Authors: Neil Simon

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright and screenwriter

Identity: Jewish

Author Works

Drama:

Come Blow Your Horn, pr. 1960

Little Me, pr. 1962, revised pr. 1982 (music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Carol Leigh; adaptation of Patrick Dennis’s novel)

Barefoot in the Park, pr. 1963

The Odd Couple, pr. 1965

Sweet Charity, pr., pb. 1966 (music and lyrics by Coleman and Dorothy Fields; adaptation of Federico Fellini’s film Nights of Cabiria)

The Star-Spangled Girl, pr. 1966

Plaza Suite, pr. 1968

Promises, Promises, pr. 1968 (music and lyrics by Hal David and Burt Bacharach; adaptation of Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond’s film The Apartment)

Last of the Red Hot Lovers, pr. 1969

The Gingerbread Lady, pr. 1970

The Comedy of Neil Simon, pb. 1971 (volume 1 in The Collected Plays of Neil Simon)

The Prisoner of Second Avenue, pr., pb. 1971

The Sunshine Boys, pr. 1972

The Good Doctor, pr. 1973 (adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s stories)

God’s Favorite, pr. 1974 (adaptation of the story of Job)

California Suite, pr. 1976

Chapter Two, pr. 1977

They’re Playing Our Song, pr. 1978 (music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager; adaptation of Dennis’s novel)

The Collected Plays of Neil Simon, pb. 1979 (volume 2); I Ought to Be in Pictures, pr. 1980

Fools, pr., pb. 1981

Brighton Beach Memoirs, pr. 1982

Biloxi Blues, pr. 1984

Broadway Bound, pr. 1986

The Odd Couple, pr. 1985 (female version)

Rumors, pr. 1988

Jake’s Women, pr. 1990

Lost in Yonkers, pr., pb. 1991

The Collected Plays of Neil Simon, pb. 1991 (volume 3)

Laughter on the 23rd Floor, pr. 1993

London Suite, pr. 1994

Three from the Stage, pb. 1995

Proposals, pr. 1997

The Dinner Party, pr. 2000; 45 Seconds from Broadway, pr. 2001

Screenplays:

After the Fox, 1966 (with Cesare Zavattini)

Barefoot in the Park, 1967

The Odd Couple, 1968

The Out-of-Towners, 1970

Plaza Suite, 1971

The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, 1972

The Heartbreak Kid, 1972

The Prisoner of Second Avenue, 1975

The Sunshine Boys, 1975

Murder by Death, 1976

The Goodbye Girl, 1977

California Suite, 1978

The Cheap Detective, 1978

Chapter Two, 1979

Seems Like Old Times, 1980

Only When I Laugh, 1981

I Ought to Be in Pictures, 1982

Max Dugan Returns, 1983

The Lonely Guy, 1984

The Slugger’s Wife, 1985

Brighton Beach Memoirs, 1987

Biloxi Blues, 1988

The Marrying Man, 1991

Lost in Yonkers, 1993

The Odd Couple II, 1998

Teleplays:

Broadway Bound, 1992

Jake’s Women, 1996

London Suite, 1996

The Sunshine Boys, 1997

Nonfiction:

Rewrites: A Memoir, 1996

The Play Goes On: A Memoir, 1999

Biography

From the early 1960’s into the early twenty-first century, Neil Simon has dominated the popular theater in America. His seemingly endless string of well-made comedies has provided him with both popular recognition and tremendous wealth. He is the son of Irving Simon, a garment salesman, and Mamie Simon. As a young child, Simon remembers sitting on a stone ledge watching a Charlie Chaplin film. He laughed so hard that he fell off the ledge and had to be taken to the doctor’s office. This incident would define for Simon the true meaning of comedy: “to make a whole audience fall onto the floor.” Simon graduated from De Witt Clinton High School in 1943 and entered New York University as an engineering student under the U.S. Army Air Force Reserve training program. Leaving the service in 1946, Simon went to work in the mailroom of the New York office of Warner Brothers. Then, Goodman Ace, a veteran Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) comedy writer, asked Simon and his brother, Daniel Simon, to submit a comic sketch. Ace read their work and hired the pair immediately. For the next fifteen years, the Simon duo wrote for a variety of radio and television shows, including The Phil Silvers Arrow Show (1948), Tallulah Bankhead’s The Big Show (1951), Caesar’s Hour (1956-1957), and The Garry Moore Show (1959-1960).{$I[AN]9810000789}{$I[A]Simon, Neil}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Simon, Neil}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Simon, Neil}{$I[tim]1927;Simon, Neil}

