If you were of my generation, Neil Simon made you laugh.
In his younger years he wrote for television (Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers) during the Golden Age of the 1950s. That was the generation before me.
My generation was The Odd Couple onward.
In the 1960s, he wrote for the theater. The Odd Couple was a Broadway hit before it was a 1968 film starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. It was then a television series (1970-75) starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. Since then, there was a movie sequel and several more versions of the television show. The idea of two mismatched friends living together is timeless.
The first of his plays to be adapted for the screen was Barefoot in the Park (1967), starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. His first screenplay was actually After the Fox (1966), directed by Vittoria De Sica starring Peter Sellers and Victor Mature.
While he continued to write for the theater, most people enjoyed the films he wrote and in the 1970s and 1980s he was prolific, with an average of one Simon film a year. Many of his films were based on his plays but there were originals too.
The Goodbye Girl was an original screenplay, written for then-wife Marsha Mason and gave Richard Dreyfuss a Best Acting Oscar. The Cheap Detective and Murder By Death starred Peter Falk and many of the biggest actors in Hollywood and earned sizable profits.
Simon specialized in putting characters in difficult situations and arming them with smart and funny lines, often tugging at the heart, the conflict resolving as the characters find new meaning in their relationships. Audiences would leave the theater with a smile and enjoying the ride Simon had taken them on.
The world of Neil Simon’s characters were not your next door neighbors. People we knew did not talk like them, with rapid-fire wit, and expert comedic timing. I did not look for realism, Simon’s mission was to take us somewhere else, and he did.
If you watched his 1950s television skits, or his Broadway plays, or his movies, you got his comic genius. His formula never changed much; why change something that worked.
The Odd Couple series never left syndication, his films play on cable, and somewhere, a cast is performing one of his plays. Neil Simon will never be forgotten, not as long as people want to laugh. His films and plays will entertain generations in the future.
Come Blow Your Horn (1961), Little Me (1962), Barefoot in the Park (1963), The Odd Couple (1965), Sweet Charity (1966), The Star-Spangled Girl (1966), Plaza Suite (1968), Promises, Promises (1968), The Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1969), The Gingerbread Lady (1970), Star Spangled Girl (1971), The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1971), The Sunshine Boys (1972), The Good Doctor (1973), God’s Favorite (1974), California Suite (1976), Chapter Two (1977), They’re Playing Our Song (1979), I Ought to Be in Pictures (1980), Fools (1981), Brighton Beach Memoirs (1983), Biloxi Blues (1985), Broadway Bound (1986), Rumors (1988), Lost in Yonkers (1991), Jake’s Women (1992), The Goodbye Girl (1993), Laughter on the 23rd Floor (1993), London Suite (1995), Proposals (1997), The Dinner Party (2000), 45 Seconds from Broadway (2001), Rose’s Dilemma (2003)
After The Odd Couple, he wrote these films:
Sweet Charity (1969), The Out-of-Towners (1970) Plaza Suite (1971), Star Spangled Girl (1971), Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972), The Heartbreak Kid (1972), The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975), The Sunshine Boys (1975), Murder by Death (1976), The Goodbye Girl (1977), The Cheap Detective (1978), California Suite (1978), Chapter Two (1979), Seems Like Old Times (1980), Only When I Laugh (1981), I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982), Max Dugan Returns (1983), The Lonely Guy (1984) (adaptation only), The Slugger’s Wife (1985), Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986), Biloxi Blues (1988), The Marrying Man (1991), Lost in Yonkers (1993), The Odd Couple II (1998)