In memory of
Neil Simon, one of the most popular and prolific playwrights and screenwriters of the second half of the 20th century, died Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018, of complications from pneumonia, according to his publicist Bill Evans as reported by CNN. He was 91.
Born July 4, 1927, in New York City, Simon grew up loving movies, especially comedies, and turned that love into a career when he began writing for some of TV's earliest comedy shows, including Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows" and "The Phil Silvers Show," both of which earned him Emmy awards. Simon spoke later of the enormous influence these jobs had on his career, particularly the opportunity to work with some of the day's finest comedy writers: "I knew 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."
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The first play Simon wrote was 1961's "Come Blow Your Horn," which ran on Broadway for more than a year to favorable reviews. It had barely closed when Simon's next play, "Little Me," opened on Broadway, starring Caesar in multiple roles and with choreography by Bob Fosse.
Simon continued to write prolifically, and as his reputation grew, his plays began to become instant classics. His list of notable plays includes great favorites such as "Barefoot in the Park" (1963), "The Odd Couple" (1965), "The Sunshine Boys" (1972), "They're Playing Our Song" (1979) and "Lost in Yonkers" (1991).
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Many of Simon's best-loved plays were adapted into movies, most with screenplays written by Simon: "The Odd Couple" (1968), "Only When I Laugh" (1981, based on his play "The Gingerbread Lady"), "Brighton Beach Memoirs" (1986). In other cases, the movie came first, as when he adapted his 1977 film, "The Goodbye Girl," into a 1993 play.
Simon also wrote screenplays that were not based on existing stage plays, such as "The Heartbreak Kid" (1972), "Murder by Death" (1976) and "The Odd Couple II" (1998).
Among Simon's most critically acclaimed works is the trilogy of autobiographical plays, "Brighton Beach Memoirs," which won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play, "Biloxi Blues," which won the Tony Award for best play, and "Broadway Bound." 1991's "Lost in Yonkers" was also greatly celebrated, winning a Drama Desk Award, a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize.
Simon's other honors include membership in the American Theatre Hall of Fame, the New York State Governor's Award, the Kennedy Center Honors and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Journalist Lawrence Grobel asserted that Simon "towers like a Colossus over the American theater. When Neil Simon's time comes to be judged among successful playwrights of the 20th century, he will definitely be first among equals. …"
Broadway critic Walter Kerr also praised Simon: "Because Americans have always tended to underrate writers who make them laugh, Neil Simon's accomplishment 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."
Simon is survived by his wife, actress Elaine Joyce, and his daughters, Nancy, Ellen and Bryn.
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