The Odd Couple Creator Neil Simon Dies at Age 91
It is with great sadness that ComingSoon.net (via The New York Times) can report that the prolific, award-winning playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon has passed away at age 91 from complications with pneumonia. Simon was also suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
He and his brother Danny Simon began writing for radio and television in the early 1950’s, eventually finding a home among the comedy vanguard of the time at Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, which also served as a launchpad for Carl Reiner (The Jerk), Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein), Mel Tolkin (All in the Family), Imogene Coca (National Lampoon’s Vacation) and, in later years, Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H) and Woody Allen (Annie Hall). The famed writers room later inspired the hit 1982 movie My Favorite Year, produced by Brooks, as well as Simon’s own 1993 play Laughter on the 23rd Floor, adapted for TV in 2001.
Simon’s first play, the swinging bachelor comedy Come Blow Your Horn, debuted on Broadway in 1961 after three years in development, and was later turned into a 1963 film starring Frank Sinatra. This began a trend of Simon’s plays debuting to huge success on Broadway and subsequently being adapted into films, often with Simon himself serving as screenwriter. He also penned several original screenplays. Major Simon films (often produced by Ray Stark) include After the Fox (1966) starring Peter Sellers, Barefoot in the Park (1967) starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, Sweet Charity (1969) starring Shirley MacLaine, The Out of Towners (1970) starring Jack Lemmon (remade in 1999 with Steve Martin), Plaza Suite (1971) starring Walter Matthau, The Heartbreak Kid (1972) starring Charles Grodin (remade in 2007 with Ben Stiller), The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975) starring Jack Lemmon, The Sunshine Boys (1975) starring George Burns, Murder by Death (1976) starring Peter Falk, The Goodbye Girl (1977) featuring an Oscar-winning turn from Richard Dreyfuss, California Suite (1978) starring Jane Fonda, Seems Like Old Times (1980) starring Chevy Chase, Max Dugan Returns (1983) starring Jason Robards, The Lonely Guy (1984) starring Steve Martin, Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986) starring Jonathan Silverman, Biloxi Blues (1988) starring Matthew Broderick, and Lost in Yonkers (1993) starring Richard Dreyfuss and Mercedes Ruehl.
Without a doubt, Simon’s biggest and most enduring success came in 1965 with the broadway debut of his play The Odd Couple, directed by Mike Nichols (The Graduate) and starring Walter Matthau and Art Carney as the slovenly Oscar Madison and fastidious Felix Ungar, respectively. The show, about two divorced friends with polar opposite lifestyles who move in with each other, was a smash hit that garnered Simon a Tony Award. Gene Saks directed the film version, which featured Matthau reprising his Broadway role of Oscar while Jack Lemmon took over the role of Felix. The movie version became the fourth highest grossing film of 1968, cemented the onscreen partnership of Lemmon and Matthau, and eventually spawned a popular TV sitcom starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman (who had replaced Matthau in the role on Broadway), which ran from 1970 to 1975, as well as a 1993 reunion special The Odd Couple: Together Again. There was also an African American version of the TV show called The New Odd Couple starring Ron Glass and Demond Wilson, as well as a more recent redo starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon titled The Odd Couple, which aired on CBS from 2015-2017. Simon himself penned a sex-reversal version of the play in 1985 titled The Female Odd Couple, which starred Sally Struthers as Florence (Felix) and Rita Moreno as Olive (Oscar), and ran for 295 performances. Simon’s last feature screenplay was a 1998 sequel titled The Odd Couple II, which reunited Lemmon and Matthau but failed to recapture the same magic, proving a critical and box office disappointment.
Simon’s final play, Rose’s Dilemma, ran in Los Angeles and off-Broadway in 2003. He is survived by his wife, actress Elaine Joyce, his children Nancy and Ellen and his adopted daughter Bryn.
Here are some Hollywood reactions to Simon’s death…
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