Elaine May (born April 21, 1932) is one of those people I’d heard about, but didn’t really know about. Which is not surprising, because her career was at its peak when I was very young. By the time I grew up, she was most famous for that cinematic and financial disaster, Ishtar (1987), which I admit I’ve never seen.
However, at some time or other, I saw A New Leaf on TV. This was a movie that May wrote, directed, and starred in, along with Walter Matthau, in 1971. I was actually watching it because I liked Matthau and his hang-dog look. I don’t really remember much about it, but somehow Elaine May’s name stuck in my head.
So when her birthday came up this year, I looked up the Wikipedia entry on her. It goes on and on with raves about her collaboration with Mike Nichols in improvisational comedy between between 1955 and 1961, originally as part of a troupe, then as a duo called Nichols and May.
I’d never heard their act to remember it. But these are the days of the Internet. You can find almost anything on it if you look hard enough. So I went hunting for videos. Sure enough, I found a bunch of them by searching YouTube for “Nichols and May.” And given the themes of this blog, I offer one for you to watch: “The $65 Funeral.” It’s hilarious. It’s even more hilarious if you know that they were satirizing actual practices in the funeral industry, which had just been documented in an industry exposé entitled The American Way of Death (1963) by Jessica Mitford.