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Working Man: Hollywood raises a glass to Mike Nichols

June 11, 2010 | 11:31 am

Mike2 AFI showed Mike Nichols some love on Thursday, as a who’s who of Hollywood -- including Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Cher -- turned out to give funny, naughty and heartfelt cheers to the Oscar-winning hyphenate.

The 78-year-old Nichols, who has directed such film classics as "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,"  "The Graduate" and "Working Girl," was feted with the group's Life Achievement Award. The ceremony, which took place on the Sony lot and which you can see on TV Land June 26, had plenty of touching moments.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel reunited to sing "Mrs. Robinson," their signature tune from "The Graduate."

Elaine May, Nichols’ former comedy partner who also wrote the scripts for "The Birdcage" and "Primary Colors," said that "this is a very emotional night for me because 30 years ago I bought this dress for his first lifetime achievement award." She told that crowd that the Berlin-born Nichols was actually Albert Einstein’s cousin and read a "faux" letter from Einstein to Nichols that she found while perusing a Gutenberg Bible that sat on Nichols’ coffee table.

Dustin Hoffman, who got his first major film break when Nichols cast him as Benjamin Braddock in "The Graduate," said the fete was "dreamlike for me and it was dreamlike when he ….started a career for me. You are more than a great director, you are a real artist down to your toes."

And Cher, who earned a supporting actress nomination for "Silkwood," recalled that "he made me feel like I was his favorite child."

Nicholson, perhaps soothing his pain over the Lakers’ loss, gave a somewhat rambling speech as though he had just stepped off the set of "Easy Rider." (He told Nichols, "Remember, even oysters have enemies," and added that he realized he was behaving a "little Jack and a little like Norman Maine," referring to the "Star Is Born" character.)

But one of the best moments came when Meryl Streep -- who collaborated with Nichols on "Silkwood," "Heartburn," "Postcards From the Edge" and "Angels in America" -- presented the director with the award by pointing out that she recently discovered that she and Nichols are related. "Five to seven generations ago we shared a common mother," Streep quipped. "Mike was disappointed that she was common."

Nichols walked through the cheering crowd to the stage and gave Streep a huge kiss and embrace. "Wow," he said. "I got to see my own memorial and I’m still alive. Sort of."

--Susan King

Photo: Mike Nichols and Meryl Streep; credit: Frazer Harris for Getty Images

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