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Neil Simon

By

The marquee at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway.

The marquee at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway.

Photo: Joe Brent, Creative Commons, some rights reserved.
PBS' American Masters on Neil Simon: "...The world's most successful playwright. He has had dozens of plays and nearly as many major motion pictures produced. He has been showered with more Academy and Tony nominations than any other writer, and is the only playwright to have four Broadway productions running simultaneously. His plays have been produced in dozens of languages, and have been blockbuster hits from Beijing to Moscow. His true success, however, is in his unique way of exposing something real in the American spirit."
Biography: Marvin Neil "Doc" Simon was born in the Bronx, New York on July 4, 1927. After attending NYU and the University of Denver, he began working in radio and TV circa 1948, under the shepherding of his older brother, Danny, a comedy writer. Together, the pair created material for Phil Silvers, Garry Moore, and Jerry Lewis. The '50s were Simon's broadcasting years, but he yearned to tackle live theatre, so he set out to become a playwright on his own.
But, Seriously: Simon, the father of three daughters, has been married four times, currently to actress Elaine Joyce, since 1999. Joan Baim, his first wife died in 1973, after 20 years together. His grief in starting over in romance became the basis for one of his most acclaimed shows, Chapter Two. Ironically, the second Mrs. Simon, Marsha Mason, starred in the film version. Many of his plays are autobiographical, none more than the growing up trilogy, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, and Broadway Bound.
Big Break: The Simons joined Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, the ground-breaking, comedy-variety series of the '50s. The live, 90-minute weekly program was essentially a blueprint for Saturday Night Live. It was a creative romp for the likes of Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Mel Tolkin, Carl Reiner, and Lucille Kallen.

"I knew, when I walked into Your Show of Shows," American Masters quotes Simon, "that this was the most talented group of writers that up until that time had ever been assembled together."

Neil Simon Trivia:
  • Danny Simon originated The Odd Couple concept, derived from his divorce and annoying roommate, Roy Garber, but was not able to complete the script. Neil agreed to tackle the project in return for sole writer's credit. Reports say he's paid Danny 10% of all Odd Couple earnings from the play and subsequent spin-offs.

  • Laughter on the 23rd Floor (1993) is loosely based on the writers' room at Your Show of Shows.

  • In 2004, Simon underwent a kidney transplant, donated by his publicist, Bill Evans.
Neil Simon Comic Time Line - Selected Highlights:
  • 195? - Your Show of Shows [TV]

  • 195? - The Phil Silvers Show aka Sgt. Bilko [TV]

  • 1957 - Caesar's Hour, Emmy nominee, Best Comedy Writing - Variety or Situation Comedy

  • 1958 - The Garry Moore Show [TV]

  • 1958 - Caesar's Hour, Emmy nominee, Best Comedy Writing

  • 1961 - Come Blow Your Horn, first Broadway play

  • 1963 - Little Me, Tony nominee, Best Author (Musical) and Best Musical

  • 1964 - Barefoot in the Park, Tony nominee, Best Play

  • 1965 - The Odd Couple, Tony Award, Best Author (Dramatic) and nominated for Best Play

  • 1966 - Sweet Charity, Tony nominee, Best Musical

  • 1968 - Plaza Suite, Tony nominee, Best Play

  • 1969 - The Odd Couple, Academy Award nominee, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium; Writers Guild Award (Screen), Best Written American Comedy

  • 1969 - Promises, Promises, Tony nominee, Best Musical

  • 1970 - Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Tony nominee, Best Play
  • 1971 - The Out of Towners, Writers Guild Award (Screen), Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen

  • 1972 - The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Tony nominee, Best Play

  • 1972 - The Heartbreak Kid, [Film]

  • 1973 - The Sunshine Boys, Tony nominee, Best Play

  • 1974 - The Good Doctor, Tony nominee, Best Score (Musical)

  • 1976 - The Sunshine Boys, Academy Award nominee, Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted From Other Material; Writers Guild Award (Screen), Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium

  • 1976 - Murder by Death [Film]
  • 1978 - Chapter Two, Tony nominee, Best Play

  • 1978 - The Goodbye Girl, Academy Award nominee, Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen; Golden Globe Award, Best Screenplay - Motion Picture

  • 1979 - They're Playing Our Song, Tony nominee, Best Book (Musical)

  • 1979 - California Suite, Academy Award nomination, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

  • 1985 - Biloxi Blues, Tony Award, Best Play

  • 1987 - Broadway Bound, Tony nominee, Best Play
  • 1989 - American Comedy Awards, Creative Achievement Award

  • 1991 - Lost in Yonkers, Tony Award, Best Play; Pulitzer Prize
  • 1992 - Broadway Bound, Emmy nominee, Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing in a Miniseries or a Special

  • 2001 - Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Emmy nominee, Outstanding Made for Television Movie

  • 2006 - The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, Kennedy Center

Neil Simon Quotes and Jokes:

  • "I don't like writing for comedians. I like writing for actors. The best comedians are the best actors."

  • "The way I see things, life is both sad and funny. I can’t imagine a comical situation that isn’t at the same time also painful. I used to ask myself: What is a humorous situation? Now I ask: What is a sad situation and how can I tell it humorously?"

  • "New York is not Mecca. It just smells like it."

  • "If you can go through life without experiencing pain, you probably haven't been born yet."

  • "If no one ever took risks, Michaelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor."

  • "He's too nervous to kill himself. He wears his seat belt in a drive-in movie."

  • In The Odd Couple, Oscar, the slob, offers his poker buddies green or brown sandwiches. When asked the ingredients, he replies, "They are either very old cheese or very new meat."

  • "When it's 100 in New York, it's 72 in Los Angeles. When it's 20 in New York, it's 72 in Los Angeles. However, there are six million interesting people in New York -- and 72 in Los Angeles."
Sources: Internet Movie Database, The American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards, The Unofficial Neil Simon Homepage, Internet Broadway Database, American Masters @ pbs.org, BrainyQuote, ThinkExist, Answers.com

Mike Durrett has produced and written About Humor as our Guide since 1998. He's worked as a comedian in radio and independent films, and as a professional comedy writer for entertainment personalities. He publishes original humor on his sites at MikeDurrett.com and TheTopOneList.com. Click for more info on Humor Boy.

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