Simon says…

The smart and funny writing of Neil Simon has been a constant in my life, since the first time I saw The Odd Couple way back when. The beautiful interplay between those two masterful actors, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, is powered along by the script from Simon. I have seen it many, many times and I find it faultless. In fact, I’m always left wanting more and that is never a bad thing from any cultural experience.

‘I got brown sandwiches and green sandwiches. It’s either very new cheese or very old meat…’

Marvin Neil Simon was born to Jewish parents Irving and Mamie, in the Bronx on July 4th, 1927. Times were tough at home, with his parent’s marriage in freefall and all in the middle of the Great Depression, as he mentioned years later

To this day I never really knew what the reason for all the fights and battles were about between the two of them. She’d hate him and be very angry, but he would come back, and she would take him back. She really loved him. I think part of what made me a comedy writer is the blocking out of some of the really ugly, painful things in my childhood and covering it up with a humorous attitude, then laugh until I was able to forget what was hurting.’

He and the family, including his older brother Danny, who also went on to be a comedy writer and educator, grew up in Washington Heights. Danny Simon, older by eight years, was the signal most important influence on Neil’s career.

‘The fact is, I probably never would have been a writer if it were not for Danny. Once, when I was 15 years old, he said to me, ‘You’re going to be the funniest comedy writer in America.’ Why? Based on what? How funny could I be at 15?’

To escape the harshness of life at home, Simon’s spent hours and hours at the local movie theatres enjoying not only the films, but also really studying the craft from the likes of Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton.

I was constantly being dragged out of movies for laughing too loud. (Later) I wanted to make a whole audience fall onto the floor, writhing and laughing so hard that some of them pass out.’

All those hours at the cinema eventually  fed into the radio and TV comedy scripts he worked on when he got out of the Army in the early 1950s . Among the programmes he worked on, included Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar and The Phil Silvers Show.

Between the two of them, I learned more about what I was eventually going to do than in any other previous experience. 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. Among them,  Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart , Carl Reiner and Woody Allen.

Come Blow Your Horn became his first play on Broadway  in 1961, and he followed that up with Barefoot in the Park in 1963 and the Tony Award winning The Odd Couple in 1965. By 1966, he often had at least four productions running at the same time. Along with the aforementioned, there was also Sweet Charity  and The Star-Spangled Girl.

‘Make him feel important. If you do that, you’ll have a happy and wonderful marriage… like two out of every ten couples.’

From 1965 to 1980, his plays and hit musicals like Promises, Promises  from 1968, based on the movie The Apartment and featuring music by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David, brought him a healthy financial reward, with earnings of $45,000 a week reported in the late 60s/early 70’s.

‘Did I relax and watch my boyhood ambitions being fulfilled before my eyes? Not if you were born in the Bronx, in the Depression and Jewish, you don’t.’

He also wrote the screenplays for the film versions of much of his work, including Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple (later a TV series as well of course) The Sunshine boys in 1975, The Goodbye Girl in 1977 and California Suite in 1978

‘If you were a Broadway musical, people would be humming your face…’

Later work,  much of it based on his own life, included Brighton Beach Memoirs – 1983, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound in 1986. He also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for Lost in Yonkers with all five jury members nominating the play, later judging ita mature work by an enduring (and often undervalued) American playwright.’

He went on to receive more nominations for Academy and Tony Awards than any other writer, and in 1983 the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway was named in his honour.

Willy – ‘Oh, you’re a funny man, Al, a pain in the ass, but a funny man.’

Al – ‘You know what your trouble is, Willy? You always took the jokes too seriously. It was just jokes. We did comedy on the stage for 43 years. I don’t think you enjoyed it 


Willy – ‘If I was there to enjoy it, I would buy a ticket.’

Neil Simon died from pneumonia in Manhattan on the 26th of  August 26, 2018. He was 91 and had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for some time.

Jack Lemmon – ‘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.’

Last word to Simon himself – ‘For a man who wants to be his own master, to depend on no one else, to make life conform to his own visions rather than to follow the blueprints of others, playwriting is the perfect occupation. To sit in a room alone for six or seven or 10 hours, sharing the time with characters that you created, is sheer heaven. And if not heaven, it’s at least an escape from hell.’


The Mumper of SE5



THE SPEAKEASY Volume Two by Mark Baxter (The Mumper)

Illustrations by Lewis Wharton

Foreword by Rhoda Dakar

Available to ORDER here



Further styles added to the SALE



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