The Odd Couple
Neil Simon worked as a comedy writer for various television shows in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s before making a name for himself as a noted playwright and screenwriter. He won Tony Awards for “Biloxi Blues” (1985) and “Lost in Yonkers” (1991), from which he also nabbed the 1991 Pulitzer Prize Award and Drama Desk Award. He also earned Tony nominations for “Little Me” (1962), “Barefoot in the Park” (1962), “The Odd Couple” (1965), “Sweet Charity” (1966), “Plaza Suite” (1968), “Promises, Promises” (1968), “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” (1969), “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” (1971), “The Sunshine Boys” (1972), “The Good Doctor” (1973), “Chapter Two” (1977), “They're Playing Our Song” (1979) and “Broadway Bound” (1986). As a screenwriter, Simon received Oscar nominations for the movie adaptations of “The Odd Couple” (1968), “The Sunshine Boy” (1975), “California Suite” (1978) and “The Goodbye Girl” (1977). He also won a Golden Globe Award for “The Goodbye Girl” and a Writers Guild of America (WGA) Award for “The Odd Couple” and “The Sunshine Boys.” He won an additional WGA Award for “The Out of Towners” (1970).
Simon was handed a 1972 Cue Entertainer of the Year Award. He also received the 1978 David di Donatello Award for Special David, a Laurel Award for Screen Writing Achievement at the 1979 WGA Awards and a 1996 William Inge Theatre Festival Distinguished Achievement in American Theater. In 2006, he was handed the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Childhood and Family:
Born Marvin Neil Simon on July 4, 1927, in The Bronx, New York, Neil Simon was the second son of Mamie and Irving Simon, a garment salesman. His older brother, Danny Simon (born in 1918, died in 2005), was a TV writer and comedy teacher. Neil and his brother were raised in Washington Heights in Manhattan. He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in 1944 at the age of 16. He furthered his education at New York University, where he signed up for the Army Air Force Reserve training program. In 1945, when he was sent to the Lowry Air Force Base, Neil transferred to the University of Denver in Denver Colorado, where he stayed from 1945 to 1946. Neil was released from the Air Force in 1946.
Neil has been married five times. He was married to his first wife, dancer Joan Baim, from September 10, 1953, until her death on July 17, 1973. Their daughters are Ellen Simon (born in 1957) and Nancy Simon (born in 1963). He was next married to actress Marsha Mason from October 25, 1973, until 1981. In 1987, he married his third wife, actress Diane Lander, but the couple divorced in 1988. They remarried on February 10, 1990, and Neil adopted Lander's daughter, Bryn, later that same year. They eventually divorced in 1998. Currently, he is married to actress Elaine Joyce (born on December 19, 1945), whom Neil married on September 11, 1999. Joyce has two sons named Taylor Van (born in 1977) and Michael Levoff (born in 1984) from previous marriages.
In 2004, Neil received a kidney transplant. The kidney was donated by his publicist Bill Eveans.
Lost in Yonkers
Part of the U.S. Army Air Force during the mid 1940s, Neil Simon became a sports editor for the military magazine “Rev-Meter.” He later joined the Warner Bros. offices in Manhattan as a mailroom employee, but quit his job in 1948 when he decided to collaborate with his brother Danny to write radio and television scripts. Their early gigs included writing episodes of the comedy shows “The Arrow Show” (1948) and “Cavalcade of Stars” (1949) as well as the radio show “The Robert Q. Lewis Show.”
Simon's first break arrived in the early 1950s when he, along with his brother, was recruited by Sid Caesar as staff writers for the popular TV variety show “Your Show of Shows,” which ran on NBC from 1950 to 1954. It won two Emmy Awards for Best Variety Show (1952) and Best Variety Program (1953). He also wrote for Caesar's program “Caesar's Hour” (NBC, 1954-1957), which reunited Simon with other legendary writers from “Your Show of Shows,” including Mel Brooks, Mel Tolkin and Carl Reiner. Simon jointly earned Emmy nominations for Best Comedy Writing - Variety or Situation Comedy (1957) and Best Comedy Writing (1958) for his work on “Caesar's Hour.”
During the 1950s, Simon also contributed to scripts for the TV comedy shows “Stanley” (1 episode, 1956), “The Garry Moore Show” (1958, with Woody Allen) and “The Phil Silvers Show” (3 episodes, 1958-1959) as well as to various TV films and adaptations, including “Best Foot Forward” (1954), “A Connecticut Yankee” (1955), “Max Liebman Presents: The Merry Widow” (1955), “The Great Waltz” (1955) and “The Adventures of Marco Polo” (1956). In 1955, Simon worked with his brother on material for Broadway’s “Catch a Star,” which marked Simon's stage writing debut. Six years later, “Come Blow Your Horn,” Simon's first solo play, premiered at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on February 22, 1961, and ran for about 700 performances in the U.S. A London production of the play followed in 1962 at the Prince of Wales Theatre. It was adapted into a feature film of the same name in 1963, with a screenplay by Norman Lear and directed by Bud Yorkin. Starring Frank Sinatra, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction.
