If you were to ask anyone for a name of a playwright, most, if not all, of the people you would speak to would name Neil Simon. There are few modern playwrights who could match Simon, who died today at 91 due to complications from pneumonia, in success, longevity and renown.
Simon began his writing career partnering with his older brother Danny on radio and TV scripts. His breakthrough came in the early 1950s as part of the legendary writers room for Your Show of Shows, joining famous names such as Mel Brooks, Selma Diamond, Mel Tolkin and Carl Reiner. His experiences in that writer’s room to inform his 1993 play. Laughter on the 23rd Floor.
While working in television, Simon branched out into the theater. His first solo play was 1961’s Come Blow Your Horn, which was adapted into film 2 years later. Simon would go on to write dozens of plays, many of which were more often than not adapted into films–Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity, Plaza Suite, The Sunshine Boys, California Suite, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues and Lost in Yonkers being the most notable.
In 1965, Simon’s most famous and enduring play hit the Broadway boards. The Odd Couple told the story of two recently divorced men, the fastidious Felix Unger and the slovenly Oscar Madison, whose friendship is tested when they share an apartment together. This play was also adapted into film in 1968 and three separate TV series in 1970, 1982 and 2015. It also was revived by Simon on Broadway as gender swapped version in 1985 and a 2002 in Los Angeles in an updated version called Oscar and Felix: A New Look at the Odd Couple. The 1968 film garnered a sequel in 1998 which was also written by Simon.
Simon also wrote screenplay that had nothing to do with his stage work, including The Out-of-Towners, The Heartbreak Kid, Murder By Death, The Goodbye Girl (which earned Simon an Oscar nomination), The Cheap Detective, Seems Like Old Times, Max Dugan Returns, The Slugger’s Wife and The Marrying Man. Simon would also be nominated for Oscars for the screenplays for his adaptations of The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys and California Suite.