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Neil Simon The Kennedy Center Presents: The 2006 Mark Twain Prize celebrating Neil Simon
Neil Simon
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Recipient Neil Simon

Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman
Neil Simon, born in the Bronx on July 4, 1927, is America's foremost playwright. For more than four decades, his plays have invigorated the stage with poignant stories and zany characters known for their family-based New York settings. He has authored more than forty Broadway plays since 1961, ranging from humorous, lighthearted plays (Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple) to darker, autobiographical works (Chapter Two, the Eugene trilogy featuring Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound). Simon contributed librettos to such hit musical comedies as Sweet Charity, Promises, Promises and They're Playing Our Song. As a screenwriter, he has had more than a dozen major motion pictures produced (The Goodbye Girl, Lost in Yonkers). His single greatest contribution has been his extraordinary ability to create humor from the lives and troubles of everyday people

Of Simon, actor Jack Lemmon said, "Neil has the ability to write characters—even the leading characters that we're supposed to root for—that are absolutely flawed. They have foibles. They have faults. But, they are human beings. They are not all bad or all good; they are people we know."

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. Simon is the recipient of three Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Drama Desk Award, an American Comedy Award, a Golden Globe and the Kennedy Center Honors.

His most significant writing job came in the early 1950s when he joined the staff of "Your Show of Shows", Sid Caesar's landmark live television comedy series that assembled the best comic writers in history including Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart and Carl Reiner. In the 1960s, Simon turned his focus to playwriting for Broadway. His first hit came in 1961 with Come Blow Your Horn followed by Barefoot in the Park. 1966 produced one of his most enduring hits—The Odd Couple—inspired by his brother Danny, who moved in with a divorced man after his own divorce. The Odd Couple was not only a smash on Broadway, but it succeeded as a film starring Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon and as a popular television series.

Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman

By the 1970s, Simon was a major voice in contemporary comedy. In 1973, he entered a low period in his life, when his wife of twenty years, died. A few years later, he met the actress Marsha Mason, and they were married. His 1977 play, Chapter Two, dramatizes the grief of a newly remarried man trying to start over after his wife has died. Chapter Two was considered one of his finest works and he followed it with a musical, They're Playing Our Song.

Throughout his four-decade career, Simon has drawn extensively on his own life and experience for materials for his plays. Many of his works take place in the working-class New York neighborhoods he knew so well as a child. One of Simon's great achievements has been the insightful representation of the social atmosphere of those times in New York. With his autobiographical trilogy, "Brighton Beach Memoirs" (1983), "Biloxi Blues" (1985), and "Broadway Bound" (1986), Simon created a touching portrait of an individual, his family, and the world around them. With these plays, Simon found his greatest critical acclaim, and for his 1991 follow-up, "Lost in Yonkers," Simon was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Neil Simon has for almost forty years invigorated the stage with touching stories and zany characters, but possibly his greatest contribution has been the ability to create humor from the lives and troubles of everyday people.

  • Tony Award – for his plays:
    • The Odd Couple (1965, Best Author, Play)
    • Biloxi Blues (1985, Best Play)
    • Lost in Yonkers (1991, Best Play)
  • Pulitzer Prize for Drama – Lost in Yonkers (1991)
  • Drama Desk Award – Lost in Yonkers (1991, Outstanding New Play)
  • American Comedy Award – for his life work (1989, Creative Achievement Award)
  • Golden Globe – The Goodbye Girl (1978, Best Screenplay - Motion Picture, Best Motion Picture - Musical/Comedy)

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