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Neil Simon, Broadway's master of comedy, dies at the age of 91

Neil Simon, the playwright, whose name has been equated with Broadway comedies and commercial successes in the theater for decades, has helped redefine popular American humor with a focus on urban frictions and the tormenting conflicts of family intimacy Defining died in Manhattan on Sunday. He was 91.

His death was announced by his publicist Bill Evans

Early in his career, Simon wrote for television greats, including Phil Silvers and Sid Caesar. Later he also wrote for the films. But it was as a playwright that he achieved his lasting fame, with a long line of expertly crafted salmon machines, which kept his name almost entirely in the Broadway tents in the late 1

960s and 1970s.

Beginning with the seminal hits "Barefoot in the Park" (1963) and "The Odd Couple" (1965) and continuing with popular successes such as "Plaza Suite" (1968), "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" (1971) and "The Sunshine Boys" (1974), Simon ruled Broadway when Broadway was still a decision.

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From 1965 to 1980, Simon's plays and musicals reached more than 9,000 performances, a record that was not touched by any other playwrights of the era. In 1966 alone, he had four Broadway shows simultaneously.

He also owned a Broadway theater for a spell in the 1960s, the Eugene O'Neill, and in 1983 had named another Broadway theater after him, a rare award for a living playwright.

Despite all their popularity with the audience, Simon's great achievements in the early years of his fame rarely received much acclaim from critics, and Broadway revivals of "The Odd Couple" in 2005 and "Barefoot in the Park" in 2006 has little done to change the general view that his early work was notable for his surefire imaginations and snappy punchlines. In the introduction to one of his game collections, Simon quoted the critic Clive Barnes as writing: "Neil Simon is destined to remain rich, successful and underrated."

But in the 1980s he won with his darker, semi-autobiographical trilogy, "Brighton Beach Memoirs" (1983), "Biloxi Blues" (1985) and "Broadway Bound" (1986), comedy dramas for the How they explored the tangle of love, anger, and desperation that held together and distracted a Jewish working-class family, from the perspective of the youngest son, a restless gazer with showbiz fame.

"The Writer Begins to Examine Himself Honestly Without Compromise" wrote Frank Rich about "Biloxi Blues" in The New York Times, "and the result is his most compelling effort to date – not to mention his funniest piece ever since the golden age "of its first decade. [196592002] In 1991, Simon won for the movie "Lost in Yonkers," another autobiographical comedy, a Tony Award and the ultimate American award for stage writing, the Pulitzer Prize, this over a fiercely reticent mother and her emotionally and intellectually underdeveloped daughter , It was also his last big hit on Broadway.

Simon and Woody Allen, both of whom worked for Caesar in the 1950s (alongside Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, and Carl Reiner, among others), were probably as significant in shaping the currents of American comedy in the 1960s and 1970s, though her styles, her favorite media, and the critical reception of her work.

Simon was the populist, whose accessible, witty tunes tickled the fears of everyday characters, making funny bones in theaters across the country and in Broadway houses with 1,200 seats. Allen was the darling of urban art cinema and critical classes who created comedy out of the details of his own anxiety.

But together they helped make the comedy of urban neurosis – clearly Jewish inflected – as American as the homespun humor of "Let It Be Beaver." Simon's early pieces, which often revolved around a hostile couple of one kind or another cutting in a New York apartment, helped create the blueprint for the explosion of network television sitcoms in the 1970s. (The long-running TV show based on his "Odd Couple" was one of the best, though a bum business meant Simon did not make much money.)

A line can be drawn between Simon's taut plotlines – early comedies Slob and a cleannik form a hot-tempered all-male marriage in "The Odd Couple", newlywed gambling in a new apartment in "Barefoot in the Park", a dismissed buddy has a "meltdown" avenue in "The Prisoner of Second" – and the "nothing "-inspired comedy comedy from the groundbreaking sitcom" Seinfeld "from the 1990s.

Also, Allen and Simon, who had roots in the urban Jewish lower middle class, were united by the classic Funnyman's ability to smile at other people's tummies. while he succeeds in persistently floating the dark clouds above their own destinies, as obvious as they may appear.

Simon wrote Let's talk to Allen in a restaurant, as both men were the height of their success, congratulating Allen's "Manhattan". How did he feel? "Oh, all right," Allen answered. Simon wrote, "When I saw his grumpy expression, I saw my own reflection." This, as Simon himself had two hit shows on Broadway, another piece for rehearsals and two films for production. (1965, 2009.)

