Neil Simon dies at 91: Gentle humor was the lifeblood of playwright

NEW YORK — When master playwright Neil Simon admitted the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2006, he was visibly nervous. But his humor was evident.

“It took to write my play,” he explained, recalling that he found the title for “Come Blow Your Horn” from among his daughter’s s nursery rhyme books. He said it turned out to become “a so-so play” that has been turned into “a movie” with Frank Sinatra.

However, it was successful enough that Simon believed calling his works “The Sheep’s at the Meadow” and “The Cow’s at the Corn. ”

“For the very first time,” he stated, “I had cash in the bank. Yes, sir, yes sir! ”

Simon, who died Sunday at 91, was a joke-smith that is scrupulous, peppering his plays with situations that critics said sometimes came at the expense of character and believability.

No issue. For much of his career, his job, which focused on urban existence, a number of the plots was embraced by audiences. His characters battled alcoholism, depression and loneliness.

Simon’s stage successes comprised “The Odd Couple,” ”Barefoot in the Park,” that the “Brighton Beach” trilogy, “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” ”Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” ”The Sunshine Boys,” ”Plaza Suite,” ”Chapter Two,” ”Sweet Charity” and “Promises, Promises. ” Many of his plays were adapted into one and movies, “The Odd Couple,” also turned into a television series.

For seven months in 1967, he had four productions running at the identical moment on Broadway: “Barefoot in the Park,” ”The Odd Couple,” ”Sweet Charity” and “The Star-Spangled Girl. ”

Simon’s capacity s annoyances — too many cushions piled onto a couch, being told as a kid you may not eat any more biscuits. A scene at “The Odd Couple” when Felix Unger passive-aggressively leaves a note on Oscar’s pillow — “We’re all out of Corn Flakes. F.U.” — got huge laughs.

The loss of Simon was tough for playwrights and screenwriters. Randi Mayem Singer, who co-penned the film “Mrs. Doubtfire,” mourned Simon as a “genuinely great American storyteller. ”

“If you write comedy, if you write period, you heard something from Neil Simon,” Singer stated.

Kristoffer Diaz, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, chose to Twitter to bear in mind an celebrity: “In a life that was different, I would have loved to have been my generation’s Neil Simon. I m sad that we overlook ’t need that kind of voice. ” And “Big Bang Theory” creator Bill Prady wrote that “there is not any American comedy writer whose job isn’t influenced by the rhythm and music of Neil Simon’s words. ”

Simon was the receiver of four Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, the Kennedy Center honors (1995) as well as in 1983, he had a Broadway theater named after him when the Alvin had been rechristened the Neil Simon Theatre.

The bespectacled, mild-looking Simon (explained in a New York Times magazine profile as looking like an accountant or librarian who dressed “only this aspect of drab”) was a relentless writer — and rewriter.

“I am most alive and most fulfilled sitting in a space, hoping that those words forming on the newspaper in the Smith-Corona will be the very first ideal play ever written in one draft,” Simon wrote in the introduction to one of the many anthologies of his plays.

Simon’s life figured in what became called his “Brighton Beach” trilogy — “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” ”Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound” — that many consider his finest works. In these, Simon’s alter ego, Eugene Morris Jerome, makes his way from childhood to the U.S. Army to finally, on the point of adulthood, a budding career as a writer.

Simon initially began as a radio and TV author along with his brother, Danny. Nevertheless Simon grew dissatisfied with tv writing and also the network restrictions that followed it. Out of his frustration came “Come Blow Your Horn,” which centered on two sisters (not as Danny and Neil Simon) trying to figure out what to do with their lives. The comedy conducted for over a year on Broadway.

However, it was his play, “Barefoot in the Park,” that actually put Simon on the map. , the 1963 comedy, directed by Mike Nichols, concerned the tribulations of a pair of newlyweds, performed with Elizabeth Ashley and Robert Redford, who lived on the top floor of a New York brownstone.

Simon cemented that achievement with “The Odd Couple,” a comedy about bickering roommates: Oscar, a gruff sportswriter, and Felix, a fussy photographer. Walter Matthau, as Oscar, and Art Carney, as Felix, starred on Broadway, with Matthau and Jack Lemmon playing with the characters in a film version that was successful. Jack Klugman and Tony Randall appeared in the TV series, which ran on ABC from 1970 to 1975. A female stage version was performed on Broadway in 1985, and also a TV series revival was completed starring Matthew Perry.

Besides “Sweet Charity” (1966), that starred Gwen Verdon as a goodhearted dance-hall hostess, also “Promises, Promises” (1968), based on Billy Wilder’s film “The Apartment,” Simon wrote the novels for several different musicals, including “Little Me” (1962), featuring a hardworking Sid Caesar in seven unique functions, also “They’re Playing Our Song” (1979), that had music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager.

Many of his plays had been turned into films also. Besides “The Odd Couple,” he also wrote the screenplays for film variations of “Barefoot in the Park,” ”The Sunshine Boys,” ”The Prisoner of Second Avenue” and more.

Simon also wrote original screenplays, the best known being “The Goodbye Girl,” starring Richard Dreyfuss as a struggling actor, also “The Heartbreak Kid,” which showcased Charles Grodin as a recently married guy, trying to drop his new wife for a blonde goddess played with Cybill Shepherd.

Simon was married five times, twice to the identical woman. He is survived by his wife, celebrity Elaine Joyce; two daughters, Ellen and Nancy; three grandchildren; and also one great-grandson.

Simon’s passing hit home for actor Matthew Broderick, who created his Broadway debut in Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” at 1983 and that year made his film debut in Simon’s “Max Dugan Returns. ”

“It had been my good fortune that my first Broadway play was written by Neil Simon. My very first film was also written by him. I owe him a career,” Broderick wrote. “The theatre has dropped a brilliantly writer that was unthinkably and also after all this time I believe I have lost a mentor, and a father figure, a profound effect in my life and function. ”