Neil Simon was a prolific playwright and screenwriter, best known for his classic Broadway comedies, The Odd Couple and Lost in Yonkers.
Simon was born in New York in 1927 and grew up in Manhattan. He spent much of his childhood in movie theaters, whiling away the time watching the period’s popular comedies. He enrolled in New York University after leaving school but soon signed up with the Army Air Force Reserve. While enlisted at a base in Colorado he took classes at the University of Denver and became the sports editors for the base’s newspaper.
In 1946, Simon was discharged from the army and returned to New York. He teamed up with his older brother Danny, and the pair began to write comedy sketches for the popular television and radio stars of the time. In the early 1950s, they were hired to write for television series, Your Show of Shows, alongside Woody Allen and Mel Brooks. After a few years, the brothers stopped writing together but Neil Simon continued to work within television.
Alongside his writing for the small screen, Simon began to experiment with writing for the stage. He and his brother wrote a short-lived musical, Catch a Star!, in 1955, but first solo play did not appear until Come Blow Your Horn in 1961. Simon’s next production, Barefoot in the Park (1963), sent his theater career to new heights and he followed this up with the immensely successful, The Odd Couple (1965), which won four Tony Awards including Best Author of a Play.
Simon went on to have a string of Broadway hits, including the musical Promises, Promises (1968), The Sunshine Boys (1972), Chapter Two (1977), and Brighton Beach Memoirs (1983). In 1991, Simon’s Lost in Yonkers was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as the Tony Award for Best Play.
As well as writing for the stage, Simon turned his hand to writing for the big screen also. Come Blow Your Horn was turned into a 1963 movie starring Frank Sinatra and he went on to write original screenplays, including After the Fox (1966) and The Goodbye Girl (1977), for which he received an Academy Award nomination.
In 1968, Simon adapted The Odd Couple into a hugely popular, Oscar-winning movie of the same name, and the concept went on to become an acclaimed television series in the 1970s, also written by Simon. He also adapted several of his other plays for the big screen, including The Plaza Suite and The Sunshine Boys.
In 1975, Neil Simon was presented with a special Tony Award for his contributions to theater and, until recently, he was the only living playwright to have a Broadway theater named in his honor. Simon died in New York City in 2018, aged 91.
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