellowship. In 1989, he was named Vermont’s poet laureate, and the Academy of American Poets gave him the 2010 Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement. His other books included “Body Rags,” ”Mortal Acts, Mortal Words,” ”The Past” and his final book of poetry, “Strong Is Your Hold,” released in 2006.

Kinnell’s style blended the physical and the philosophical, not shying from the most tactile and jarring details of humans and nature exploring their greater dimensions. He once told the Los Angeles Times that his intention was to “dwell on the ugly as fully, as far, and as long” as he “could stomach it.” In one of his most famous poems, “The Bear,” he imagines a hunter who consumes animal blood and excrement and comes to identify with his prey, wondering “what, anyway, was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?”

A native of Providence, Rhode Island, and graduate of Princeton University, Kinnell was influenced in childhood by Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe among others, but was also shaped by his experiences as an adult. He served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, traveled everywhere from Paris to Iran, opposed the Vietnam War and served as a field worker for the civil rights organization CORE (Congress of Racial Equality). Like his friend and contemporary W.S. Merwin, he began weaving in the events of the time into his poetry.

In “Vapor Trail Reflected in the Frog Pond,” from the 1968 collection “Body Rags,” he invokes the chanting style of Walt Whitman to condemn American violence:

And I hear,

coming over the hills, America singing,

her varied carols I hear:

crack of deputies’ rifles practicing their aim on stray dogs at night,

sput of cattleprod,

TV going on about the smells of the human body,

curses of the soldier as he poisons, burns, grinds, and stabs

the rice of the world,

with open mouth, crying strong, hysterical curses.

University of Vermont poet and English Professor Major Jackson, who read one of Kinnell’s poems during an August ceremony at the Vermont Statehouse honoring Kinnell, called him one of “the great quintessential poets of his generation.”

“In my mind he comes behind that other great New England poet Robert Frost in his ability to write about, not only the landscape of New England, but also its people,” said Jackson. “Without any great effort it was almost as if the people and the land were one and he acknowledged what I like to call a romantic consciousness.”

Kinnell taught at numerous schools, including Reed College and New York University, and for several years was a visiting poet at Sarah Lawrence College. From 2001-2007, he served as chancellor of the poets academy.

Bristol said her husband will be buried on the hill behind their home.

 

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