Agony is the root of the comedy, and for Simon it was the agony of an unfortunate childhood depression that inspired many of his best works. And it was the dread of living in Los Angeles that drove his resolve to rid himself of Jerry Lewis on television and make his own name. As he wrote in his autobiography "Rewrites" (the first of two volumes) from 1996, the comfort of Hollywood life could extend your lifespan, but "the catch was, when you finally died, it would not be laughing"

Family Tension

Marvin Neil Simon was born on July 4, 1927 in the Bronx and was the son of textile merchant Irving Simon, who left the family more than once in his childhood and left Simon's mother, May, to Simon and his older brother Danny to take care of. When the family was intact, the mood was eclipsed by constant fighting between the parents.

The tensions of the family that moved to Washington Heights when Simon was 5 found their way into many of his plays, notably the late trilogy as well as the early comedies, including his first play "Come Blow Your Horn" (1961) ), about a young man who moves out to join his older brother, a bachelor and a lady. And when the family finally separated, the young Simon went to cousins, while his brother was sent to an aunt. The circumstances were reflected in "Lost in Yonkers".

"When an audience laughed, I felt filled." Simon wrote in "Rewrites." "It was a sign of approval, of acceptance, just as I did in a childhood where laughter in the house meant safety, but rarely was heard as often as a door slammed each time my dad took another year off from us, the laughter that found my way in the theater was food. "19659002] Danny Simon, eight years older, was the signal influence on Neil's career. "The fact is, I probably would never have been a writer if it had not been for Danny," Simon wrote. "Once, when I was 15 years old, he said to me," You will be America's funniest comedy writer. Based on what, how funny could I be at 15? "

Simon graduated from the DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx and attended New York University as a volunteer in the Army Air Forces Air Reserve training program. He continued his studies at Denver University while being assigned to a nearby base. (His military experience inspired the second installment of his late trilogy, Biloxi Blues.)

At that time, Danny had started working in public at Warner Bros. in New York. Neil joined him after his release from the Air Force as a scribe. Together they started writing TV and radio scripts and eventually produced $ 1,600 a week for jokes and sketches for Silvers, Jerry Lester, Jackie Gleason and Caesar on "Your Show of Shows" and later "Caesars Hour".

"It was a real learning process," Simon said of his days with the Caesarians, a group that became a television legend and inspired Simon's 1993 comedy "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" with Nathan Lane. "We were exhausted," he said, adding, "You'll come in on Monday and know you've got six new skits to do."

The Simon brothers also wrote weekly reviews for Camp Tamiment, the resort in the Poconos. There, Neil Simon fell in love with Joan Baim, a dancer and consultant. At the end of the summer they were married.

A Broadway Name

"Come Blow Your Horn", the play Simon wrote to escape the slavery of gag writing for television comics, ran for 677 gigs and won him links and memo. But with "Barefoot in the Park," a comedy inspired by his and her young wife's experiences on a fifth floor in Greenwich Village, Simon became a Broadway name.

It was the first Broadway show directed by Mike Nichols, then known for his comedy work with Elaine May.

Nichols later became one of Simon's most frequent collaborators, helping Simon with his first plays through rehearsals and rehearsals. Nichols won his first Tony Award for directing The Odd Couple. He also directed "Plaza Suite" with George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton and "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" with Peter Falk and Lee Grant. Nichols died in 2014.

"Barefoot in the Park" made a star of Robert Redford, who was cast alongside Elizabeth Ashley. It played for almost four years and made a hot item from Simon in Hollywood. His agent Irving Lazar, better known as Swifty, sold the film rights for $ 400,000. (Lazar asked Simon if he would be willing to sell the piece for $ 300,000.) Simon jumped on the offer and Lazar kept the rest.)

The film, with a script by Simon, and with Redford and Jane Fonda in the Starring, became a hit when it was released in 1967 in the Radio City Music Hall and broke the box office record. This record would be smashed by the movie version of "The Odd Couple". Both films were directed by Gene Saks, who would direct many of Simon's later pieces, including the "Brighton Beach" trilogy and "Lost in Yonkers" (Saks died) in 2015.)

Simon's screenplay career included dozens of titles, including many adaptations of his pieces. In addition to "Barefoot in the Park" and "The Odd Couple" (with the original stage star Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, who replaced Art Carney), he wrote the scripts for "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" with Lemmon and Anne Bancroft and "The Sunshine Boys ", with Matthau and George Burns, as well as" Brighton Beach Memoirs "," Biloxi Blues "and" Lost in Yonkers, "among others. He also wrote original films, including, "The Out-of-Towners," The Time Spoof "Murder by Death," The Goodbye Girl, "The Cheap Detective," Max Dugan Returns, "The Slugger & # 39; s Wife "and" Only When I Laugh "based on his play" The Gingerbread Lady "and, above all," The Heartbreak Kid ", a black comedy based on a story by Bruce Jay Friedman, directed by Elaine May and with Charles Grodin and Cybill Shepherd.

