“Elaine May defines the phrase ‘smart and funny.’ From the Compass Players to Nichols & May to A New Leaf and The Heartbreak Kid and Mikey and Nicky, she invented a strain of knowing, painful, ironic humor that quickly became central to what we now think of as comedy. She’s received Oscar nominations and WGA nominations and Writers Guild Awards, all well-deserved; but it is time to recognize, plainly and simply, the debt that all of us owe to her brave, groundbreaking, fiercely intelligent, deeply human, relentlessly honest, scorchingly funny work,” said WGAW President Howard A. Rodman.
A WGAW member since 1962, May received her first Writers Guild Award nomination for her 1971 debut film, A New Leaf, based on Jack Ritchie’s A Green Heart, which she also directed and co-starred in.
She went on to receive a Writers Guild Award and Oscar nomination for co-penning 1978’s Warren Beatty-starring hit comedy Heaven Can Wait, which was remade years later as 2001’s Down To Earth, starring Chris Rock. She also received Writers Guild Award nominations (adapted screenplay) for 1996’s The Birdcage, and political satire Primary Colors. Her other screenwriting credits include 1971’s Such Good Friends, 1976’s Mikey and Nicky, which she also directed, and 1987’s Ishtar, which she directed. May also directed the 1972 romantic comedy The Heartbreak Kid, which garnered two Oscar nominations for the film’s co-stars, Eddie Albert and Jeannie Berlin.
As an actress, May appeared in numerous films, including Enter Laughing (1967), California Suite (1978), In the Spirit (1990), and co-starring opposite Woody Allen in Small Time Crooks (2000)
Most recently, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama in 2013.
Past recipients of the WGAW’s Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement include screenwriters David Mamet, Lawrence Kasdan, Robert Benton, Barry Levinson, Steven Zaillian, Eric Roth, Tom Stoppard, Paul Mazursky, and Harold Ramis.