“I love living. I have some problems with my life, but living is the best thing they’ve come up with so far.”-Neil Simon
Watching reruns of films that were adapted from Neil Simon plays still make me ponder, laugh aloud and/or relate to my own experiences. I was probably around 11 when mom took me to a Wednesday matinee to see Simon’s Barefoot in the Park at the Biltmore Theatre (renamed the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre) on W. 47th St. The production that I saw starred Robert Redford and Penny Fuller who replaced the original actress, Elizabeth Ashley and the great Mildred Natwick. Going to Wednesday matinees every now and then was thrilling, I’d wear a dress and tickets were so very cheap then! There was a cafeteria that I enjoyed getting lunch at, Hector’s, where to accompany my meal (maybe roast beef and gravy) I’d order a beautiful whole roasted potato that I just loved! I was always a good eater! In 1971, when I was 18, I saw Simon’s The Prisoner of 2nd Ave starring Peter Falk and Lee Grant at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on W. 49th St. So many of Neil Simon’s plays were turned into movies, such as Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Odd Couple, Plaza Suite, The Sunshine Boys, The Goodbye Girl and many more.
Neil Simon’s plays have been translated into numerous languages and performed around the world due to universal themes found within them. For example, on “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” the Kalamazoo, Michigan Civic Theater production’s director, Ben Zylman remarked: Though it’s 1937, “the themes found in the play are so universal,” Zylman said. “A family worried about unemployment, they’re worried about the possibility of war overseas, they’re concerned with keeping a roof over their head. You know, 70-some years later these are all truths that continue to resonate.”–Interview by Mark Wedel, 4-2-12, Kalamazoo Gazette
In an interview with James Lipton for the Paris Review, when asked about themes, Neil Simon had this to say: “I think about thematic plays but I don’t believe I write them. Nothing really takes shape until I become specific about the character and the dilemma he’s in. Dilemma is the key word. It is always a dilemma, not a situation. To tell the truth, I really don’t know what the theme of the play is until I’ve written it and the critics tell me.”
“Born in the Bronx on July 4, 1927, Marvin Neil Simon grew up in Manhattan and for a short time attended NYU and the University of Denver. His most significant writing job came in the early 1950s when he joined the staff of YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, a landmark live television comedy series. Sid Caesar’s hilariously cutting-edge program had some of the best comic minds in television working for it, including Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart, and Carl Reiner. “I knew,” said Simon, “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.” By the 1960s, Simon had begun to concentrate on writing plays for Broadway. His first hit came in 1961 with “Come Blow Your Horn,” and was soon after followed by the very successful comic romance “Barefoot in the Park.”–PBS American Masters Series