November 3rd, 2000
Neil Simon
About Neil Simon

Neil Simon is 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.

Born in the Bronx on July 4, 1927, Marvin Neil Simon grew up in Manhattan and for a short time attended NYU and the University of Denver. His most significant writing job came in the early 1950s when he joined the staff of YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, a landmark live television comedy series. Sid Caesar’s hilariously cutting-edge program had some of the best comic minds in television working for it, including Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart, and Carl Reiner. “I knew,” said Simon, “when I walked INTO YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, that this was the most talented group of writers that up until that time had ever been assembled together.” By the 1960s, Simon had begun to concentrate on writing plays for Broadway. His first hit came in 1961 with “Come Blow Your Horn,” and was soon after followed by the very successful comic romance “Barefoot in the Park.”

Simon’s brother, Danny, who also worked on YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, played a major role in his writing. Eight and a half years older, Danny brought Simon into the business and had shown him the ropes. In fact, it was Danny who provided the inspiration for one of Simon’s most enduring hits. After his divorce, Danny moved in with another divorced man, and this situation became the set-up for “The Odd Couple” (1966). Though Danny had begun writing the story himself, he reached a block and eventually handed it off to Simon who soon made it a smash on Broadway. Starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, the 1968 film version was equally successful and prompted a popular television series.

By 1973, Simon was a major voice in contemporary comedy. But, that year he entered a low period in his life, when his wife of twenty years, died. Some time 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. 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.”

  • John Smith

    This article ruined my life!

  • adam

    I love Neil simon’s work!!!

  • adrienne

    Love him..but i wish i could remember the star actor in Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Can you please respond on this tu

  • jack

    i hate this article it makes me insane it makes me love l

  • Laurie Lindemeier

    Going to see “Barefoot in the Park” on Friday in Hurst, Texas. Glad to have read this article before I review the production for “The Column” (John Garcia). Thank you for the insight.

  • Michael Mooney

    Neil Simon is not the only playwright to have 4 plays on Broadway at the same time. Alan Ayckbourn (to whom he is often compared) also had four plays on Broadway in 1976: LIVING TOGETHER, ROUND AND ROUND THE GARDEN, TABLE MANNERS and ASBURD PERSON SINGULAR. The first three plays are technically part of THE NORMAN CONQUESTS – a trilogy, so you might argue that it counts as only one play, but they are actually distinct plays – often performed separately.

  • Honda Hound

    good article

  • Audrey* Sparkes

    First, I cannot believe that PBS allowed Jack LemMon’s name to be misspelled!! My God! That said… Neil Simon is my inspiration. I don’t know of any other writer, in any century, who has the gift to help us be able to see — and laugh at — ourselves in such a universal and yet intimately personal way, all at the same time. Keep up the good works! Not that you need to, but if you want us, Mr. Simon, you’ll always have a grateful audience waiting for you. God bless, and thanks for the inspiration! I’m still learning from you… and hope I always will.

  • Kevin Butler

    I love this “American Masters”/PBS TV tribute to Mr.Simon and his

    work..but?

    This tv tribute is not on DVD..I’d like to ask the heads of Public TV..if this “American Masters”

    installment will ever be rereleased on dvd?

  • wikiriwhi

    I’m using this article to convince my fellow drama class of 20 y o’s to do a scene from the Odd Couple.

    Feel confident.

  • Reader

    I’ve read just about all the plays. I saw “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues,” and “Broadway Bound” on Broadway. My best memories concerning those shows are: I had just gotten out from the matinee performance of one of the shows (I can’t remember which one; this was the 1980’s) and was waiting at the stage door, hoping to get autographs for my “Playbill.” It was a Jewish holiday; the holiday is called Passover, and like all Jewish holidays, it starts at sundown. You have a special meal, called a seder. So, I was waiting, myself wanting to get home out of respect for the holiday, when all of a sudden a man comes out of the stage door and says the actors are not coming out because they’re having a seder on stage! (You see, there were a lot of Jewish actors in that play.) Another memory, I think it’s “Broadway Bound,” concerned a young, short, stocky actor I saw on stage. I thought he was very good. I sensed there was something special about his style. I had no idea who he was. Some time later, “Seinfeld,” premiered, and I said, “OMG, George is played by that good actor from “Broadway Bound”!! Another memory is Matthew Broderick messing up his lines. And then when he came out of the stage door, people were waiting for autographs. He had a very dour demeanor. Some man, just passing by with a briefcase, obviously on his way home from work, yelled out “Smile, Matthew.” Neil Simon will always be remembered, of that I’m sure.

  • Dick De Witt

    Neil Simon is a genius. I will enjoy his movies on disk
    and laugh again at his brilliant writing.

  • king of krazy

    LOVE his works!!! didn’t realize he’s so old though…. sorry neil

  • cynicalbeatle

    Great article, but it’s Jack LEMMON and Walter MATTHAU. These guys are legends and PBS of all places should have gotten their names right.

  • nell irvin

    Have a number of his books of plays and actually met him at a Houston, Texas fundraiser.
    I have always wanted to be able to speak with him again.

  • laurel

    I love evertything Neil Simon. I’m much more of a movie lover , not so much plays. Saw the movie version of Brighton Beach Memoirs, (1987) I believe and Biloxi Blues.. Love , love, love Brighton Beach Memoirs!!!, .

  • morris

    First met him at Camp Tamiment and I knew and loved his wonderful first wife Joanie Baim who lived in the bungalow down the road from us. Alas, she was an ‘older woman” —six years my senior—so i couild not complete with Neil. “Doc” (Neil) was known as a good guy and a good soft ball player…Joanie was even better and vbery competitive. her dad taught me how to box!.

    I love all his plays and enjoyed reading his book called “Re-Write,” about his life up through Joanie’s death

  • Roy

    Neil is brilliant, and is a very lucky guy to have Elaine Joyce by his side as his wife. What a wonderful bundle of joy she was as a “regular” on the Danny Kaye show (to name one of many) in the 1960’s. She was a Mousketeer in her childhood, then grew up to be a most beautiful dancer, and extraordinarily brilliant performer in every sense of the word. It was such a privilege to dance, and work with this great fun loving gal. Not to mention her beauty. No wonder Neil loves her. I wonder if he’s writing anything based on their lives together.

  • Mandi

    he was a great person

  • bhadraji jayatilaka

    I am currently reading Neil Simon’s memoir Rewrites and enjoying it tremendously. I have always been insptired by his writing and humor even while I was still in Sri Lanka. He inspired me to write stage plays in the Sates. He will always be an inspiration to me. In his Rewrites, the funniest part is the Japanese landing on the tarmac in their barefeet… hilarious. I could not stop laughing! He is a wonderful writer with a great sense of humor.

  • Taylor

    I LOVE NEIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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