May, Elaine

May, Elaine, 1932-, American actress, film director, and writer, b. Philadelphia, Pa., as Elaine Iva Berlin. May’s parents were both actors; her father died when she was 11 years old, and her mother moved the family to Los Angeles. May moved to Chicago in 1950, where she eventually met fellow actor Mike Nichols. The two joined an improvisational theater group, The Compass Players, and then formed a duo beginning in 1957, making several successful comedy albums and nightclub apperances. They made their Broadway debut with An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May (1960; Grammy award, best comedy album). The duo split soon after in 1961, with May turning to playwrighting. She directed, wrote, and starred in the film A New Leaf (1971), followed by directing The Heartbreak Kid (1972; screenplay by Neil Neil). However, her film career fizzled, particularly after the expensive flop, Ishtar (1987). She also wrote screenplays for Heaven Can Wait (1978), Tootsie (uncredited contributions, 1982), and The Birdcage (1996). May has also appeared as an actress on film and on the stage.

See A. Heller-Nicholas and D. Brandum, eds., ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May (2020), R.E. Kapsis, ed., Nichols and May: Interviews (2020)..

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