When I was a kid, Neil Simon was one of the names that felt about as ubiquitous as “Marvel” feels today. Barefoot in the Park was in regular rotation on the UHF stations (why did they get married in the first place?), The Odd Couple was still in syndication as part of the afternoon sitcom bloc, and it felt like whenever Oscar time rolled around, his name came up because a movie based on one of his plays (or screenplays) got umpteen nominations… and even if he didn’t get it, the actors in the parts he wrote sure got nominated (Goodbye Girl, for example, got nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress and Richard Dryfuss won Best Actor).
My mom tells the story of seeing The Odd Couple in the theater when it came out and my dad laughing and slapping his hand on his leg during the “clearing sinuses” scene. It was summertime and he was wearing shorts and he was howling and slapping his bare leg and creating a ripple effect where everybody around him in the theater was laughing even harder.
His movie Murder by Death contains one of the best criticisms of entertainment media in general (delivered by Truman Capote):
You’ve tricked and fooled your readers for years. You’ve tortured us all with surprise endings that made no sense. You’ve introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before. You’ve withheld clues and information that made it impossible for us to guess who did it. But now, the tables are turned. Millions of angry mystery readers are now getting their revenge. When the world learns I’ve outsmarted you, they’ll be selling your $1.95 books for twelve cents.
(Now that I think about it, I’m *STILL* mad about Mass Effect 3 and Neil Simon nailed it exactly on why.)
Just looking at his theater and screenplays on his wiki page, I’m struck by how prolific he was.
33 Plays. 27 Screenplays. 8 movies made for television.
He slowed down in recent years (his last play was in 2003) but complaining that a guy who was responsible for that many hits slowed down a bit seems querulous. If you’ve never seen the original The Odd Couple (skip the sequel) or Murder by Death, you should definitely check them out.
So… what are you reading and/or watching?