Richard Dreyfuss won an Oscar for his portrayal in "The Goodbye Girl" as a mischievous, irritating actor with wh om an unemployed dancer played by Marsha Mason moves in. The film received a total of nine Oscar nominations including one for Simon's screenplay. (He received four Academy Award nominations in his career, though he never won.)

Mason was Simon's wife at the time, and his first wife, Joan, died of cancer in 1973. He met Mason at an audition, and they were married four months later. He wrote about their relationship in the play "Chapter Two," which was made into a movie with Mason and James Caan.

"It's my favorite piece for many reasons," Simon once said cathartically to "Chapter Two" for me. In the two years Marsha and I were married, I gave her a hard time – and still trying to keep my relationship with Joan. Marsha is beautiful and talented, and I have found ways to find her mistake. One night in California, everything broke out in a terrible fight. I then realized what I did. That's how I wrote the piece.

Simon was married five times and, after divorcing Mason, married actress Diane Lander in 1987. They divorced a year later, but remarried in 1990 and divorced again.Simon married actress Elaine Joyce in 1999 She survives him, along with his daughters Ellen Simon and Nancy Simon from his first marriage and his daughter Bryn Lander Simon from his marriage with Lander, he is also survived by three grandchildren and a great-grandson Danny Simon died in 2005.

Simon wrote the book for three successful Broadway musicals in the 1960s, "Little Me" (1962) with music by Cy Coleman and song lyrics by Carolyn Leigh was staged and choreographed by Bob Fosse.Simon's old boss Sid Caesar played the versatile Love an adventurer named Belle Poitrine "Sweet Charity" (1966) joined Simon with Fosse for a musical based on Federico Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria" Music by Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. "Promises, Promises", based on the movie "The Apartment", with music by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David.

"Promises, Promises" was Simon's greatest musical success with 1,281 performances. It was revived on Broadway in 2010.

Simon returned to musicals in 1981 with "They play our song" with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager. His last music book was in 1993 for an unsuccessful stage adaptation of "The Goodbye Girl".

In his most productive period, Simon wrote pieces worth nearly a year and produced nearly 30 during his career. Many of the later works, from the 1990s and beyond, were received succinctly and had short broadway runs. "Prosals" (1997), a quasi-Czech comedy, and "45 Seconds From Broadway" (2001), his latest new play on Broadway, a tribute to a fabulous Rialto coffee shop, were fast flops. But "The Dinner Party" (2000) ran for almost a year.

Simon made headlines in 2003 when Mary Tyler Moore abruptly left his play "Roses Dilemma" (2003) at the Manhattan Theater Club. It turned out to be his last produced piece. He also made news announcing his kidney transplant in 2004. The donor was his longtime press agent and friend, Bill Evans.

Fight for Respect

Recently, in the fall of 2009, Simon expressed surprise and dismay at the speedy end of a long-awaited Broadway re-run of his Brighton Beach Memoirs. It should run in the repertoire "Broadway Bound", but closed in a week when it received mixed reviews. "I am amazed," he said. "After all these years, I still do not understand how Broadway works or what we can do about our culture."

It was a haunting commentary from the man who more or less defined Broadway's success for a few decades. But while fast flops in his career were relatively rare, Simon always struggled to gain critical respect. Although he was nominated for 17 Tony Awards, he only won three: for playwrights of "The Odd Couple" (best game went to Jason Miller "That Championship Season", there were separate awards for play and playwright) and twice for the best game , for "Biloxi Blues" and "Lost in Yonkers."

"I know how the public sees me, because people always come to me and say, 'Thanks for the good times,' Simon told The Times in 1991, 'But all the success somehow humiliated me. It seems critical to think that if you write too many hits, they may not be so good.

Looking back, Simon wrote with a still starry joy about his decision to start an acting career: for a man who wants to be his own master, can not rely on anyone to adjust his life to his own visions, rather than the blueprints To follow others, writing plays is the perfect occupation, sitting alone in a room for six or seven or ten hours and sharing time with the characters you have created is heaven.

"And if not Heaven, "added the master of the well-timed wit at least an escape from hell."

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