As one of North Americas leading playwrights, Neil Simon has definitely been instrumental to the world of theater. He has experienced a somewhat shaky personal life, but he has found that this only adds to the texture of his work. He began his career working on radio and television, and found that writing for stage was significantly different than his previous experiences writing. His first attempts at theater were rough, but it didnt take him long to achieve excellence. He has also achieved great success with his work in the film industry. He is very fastidious when writing his work, and also quite critical of both the final written product, as well as its resulting production. However, no matter how uncertain he is of his work, it is apparent that audiences worldwide appreciate his writings, and he has been awarded numerous times to prove it. It is quite clear Neil Simon holds a place of importance in the world of dramatic arts.
Born and raised in the Bronx NYC, Marvin Neil Simon was the second son of a traveling salesman. His mother Mamie, was largely responsible for the upbringing of the children due to this circumstance. His childhood household was quite unstable due to the absence of his father, and he has not truly escaped from this lifestyle. At age 28, he married Joan Baim, a professional dancer, and the first of three wives. The two had a daughter, Ellen, together. Seemingly happy for 20 years in marriage, Joan died unexpectedly. Shockingly, just over one month after Joans death, Neil remarried, causing doubt about the healthiness of the relationship before Joans demise. He wed actress Marsha Mason, who later appeared in a number of his works, including film versions of Only When I Laugh and The Goodbye Girl. The marriage lasted 9 years, and ended bitterly due to “undisclosed reasons”. Five years after his divorce from Ms Mason, he coupled with Diane Landers, also an actress. He had a second daughter, Nancy, with the actress, as well as adopting a third daughter, Bryn. The two divorced just 2 years after the wedding. However, shortly after that, the couple remarried, and are living together currently as man and wife. His other relationships have been touchy as well. A bond with his brother was broken upon Neils sudden decision to end his television writing career and move on to script writing. Neil tries to take these energies, both positive and negative, and fuse them into the characters in his plays, and does so with great success. He is often praised for his outlook of life. His plays are somewhat autobiographical according to Simon. He humorously dramatizes his serious basic beliefs in his plays, as with most comedy writers. However, he suggests, through his writings that the answer is not to ostracize oneself, as in many comedies, but to remain in the social network, and make an attempt to reform, not revolutionize society. To represent the social network, Simon utilizes the family unit. He believes if one can operate effectively in the circuitry of family life, that life in society should come easily. He is one of the few comedic writers that aims to send a realistic message with his work.
Beginning his career writing scripts for local TV and radio stations with his brother, Neil slowly, but surely achieved success. The two gradually progressed into writing sketches for the likes of Phil Shivers, Gary Moore and Jerry Lewis. The television work began to receive wide acclaim, and it was then, with encouragement from his current wife, Joan, Neil broke off his partnership with his brother to begin writing plays for the New York theater scene. His first play, titled Come Blow Your Horn, took over 3 years and more than 20 complete rewrites to perfect. Looking back at it now Neil says “My first work, under today’s microscope with all its advanced technology, is like looking at a yellowed and faded photograph of ourselves in a tattered family album and saying, “My God, did I really look like that when I was a kid?” Although he is proud of his work, he sees it as a definite amateur piece, and is often quite critical of it. It was, however, the piece that made him fall in love with the theater and, he says, the theater fall in love with him. The next of his works are often quoted as being his best works. Barefoot In The Park, Sweet Charity, and, what is deemed as his biggest hit, The Odd Couple, directly followed. Hollywood took a liking to his script for The Odd Couple, and produced a very successful film version, as well as a sequel. Both of these works were his own, unlike the TV series spun off from the original work. Not one, but two series were produced. Simon declined the projects, as he wasnt interested in the long term commitment and pressure of writing for a series. Also, an adaptation for females to replace the male characters was scripted by Simon. It was clear at this point that Simon had fulfilled his dream of being a successful playwright. New York Times writer Jack Kerr once said,
“Because Americans have always tended to underrate writers who make them laugh, Neil Simons accomplishments have not gained as much serious critical praise as they deserve. His best comedies contain not only a host of funny lines, but numerous memorable characters and an incisively dramatized set of beliefs that are not without merit. Simon is, in fact, one of the finest writers of comedy in American literary history”.
It is unmistakable that this statement is true in all of its entirety, and describes Simons work flawlessly.
Even with box office success and critical acclaim, Simon is extremely critical of his works. He has never been 100% happy with any one of his plays. He is easier on some of his works than others. For example, he is said to be very fond of The Sunshine Boys, he deemed The Odd Couple as being “a sound play”, and he likes “a lot of” Last Of The Red Hot Lovers. However, of the same plays he has said “it contains some of the saddest dialogue a discriminating ear has ever heard”, “I skimped on the detailsit was boring”. “I saw that the seams showed through for large portions of the play”, and “I basically found the play to be altogether less than satisfactory.” Of his other works, he is often quite invective. Simon says of Star Spangled Girl that it is “clearly and simply a failure.” Although his opinion does vary from production to production it is evident Simon is his own worst critic.
As many of his plays are of great interest to the film industry, Neil prefers to do his own adaptations to keep the content and theme true to the original. Having done more than a dozen adaptations, including the successes Lost in Yonkers and Biloxi Blues, Simon has also produced a handful of original screenplays, most of which have been of success, including The Marrying Man, The Goodbye Girl, and most recently a remake of his 1970 film The Out Of Towners. He enjoys the work on films, as working in different types of media is something Simon is quite intrigued by, also doing adaptations for TV. He hopes that using a medium other than stage will allow his work to reach a wider and more diverse audience.
With a fistful of Emmy and Academy Award nominations for screenplays, as well as a Golden Globe in hand, Neil Simon is one of the most honored playwrights of today. Winning numerous Writers Guild Awards, not to mention a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Comedy Association, Neil Simon has obviously led a lifetime filled with success. His most prestigious award was the Pulitzer prize he won for his 1991 play Lost In Yonkers, however, the honorary degree from Hofstra University is also quite notable. Simon appreciates these awards, as he values the opinions of his peers greatly. He openly admits that the recognition is nice. It is obvious that he is deserving of such honours.
The works of Neil Simon are evident everywhere you look. Having been successful in TV, film, and stage, Simon has recently completed the first in a series of autobiographies, which covers just a fraction of his eventful life. His works, no matter what medium presented in, are appreciated by the masses. He is truly one of North Americas most successful playwrights of today, and will surely be remembered similarly in the future. Simon once said, “When writing a play, the whole time I am picturing in my mind Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller and all the people who are writing plays and thinking, Im not in that class! How will I do this?” Well, it is clear he has completed such a feat. He has been dubbed the premier comedic playwright of modern North America, and there is no one more deserving of the title.