Elaine May (born April 21, circa 1932) is a United States screenwriter, movie director, and performer. Together with Mike Nichols, they were a part of the Compass Players, founded by Paul Sills and David Shepherd, which later became The Second City. The duo went on to create one of the most successful comedy acts of the day.
She was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Screenplay for the comedy Heaven Can Wait (which she co-wrote with the film's star Warren Beatty) and for her adaptation of Joe Klein's book Primary Colors.
As a director, her most notable achievement to date has been The Heartbreak Kid (1972), a critically lauded, modestly popular comedy with an original screenplay by Neil Simon, featuring hilarious performances from Charles Grodin, Eddie Albert, and May's own daughter, actress Jeannie Berlin.
She also wrote and directed the cult comedy A New Leaf (1971), starring herself and Walter Matthau, and Mikey and Nicky (1976), a surprisingly realistic urban drama with Peter Falk and John Cassavetes.
May wrote and directed the film Ishtar in 1987. Largely shot on location in the Middle East, the production was beset by internal difficulties, and advance publicity was so terrible that the picture never got off the ground, becoming one of the biggest cinematic failures of its day.
May has also written stage plays, including Adaptation, Not Enough Rope, Mr. Gogol and Mr. Preen, the one-act plays Hot Line, and After the Night and the Music. She also directed the off-Broadway production of Terrence McNally's Adaptation/Next.
She was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and as a child she occasionally performed with her father, Jack Berlin, on stage; he was a Yiddish theatrical actor.
She was married in the late 1940s (and later divorced) after giving birth to her daughter, actress Jeannie Berlin, in 1949.