Neil Simon's autobiography, Rewrites, is scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster in October (though some book stores might have it sooner). In it, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lost in Yonkers chronicles his life up to the death of his beloved first wife Joan in 1973.
The book includes stories about the writing of some of the biggest comedy (and some musical) hits of the last 35 years, including Come Blow Your Horn, The Odd Couple Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity, Promises, Promises Plaza Suite and other plays, complete with inside stories that will fascinate Simon's legion of fans. As it turns out, nearly every play has key characters or situations based on Simon's own life, though only some of his later works have been so admittedly autobiographical.
Some interesting tidbits:
* He was born Marvin Neil Simon, but dropped the Marvin because "I found it impossible to think that Marvin Simon would be announced on the public address system at Yankee Stadium as playing center field for the injured Joe DiMaggio."
* He got the nickname "Doc" Simon, not from doctoring shows, which he claims to have done rarely, but from his older brother Danny, who had called him Doc since he received a toy doctor kit at age 3. Others later picked up the nickname from Danny, but today is used only by "a few diehards on the West Coast who still think I prefer it. I don't."* He credits Danny's encouragement for his writing career. "I probably never would have been a writer if it were not for Danny."
* Felix Ungar, the compulsively tidy half of The Odd Couple is based on Danny; sloppy Oscar is based on Roy Gerber, a theatrical agent. The two decided the share an apartment after both divorced. An incident in which a double-date pot roast dinner was spoiled, provided the play's centerpiece.
* Simon credits a theatre critic, Boston's Elliot Norton, with suggesting a third-act change in The Odd Couple that wound up saving the show during its troubled out-of-town tryout.
* Simon sold the rights to The Odd Couple for $125,000 and thus got (and continues to get) not "a dime, a nickel or a penny" from the massively successful TV series, which shows signs of living forever in syndication.
* An argument at a party between left-winger Paddy Chayevsky and the unnamed right-wing wife of a U.S. astronaut provided the basis for his play The Star-Spangled Girl.
* Ex-vaudeville comedian Willie Howard was the inspiration for The Sunshine Boys.
* Simon tried marijuana during the out-of-town tryouts of Promises, Promises and became "a statistic": "Married men who been unfaithful at least once in their marriages," with an unnamed young woman.
* Except for that incident, for which Simon still seems to feel guilt, Simon appears to have been utterly devoted to his first wife, Joan. The early days of their marriage form the basis for Barefoot in the Park. Her death from cancer was one of the transforming events of his personal and professional life. His account of her decline -- and its affect on his plays -- forms the last 30 pages of the memoir.
-- By Robert Viagas