After “Come Blow Your Horn,” Simon wrote the Broadway musical “Little Me” (1962), which was based on Patrick Dennis' novel “Little Me, The Intimate Memoirs of that Great Star of Stage, Screen and Television,” which starred Sid Caesar in multiple roles. Although the production received mixed reviews upon its release, it did earn Simon his first Tony nomination for Best Author of a Musical.
Next up for Simon, he wrote the comic play “Barefoot in the Park,” which premiered at the Baltimore Theatre on October 23, 1963. Simon won an Evening Standard in 1967 and the successful Broadway play “The Odd Couple” (1965) followed. The latter play collected several Tony Awards, including Best Play and Best Author. In 1965, Simon sold the stage rights to “Barefoot in the Park” and the subsidiary rights to “The Odd Couple” to Paramount Pictures. Paramount produced a big screen version of “Barefoot in the Park” in 1967, with Robert Redford reprising his stage role of Paul Bratter and Jane Fonda playing Corie, a role originated by Elisabeth Ashley on Broadway. The film was directed by Gene Saks and scripted by Simon. Simon received a 1968 Writers Guild of America nomination for Best Written American Comedy for his effort. “The Odd Couple” was made into a highly successful film in 1968 with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau starring as Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison, respectively. The film was also directed by Saks and written by Simon. He nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium and a WGA Award for Best Written American Comedy for his work on the film. Simon made his screenwriting debut in “After the Fox” (1966), an Italian comedy starring Peter Sellers and directed by Vittorio De Sica. The film earned negative reviews upon its release, but has since gained a cult following.
After “The Odd Couple,” Simon wrote a book for the Tony award winning Broadway musical “Sweet Charity” (1966), directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. The play was adapted into a feature film of the same name in 1969, which was directed by Fosse and starred Shirley MacLaine. The remainder of 1960s saw Simon write the plays “The Star-Spangled Girl” (1966), directed by George Axelrod and starring Anthony Perkins, Richard Benjamin and Connie Stevens, “Plaza Suite” (1968), from which he received a Tony nomination for Best Play, “Promises, Promises” (1968), a musical based on the 1960 film “The Apartment,” written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, and “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers” (1969), which was directed by Robert Moore and starred James Coco, Linda Lavin, Doris Roberts and Marcia Rodd.
In 1970, Simon wrote the screenplay of “The Out of Towners,” a comedy film directed by Arthur Hiller that starred Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis, and won a 1971 WGA Award for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen for his work. It was also in 1970 that his hit Broadway play “The Odd Couple” was made into a popular TV sitcom of the same name. It starred Tony Randall and Jack Klugman and ran on ABC from September 1970 to July 1975. Simon received no money from the show. The same year, he also wrote the drama “The Gingerbread Lady,” which was made especially for actress Maureen Stapleton.
In 1971, Simon was reunited with Stapleton in the film version of “Plaza Suite,” which he scripted and was directed by Arthur Hiller. Stapleton earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture for her portrayal of Karen Nash. He next adapted “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” (1972), which was directed by Gene Saks and starred Alan Arkin, Sally Kellerman, Paula Prentiss and Renée Taylor, and wrote the screenplay of “The Heartbreak Kid” (1972), based on a short story by Bruce Jay Friedman. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and a WGA Award in the category of Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium for the latter film.
In 1975, Simon scripted “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” a comedy film based on his 1971 play of the same name. The film was directed by Melvin Frank and starred Jack Lemmon, Anne Bancroft and Gene Saks. For his screenplay, Simon received a WGA nomination for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium. Later that same year, Simon wrote a feature film adaptation of his 1972 Broadway play “The Sunshine Boys,” which was helmed by Herbert Ross and starred George Burns and Walter Matthau. The film brought Simon his second Oscar nomination, in addition to a Golden Globe nomination for Best Screenplay - Motion Picture.
After scripting “Murder by Death” (1976, helmed by Robert Moore), Simon wrote “The Goodbye Girl,” a 1977 comedy film directed by Herbert Ross that marked his first of five screenplays starring then-wife Marsha Mason. The film earned Simon a Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay - Motion Picture, an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, a BAFTA nomination for Best Screenplay and a WGA nomination for Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen. He picked up his fourth Oscar nomination for his screenplay of the Herbert Ross directed comedy “California State” (1978), which was based on Simon's 1976 play of the same name. He also netted a WAG nomination for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium for his work on the film. The film starred Alan Alda, Jane Fonda, Walter Matthau, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Elaine May, Maggie Smith and Michael Caine. Simon closed out the decade by writing the screenplay of “Chapter Two” (1979), a comedy film adapted from his play of the same name.