Neil Simon

(Library of Congress)

After his brother ended their collaboration to become a television director, Simon turned his attention to writing full-length plays. Come Blow Your Horn premiered on Broadway in 1960. Based on his own experiences as a young man leaving the Bronx to live with his brother in Manhattan, this autobiographical work contains many of the now well-recognized Simon hallmarks: quick, witty dialogue, vivid characterizations, and plot complications. After writing the book for the musical Little Me, Simon wrote Barefoot in the Park, a play that enjoyed 1,532 performances on Broadway. One of Simon’s most popular plays, its theme, that relationships can succeed only if individuals learn to be tolerant and to compromise, became another central feature of the playwright’s work.

Simon followed this success with a series of Broadway hits. The Odd Couple was a humorous look at the attempt of two opposites, the now-famous Oscar and Felix, to live together. The Star-Spangled Girl, a rare Simon flop, was the story of radical protest in the late 1960’s. In Plaza Suite Simon abandoned strict comedy and engineered three delicate one-act segments around more serious themes. This tragicomic blend worked well both on the stage and for the audience, and Simon continued to incorporate these poignant moments of pathos in his future work. Simon followed Plaza Suite with Last of the Red Hot Lovers. A dark work, the play marked an advance in Simon’s writing from the polite comedy of his early plays to a more harsh, black humor.

Simon’s next play, The Gingerbread Lady, almost closed before its Broadway opening. A drama focusing on the career of an alcoholic cabaret singer, the play failed to attract the same enthusiastic reviews and large audiences that his earlier plays had enjoyed; however, Simon’s next two comedies, The Prisoner of Second Avenue and The Sunshine Boys, were extremely successful. Simon’s next project was The Good Doctor, a series of dramatic vignettes based on Anton Chekhov’s short stories. That same year Simon’s wife, Joan Baim, a former dancer, died, and the playwright married actress Marsha Mason. Simon wrote about this period of his life in Chapter Two, perhaps his most autobiographical work and one of his most acclaimed plays. After the failure of God’s Favorite, Simon returned to the one-act structure of Plaza Suite to write California Suite. The four playlets in this work examine both the comic and serious consequences of life’s difficulties. In the following years Simon wrote two musicals, They’re Playing Our Song and a revision of the 1962 musical comedy Little Me, and two more comedies, I Ought to Be in Pictures and Fools. Simon’s most fully realized work in later years has been the highly autobiographical trilogy that began with Brighton Beach Memoirs, first produced in 1982. Treating Simon’s own childhood and family, the play traces the painful transition of a young Jewish adolescent, Eugene, into confusing manhood. The second play, Biloxi Blues, follows Eugene as he undergoes basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1943. The cycle is completed by Broadway Bound, which establishes Eugene as a Broadway playwright, first to his family’s delight and then to their horror as they see the private details of their lives mirrored on stage.

Simon’s stature among theater critics was greatly enhanced by his autobiographical trilogy, and he has continued to become more respected as a serious writer. Simon next began to experiment with form and produced Rumors, his only farce. Lost in Yonkers, the tale of young brothers sent to live with relatives while their father tries to establish a career, was honored with the 1991 Pulitzer Prize in drama. Other later plays include Jake’s Women, an autobiographical examination of destroyed relationships, and Laughter on the 23rd Floor, in which Simon re-creates the writers’ room of Caesar’s Hour, which starred Sid Caesar. He later surprised the New York theater establishment with a protest against the current way of doing business by opening his third collection of hotel-based one acts, London Suite, Off-Broadway in 1994.

