“Everyone thinks they can write a play; you just write down what happened to you. But the art of it is drawing from all the moments of your life.” – Neil Simon
Simon, who died earlier this week at the age of 91, grew up during the Great Depression, a time that was a great shaper of not only his life but also his art. Writing “life” became the grist for his creative mill, beginning with work on comedy scripts for radio and then gravitating to the Broadway stage in the early 1960s.
As one of America’s most prolific stage and screenwriters, he wrote more than 30 plays and nearly the same number of movie screenplays, earning more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer. After breaking onto the playwriting scene with Come Blow Your Horn (in 1961), Simon won his first Tony for the long-running, and one of the most widely performed plays in history, The Odd Couple.
The first playwright to earn 15 “Best Play” awards, he also was given a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement, and won a Pulitzer Prize for his play Lost in Yonkers. In 2006 he was presented America’s top humor award, the Mark Twain Prize. And, Simon was the first living playwright to have a Broadway theater named in his honor (now, of course, in his memory).
Literary Critic Robert Johnson said that while humor was Simon’s forte’, “(Simon’s plays) have given us a rich variety of entertaining, memorable characters who portray the human experience, often with serious themes." Simon says his willingness to try new things was key to his success. “If no one ever took risks,” he said, “Michelangelo probably would have painted the Sistine floor.”
*A variation of this blog post first appeared this past July 4th on the anniversary of Simon’s birthdate in 1927.
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