In 1981, Simon adapted his play “The Gingerbread Lady” for the big screen under the title “Only When I Laugh,” with wife Mason in the lead role. Directed by Glenn Jordan, the film was a financial and critical success and was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Actress in a Leading Role. The next year, he adapted “I Ought to Be in Pictures,” a 1980 three character comedy centering on Herbert Tucker, into a movie version of the same name with Walter Matthau replacing Tony Curtis in the role of Herbert Tucker. Both the play and film were directed by Herbert Ross. He then wrote the comedy film “Max Dugan Returns” (1983), also helmed by Ross, the Steve Martin vehicle “The Lonely Guy” (1984), based on the book “The Lonely Guy's Book of Life” by Bruce Jay Friedman, and “The Slugger's Wife” (1985), a comedy starring Michael O'Keefe and Rebecca De Mornay.
In 1986, Simon was reunited with director Gene Saks for the movie version of “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” the first chapter of Simon's semi autobiographical play that is known as the “Eugene Trilogy.” The play won Simon a 1983 Outer Critics Circle Award and a 1983 New York Drama Critics Circle Award. The film version starred Jonathan Silverman as Eugene and Blythe Danner as Kate. The second of the trilogy, “Biloxi Blues” (1985), which won Simon a Tony for Best Play, was adapted into a feature film of the same name in 1988 with Mike Nichols directing and Matthew Broderick, Matt Mulhern and Penelope Ann Miller reprising their stage roles of Eugene, Joseph Wykowski and Daisy, respectively. The last section, “Broadway Bound” (1986), was adapted into a TV film in 1992 and starred Anne Bancroft as Kate and Corey Parker as Eugene.
Simon next scripted the film “The Marrying Man” (1991), starring Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin. The same year, he also wrote the Broadway play “Lost in Yonkers,” which debuted in February 1991 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre and earned Simon a Tony for Best Play, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and a Drama Desk for Outstanding New Play. A movie version of the play was produced in 1993 with a screenplay by Simon. The film was directed by Martha Coolidge and starred Irene Worth, Mercedes Ruehl and Richard Dreyfuss.
After the award winning “Lost in Yonkers,” Simon wrote “Jake's Women” (1992), a play focusing on a writer struggling with his marriage. It was made into a TV movie in 1996 and starred Alan Alda and was directed by Glenn Jordan. His next play, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” based on his experience writing for Sid Caesar, opened on Broadway in November 1993 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where it ran for 320 performances. The original cast included Nathan Lane, Ron Orbach, Randy Graff, Mark Linn-Baker, Bitty Schram, J. K. Simmons and Lewis J. Stadlen. “London Suite” followed in 1995 and was adapted into a TV film in 1996. It was directed by Jay Sandrich and scripted by Simon. “Proposals,” his 30th play, opened on Broadway on November 6, 1997, at the Broadhurst Theatre. In 1998, he wrote “The Odd Couple II,” a film sequel to 1986's “The Odd Couple.” The film was helmed by Howard Deutch and reunited Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in their last film together.
2000 saw Simon's play, “The Dinner Party,” open at the Music Box Theatre in New York City. The production ran for 364 performances. He went on to adapt his semi-autobiographical play “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” for a TV film on Showtime in 2001, Simon returned to Broadway later that same year with “45 Seconds from Broadway,” which was directed by Jerry Zacks. His next play was “Rose's Dilemma,” which was produced off-Broadway by the Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center's Stage. It ran from November 20, 2003, until February 1, 2004.
Simon wrote a TV movie adaptation of “The Goodbye Girl” in 2004. The television movie starred Jeff Daniels as Elliot Garfield, Patricia Heaton as Paula McFadden and Hallie Kate Eisenberg as Lucy McFadden. The same year, Simon underwent a kidney transplant.
In 2007, a remake of the 1972 film “The Heartbreak Kid” was produced. The film was directed by the Farrelly brothers and co-scripted by Leslie Dixon, Scot Armstrong and Kevin Barnett.
Mark Twain Prize: American Humor, 2006
William Inge Theatre Festival Distinguished Achievement in the American Theater: 1996
Drama Desk: Outstanding New Play, “Lost in Yonkers,” 1991
Pulitzer Prize: Drama, “Lost in Yonkers,” 1991
Tony: Best Play, “Lost in Yonkers,” 1991
American Comedy: Creative Achievement Award, 1989
Tony: Best Play, “Biloxi Blues,” 1985
New York Drama Critics Circle: “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” 1983
Outer Critics Circle: “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” 1983
Writers Guild of America (WGA): Laurel Award, Screen Writing Achievement, 1979
David di Donatello: Special David, 1978
Golden Globe: Best Screenplay - Motion Picture, “The Goodbye Girl,” 1978
Writers Guild of America (WGA): Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium, “The Sunshine Boys,” 1976
Tony: Special Award, Contribution to Theatre, 1975
Cue Entertainer of the Year Award, 1972
Writers Guild of America (WGA): Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen, “The Out of Towners,” 1971
Writers Guild of America (WGA): Best Written American Comedy, “The Odd Couple,” 1969
Evening Standard: “Barefoot in the Park,” 1967
Tony: Best Author, “The Odd Couple,” 1965