A true pioneer with a sardonic wit and keen insight into the human condition, Elaine May rose to prominence as one-half of an improvisational team, alongside future director Mike Nichols, before becoming a greatly revered writer-director-actor in her own right. After working together in the Chicago improv troupe The Compass Players, Nichols and May joined forces as a comedy team, performing in nightclubs and on stage and television, before dissolving the partnership to pursue separate interests. For May, that initially led to the theater, with efforts such as her play “Adaptation” receiving excellent notices. Not long after, May wrote, directed and starred in the off-the-wall comedy The New Leaf (1971), co-starring Walter Matthau.
As a director, she scored another triumph with the Neil Simon-scripted The Heartbreak Kid (1972). As a writer, May made an indelible mark in cinema when she co-wrote the much-beloved romantic comedy Heaven Can Wait (1978), along with its star, Warren Beatty. After the commercial and critical disappointment of Ishtar in 1981, May stepped away from directing but continued to work steadily as a respected script writer – both credited and non – adding hits like Mike Nichols’ The Birdcage (1996) and Primary Colors (1998) to her already impressive résumé.