Sunday, January 18, 2015

Neil Simon meets the Rat Pack

This was my wraparound for COME BLOW YOUR HORN on TCM.  As you might be able to tell, it wasn't my favorite.  Some much better movies on tap for this Friday night.


Hi, I’m Ken Levine – TV writer, playwright and long-time fan of Neil Simon, who’s the subject of this month’s “Friday Night Spotlight.” Up next is the film adaptation of Simon’s first play, “Come Blow your horn.”

Now, we all love a good overnight success story but Neil Simon isn’t one of them. At least not as a playwright. “Come Blow Your horn”, which is semi-autobiographical, went through over 20 rewrites and numerous rejections. And even when it finally did debut on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in February of 1961 it still almost closed after two weeks.

Despite decent reviews, ticket sales were slow and things were looking bleak. But Simon’s producers were resourceful. They decided to hand out free tickets and hope that good word-of-mouth would save the day. Well, it worked. Playwright Noel Coward and Groucho Marx both saw the play – both loved it – and raved about it to local gossip columnists. All of a sudden, the play was a hit. It ran for almost two years.

Then Hollywood came calling and the result is the film you’re about to see. Now I should mention that Simon didn’t write the screenplay. I’ll tell you why later. Instead, Norman Lear, who went on to create “All in the Family” did.

Like i said, it’s semi-autobiographical. And when you think of a jewish family you naturally think of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bill and Lee J. Cobb. Ah, Hollywood. It’s still fun to see. From 1963, here’s “Come Blow Your Horn.”


Frank Sinatra sort of turned the borscht belt into the rat pack, didn’t he? That was the ring-a-ding version of Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical hit play, “Come Blow Your Horn” as adapted by Norman Lear. Simon was offered the screenplay but didn’t want to get sucked back into Hollywood. He was originally a TV writer, working on such classic early hits as “Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows” and “Sgt. Bilko.”  

At the time, New York was the center of the TV world, but as production moved west so did the writers. Simon and his wife were native New Yorkers through and through and didn’t want to move to Glitter City. So he turned to playwrighting. Broadway wasn’t going west.

But he was not happy with the movie version. Jews don’t think of the “old country” as Las Vegas. So from then on Simon did his own screenplay adaptations.

Well, that’s it for me tonight. I’ll be back next week for more in TCM’s “Friday Night Spotlight” to Neil Simon. I’ll see you then.


tavm said...

Well, there was another movie version of a Simon play that he didn't write-Star Spangled-Girl. Arnold Parker & Jim Margolin adapted that one. I thought the characters were irritating initially but liked them near the end. Oh, and Davy Jones' song "Girl"-which he made famous when he performed it on "The Brady Bunch" appears in the opening credits...

tavm said...

Correction, Jim Parker & Arnold Margolin.

By Ken Levine said...

Neil had nothing to do with that production. It was a TV movie. He had sold the rights to STAR SPANGLED GIRL to Paramount.

Paul Duca said...

No, Ken...STAR-SPANGLED GIRL was a theatrical release. I'll post something on your page

By Ken Levine said...

Then I stand corrected, but in his memoir Neil said he had nothing at all to do with the production.

CarolMR said...

I enjoyed the movie. The best part was when Sinatra sang. Tony Bill later became a successful movie producer. He was one of the producers of The Sting.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the wraparound for "Come Blow Your Horn". I have to confess that it isn't one of my favorite Simon adaptions either. It seems to belong more to those minor sex comedies of that era (Boeing Boeing, Sex and the Single Girl, How to Murder Your Wife) than to Neil Simon.

Re: Star Spangled Girl: A few years ago I listened to a audio interview Neil Simon gave to LA Theatre Works in which he admitted that halfway through writing the play he realized it wasn't working (but got talked out of abandoning it by the producers).

It's funny that you mentioned Noel Coward. It interesting to compare Coward's Suite in Three Keys to Simon's Plaza Suite to see just how radically Simon changed stage comedy from the dinner jacket variety. Although both written in the sixties I watched a couple of clips from Coward's Song at Twilight on YouTube and was struck by how creaky the Coward play came across.

Casey C said...

Not necessarily a “fan” of COME BLOW YOUR HORN, but it’s always interesting to see a writer’s origins. Main draw for me are the Edith Head costumes and the sets (that apartment, the colors). Thanks again for posting the Friday scripts!

Richard Rothrock said...

What happened to the CHAPTER TWO intro? That was the one I was actually looking forward to this week.

Graham Powell said...

Just FYI, Lee J. Cobb was born Leo Jacob, and was in fact Jewish.