Simon’s later plays include Proposals, set in the 1950’s at a summer cottage in a resort area of eastern Pennsylvania. It revolves around the disagreements between a retired businessman, his former wife, his daughter, and his daughter’s various boyfriends, one of whom is the son of a Mafia baron. The Dinner Party is set in a private room at an expensive Parisian restaurant as six diners explore the various reasons their marriages have failed. 45 Seconds from Broadway takes its title from the time needed to walk from the theaters to a coffee shop, familiarly known as the Polish Tea Room, that is a favorite hangout of theater folk. There, ten actors exchange banter and good-natured insults with each other and the restaurant’s owners.

Despite the variety of Simon’s comedies, several recurring themes and features remain at the heart of each work. Simon tends to write about the close and often difficult relationships between husbands and wives and within families. Beyond the witty dialogue and the masterful comic episodes, Simon captures, with both sensitivity and depth, the many conflicts that characterize these groupings. His finely drawn characters are middle class, sometimes Jewish, but always searching for balance in their lives. Simon’s central message is a plea for moderation and for people to make meaningful commitments and to learn to adapt to the needs and insecurities of others. Perhaps because of his tremendous commercial success, critical opinion about Simon’s work is divided. Some critics argue that Simon is a superficial playwright, that his plays are mere “vehicles” for gags and one-liners. Others have identified a growing maturity in his work and have effectively challenged those who are dismissive of Simon’s work. Whatever the case, Simon enjoys a popularity with audiences that no other contemporary American playwright can match.

BibliographyHenry, William A., III. “Reliving a Poignant Past.” Time, December 15, 1986, 72-78. Henry describes the success of the play Broadway Bound and its biographical sources, and includes details about Simon’s marriages, lifestyle, writing habits, and older brother Danny. Compares Simon’s life with its fictional parallels, especially in Broadway Bound.Johnson, Robert K. Neil Simon. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983. In this thoughtful and penetrating study, Johnson examines Simon’s career and output through 1982, providing thorough synopses, analysis, and criticism of both plays and screenplays. Includes a chronology, a select bibliography, notes, and an index.Konas, Gary, ed. Neil Simon: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1997. Seven scholarly articles examine the influence of Simon’s Jewish heritage and compare his work with that of other dramatists. Four essays discuss recurrent patterns in Simon’s plays. The volume includes two Simon interviews.Koprince, Susan. Understanding Neil Simon. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002. Offering a guide to Simon’s work, Koprince provides an overview of Simon’s career and an in-depth analysis of his major plays. Includes bibliography and index.McGovern, Edythe. Not-So-Simple Neil Simon: A Critical Study. Van Nuys, Calif.: Perivale Press, 1978. McGovern examines twelve of Simon’s early plays with an even, theoretical, scholarly tone, occasionally tending toward unqualified praise. The slim volume includes a preface by the playwright, a list of characters from the plays, production photographs, and illustrations by Broadway caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.Richards, David. “The Last of the Red Hot Playwrights.” Review of Lost in Yonkers, by Neil Simon. The New York Times Magazine, February 17, 1991, 30. Celebrating Simon’s success with Lost in Yonkers, this reviewer describes the play and production and profiles the playwright. The article brings together personal and professional material, using quotes from Simon, his family members, and actors associated with his plays. Personal and in-depth, with nine photographs.Simon, Neil. “The Art of Theater X.” Interview by James Lipton. The Paris Review 34 (Winter, 1992): 166-213. A chatty, revealing interview that covers how Simon became a playwright and the strong autobiographical elements in his work. Other topics include the “almost invisible line” between comedy and tragedy and the gradually darkening vision of Simon’s plays, which he sees as a movement toward greater truthfulness.Simon, Neil. “Simon Says.” Interview by David Kaufman. Horizon 28 (June, 1985): 55-60. In this smooth, candid interview with the playwright, Simon talks openly about the autobiographical impulses in his plays, the critical response, and his popular and critical success. Through his own words, Simon’s humility, directness, and commitment to craft are evident.
Categories: Authors