Last night “Bob Hightower” posted an anecdote about director Mike Nichols. Residing in the comment thread for an HE article titled “Son of New York Theatre Stories,” it concerns the summer movie-house run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff? and particularly the behavior of a certain New York projectionist.

“When Nichols’s first film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, opened in late June of ’66, he went to a theater in New York one afternoon to watch it with a paying audience.

“The film was out of focus. It kept being out of focus. And of course, no one in the audience complained.

“Nichols frantically ran out and up the stairs to the projection booth. He banged on the door. No one answered. He banged again. Nothing. So he pushed open the door and found the projectionist on the floor banging an usherette. Nichols crept out and left the theater. As Gregg Toland once said, ‘The projectionist is the ultimate censor.'”

HE correction: Toland probably meant to say “the projectionist is the ultimate arbiter.” Showing a film out of focus obviously doesn’t constitute censorship, but vandalism.

Mark Harris informs that the anecdote isn’t from his 2022 Nichols biography, but says “it certainly sounds credible.”

Well, I don’t find the story credible.

HE to Hightower #1: With the urgent knocking why wouldn’t the randy projectionist have gotten up and seen who it was, especially if the door was unlocked? He surely understood that women hate it when strangers burst into a room with intimate activity going on. If the projectionist wanted to keep things going with the usherette he would taken proper privacy precautions. It would have been one thing if the projection booth door was locked, but it obviously wasn’t. You can’t tell me he didn’t hear Nichols knocking.

HE to Hightower #2: Projection booth floors are made of hard plastic tiles or plain cement. Who would attempt to make love to an usherette on one of those awful uncarpeted floors? What kind of usherette would submit to this? Women like their romantic encounters to be nice and soft and candle-lit. I would expect that most projectionists and usherettes would avoid the floor and attempt the deed standing up. Or perhaps with the usherette bent over the reel-spicing table, say.

One thing that’s always bothered me about Virginia Wolff is that George and Martha’s young guests — George Segal‘s Nick and Sandy Dennis‘s Honey — arrive around 2:30 am. The four of them have already been to a previous faculty party which presumably started at 8 or 9 pm, and now it’s five or six hours later and they’re about to start drinking and chit-chatting again? Even at the height of my most rambunctious youth I never showed up anywhere — a friend’s home or a bar or anything — at 2:30 am. During my drinking days I might’ve crashed at 2:30 or 3 am, but I never partied until dawn killed the moon…never. And I was a wild man, relatively speaking.