Neil Simon will celebrate his 90th birthday July 4. He has written more than 30 Broadway plays and musicals including Brighton Beach Memoirs, The Odd Couple, and Barefoot in the Park.
Simon has won three Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Kennedy Center Honor, and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, and has received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer. In one season, he had four successful plays running on Broadway at the same time, and in 1983 he became the only living playwright to have a New York theatre named in his honor.
Now stars are speaking out to commemorate Simon and his impact on their lives by sharing their favorite memories.
Broadway Bound, The Odd Couple, The Prisoner of Second Avenue
“I became an actor largely because of Neil Simon. When I was only so big, I would sit and watch the shows which are now famous and just be aching to play this material.”
“Playing Sweet Charity was truly the biggest thrill of my entire life.”
Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Max Dugan Returns
“Neil Simon cast me in my very first Broadway show. It was Brighton Beach Memoirs. Neil, Manny Azenberg and Gene Saks, our wonderful director, gave me the happiest, most fulfilling start to a career any actor could hope for.”
The Goodbye Girl, Lost in Yonkers
“When I was a young man and had just started working in features, I got a copy of The Goodbye Girl. Not only did I do this film, I surrendered to this film. It spoiled me for the rest of my life. Not only was it a great and funny and warm movie with a great role, but I loved everyone in it and I loved going to work every day. And that’s what I thought Hollywood was all about. Neil Simon created a character, which was so perfect for me, that I didn’t even know I was capable of doing. In 150 years, very few people will be remembered from this time but we will all know Neil; we will all know his take on the world and we will all spit our milk up together at that time because he gets us right.”
“I will treasure what Neil wrote on the dedication page of The Play Goes On: ‘To Elaine Joyce – who turned my life around.’ But please don’t get the idea that I was on some kind of rescue mission. Far from it. What happened between us was a glorious, exciting, head-over-heels love affair.”
Lost in Yonkers
“Neil gave me the biggest break in my life with the role of Bella in Lost in Yonkers, created by Mercedes Ruehl on Broadway. It finally showed I could do comedy!”
Laughter on the 23rd Floor, The Odd Couple
“When it comes to Neil Simon, I am not objective. I am an unabashed fan. He was and remains one of my theatrical heroes. He followed in the footsteps of writers like Kaufman & Hart and created his own style of comedy—plays that made us scream with laughter or cry at the recognition of something in our own lives. Plays that will live forever. With success comes failure and with great happiness comes great sadness. Such is life, and Neil is no exception, but he shares it all with tremendous candor and intelligence and wit. And as his life becomes richer and more complicated, so does his work.”
Barefoot in the Park
“There are a lot of people that say Neil is the most successful playwright since Shakespeare. Not only that, he’s also more prolific. We became friends in 1963 during rehearsals for Barefoot in the Park. It was Mike Nichols’ first Broadway play, it was my first comedy and it was Neil’s second play. It was an exciting time, full of wonderful experimenting and great fun.”
Your Show of Shows
“I first met Neil Simon in 1951 when he came to work on Your Show of Shows. He was a shy, callow youth. In the first week, he was sitting on the couch to my right. We were brainstorming, people were throwing jokes around—Mel Brooks, Mel Tolkin, Sid Caesar—and in this brainstorming Neil would say something and it was funny and I said, ‘Hold it, hold it!’ He talked with the voice of a turtle. And I said, ‘Neil’s got it.’ And that phrase ‘Neil’s got it’ became a catch phrase during his reign there. I call it his reign because he came up with more jokes that nobody heard and I did, luckily for him. And I’d say, ‘Tell ‘em Neil’ and Neil would say, ‘No no, you tell ‘em’ and I would actually say the joke that Neil came up with.”
Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound
“Neil Simon changed my life. He plucked me from obscurity and anonymity to take on the lead role in his acclaimed hit play Brighton Beach Memoirs. I then had the great fortune of working with Neil in two more of his Broadway plays and four of his films. It’s been said that you don’t know a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. Well, I’ve been lucky enough to run a marathon in Neil’s shoes, not to mention his high top sneakers and his army boots.”