Wednesday, August 03, 2022

EP286: Remembering Neil Simon

One of the most successful playwrights and screenwriters in history and no one on Jeopardy even knew who he was. Time to spotlight the work and brilliance of my comedy idol, Neil Simon.

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scottmc said...

A very fine episode. It brought back the memory of the fine interview that you did with Mark Harris, the author of the Mike Nichols biography. That was an amazing writer-director collaboration. Something akin to Tennesse Williams-Elia Kazan. I wonder what Nichols would have done with the film versions of ‘Barefoot’, ‘Odd Couple’ and ‘Plaza Suite’. (‘Biloxi Blues’ was the only Simon-Nichols film partnership.) The story of how the Boston critic helped Simon solve the Act 3 problem of The Odd Couple is one of my favorite theatre stories. One thing that might have worked against Simon was that he was almost too prolific. In a review of, I believe, Star Spangled Girl, a critic said that Simon didn’t have a good idea for a play that season but he wrote one anyway.
I am glad that you stressed how he was always rewriting. He wrote a screenplay ‘Bogart Slept Here’, It was cast and ready to go but something was off. He pulls it back and rewrites it as The Goodbye Girl.
I would also recommend his two volume memoir. I believe that Simon was working on adapting it for the stage before illness prevented him from completing it.
I wonder if you had the chance to see ‘Jake’s Women’, starring Alan Alda.
Mentioning Heartbreak Kid reminded me of the fine work by Charles Grodin and Jeannie Berlin. It also earned Eddie Albert an Academy Award nomination.

Glenn said...

Simon re-married one of his wives after an initial divorce. Talk about 're-wriitng'.... ba-dum, BUM...

Harry Speakup said...

It’s a wonder his career ever survived after his Rat Pack comedy

James Van Hise said...

His films are hit and miss. It's not his fault that the movie Star Spangled Girl basically ignored his play and was bland and unfunny. But then there's Seems Like Old Times which I saw in a theater in 1980 and couldn't believe my eyes as the only black person in the film is a car thief, a Latino maid keeps talking about getting her "feet scraped" (which to this day I have no idea what that is) and apparently owning a bunch of Great Danes is supposed to be hilarious. Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn were not well served by that film.

Mibbitmaker said...

James Van Hise -

Robert Guillaume was also in the movie - as I recall, not playing a stereotyped role.
I like the movie. The Neil Simon wit carries a lot of the sillier aspects of the film. Plus, it played well with Chevy's deadpan delivery.

Roger Owen Green said...

I contend that those J contestants don't know Plaza Suite, but they probably know he wrote The Odd Couple, e.g. It WAS the $2000 clue.

John Cheever Loophole said...

1 Attention, fanatics:

Before Come Blow Your Horn saw print, Samuel French published two musical scripts by Neil Simon and William Friedberg:
Adventures of Marco Polo

And there were two paperback originals containing Simon teleplays:
Sergeant Bilko (1957)
Bilko’s Joke Book (1959)

2. For all the achievement of Simon having garnered the most combined Oscar (4) and Tony (14) writing nominations, one must keep in mind that the Tonys only began in 1947 – after the heydays of Kaufman Coward Berhrman Barry Abbott Hecht etc — in the midst of a seemingly-unending era of much fewer play productions, and hence, much less competition.

Simon’s modern era nomination “rivals”


Academy Awards
Year Category Film Result
1939 Screenplay Ninotchka Nom
1941 Story Ball of Fire Nom
Screenplay Hold Back the Dawn Nom
1944 Director Double Indemnity Nom
Screenplay Nom
1945 Director The Lost Weekend Won
Screenplay Won
1948 Screenplay A Foreign Affair Nom
1950 Director Sunset Boulevard Nom
Original Screenplay Won
1951 Original Screenplay Ace in the Hole Nom
1953 Director Stalag 17 Nom
1954 Director Sabrina Nom
Screenplay Nom
1957 Director Witness for the Prosecution Nom
1959 Director Some Like It Hot Nom
Screenplay Nom
1960 Picture The Apartment Won
Director Won
Original Screenplay Won
1966 Original Screenplay The Fortune Cookie Nom
1987 Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award Won


Academy Awards

Best Director
Year Film Result
1978 Annie Hall Won
1979 Interiors Nom
1985 Broadway Danny Rose Nom
1987 Hannah and Her Sisters Nom
1990 Crimes and Misdemeanors Nom
1995 Bullets over Broadway Nom
2012 Midnight in Paris Nom

Best Original Screenplay
Year Film Result
1978 Annie Hall Won
1979 Interiors Nom
1980 Manhattan Nom
1985 Broadway Danny Rose Nom
1986 The Purple Rose of Cairo Nom
1987 Hannah and Her Sisters Won
1988 Radio Days Nom
1990 Crimes and Misdemeanors Nom
1991 Alice Nom
1993 Husbands and Wives Nom
1995 Bullets over Broadway Nom
1996 Mighty Aphrodite Nom
1998 Deconstructing Harry Nom
2006 Match Point Nom
2012 Midnight in Paris Won
2014 Blue Jasmine Nom

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Year Film Result
1978 Annie Hall Nom

Tony Awards
Year Category Project Result Ref.
2014 Best Book of a Musical Bullets over Broadway Nominate

VincentS said...

Great podcast, Ken. Robert Redford is no Jack Lemmon but he did make a good straight man in BAREFOOT. As for the advise from the business manager about selling the rights to those plays, I think it's hinesight to criticize. As I remember reading about it, the manager advised Simon to go for the money in selling the rights because Simon had three straight hits on Broadway and there was "no way [he] could continue that kind of success" which was reaonable to believe at the time. Moreover, Simon was the one who ultimately made the decision to sell the rights and he was no kid at the time and had been in the business for a while.

Breadbaker said...

I totally agree with Roger Owen Green. "Plaza Suite" is a pretty generic title, and news of the current revival likely didn't penetrate the consciousness of anyone not reading the New York Times Arts & Leisure section. The film version grossed all of $4 million, with Matthau, Maureen Stapleton, Barbara Harris and Lee Grant, not exactly top of the box office stars. Vincent Canby called it "aggressively tiresome." One doubts anyone of the age of current Jeopardy contestants has seen either the film or the play.

Breadbaker said...

I should add, but if the Jeopardy skunk led Ken to record this excellent podcast, that's a true making of lemonade out of lemons.

John said...

At the 1991 Tony Awards, there was an envelope snafu something like the one at the Oscars a few years ago. Anthony Quinn announced the nominees for Best Choreography, opened the envelope, and read "The Tony Award goes to Lost In Yonkers, Neil Simon producer." Oops, wrong award. Quinn was mortified.

A few minutes later the Best Play category came up, and to no one's surprise, the winner was Lost in Yonkers. Neil Simon accepted the award, stepped to the microphone and said innocently "I was in the men's room when Anthony Quinn was on, did anything interesting happen?" It was very funny and endearing.

DG said...

I'm ambivalent about the impetus for this episode of Hollywood and Levine; it was a fine and entertaining episode and brightened my day.

Orson Hartley said...


What do you mean when you say "sophisticated comedy“ and "broad comedy"?

VincentS said...

Thought you'd like this, Ken.,-The.html