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Who is Neil Simon?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
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Neil Simon is an American playwright who was born in 1927. He has written a number of widely popular plays, churning out hit after hit for Broadway and the worlds’ stages. Over the course of his career he has won a number of awards for his plays, including a number of Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Drama Desk Award, and many others.

Neil Simon was born in the Bronx, and many of his plays build on New York themes. He started writing scripts at the age of 21 for both television and radio, and studied under many luminaries of the time, including the radio writer Goodman Ace. In the 1950s, while writing comedy revues, Neil Simon and his brother Danny were noticed by Sid Caesar, who hired the pair to write for his television show, Your Show of Shows. This marked the real beginning of the big time for Neil Simon, and from there his career continued to develop quickly.

In 1961, Neil Simon had his first play produced on Broadway, Come Blow Your Horn. Although not particularly popular, it nonetheless ran for nearly 700 performances, and established Neil Simon on Broadway. His next play, Little Me was a musical number, and was the first of his seventeen Tony nominations. A prolific writer, by 1966 Neil Simon had written five plays, four of which were being performed on Broadway at the same time, a rather remarkable feat for a beginning playwright. His fourth play, The Odd Couple remains one of his most popular to date, and has been performed throughout the world, and turned into a film, two television series, and an animated series, and was awarded a Tony Award for Best Play in 1965.

In 1991 he wrote his most noted play, Lost in Yonkers. The play looks at two young brothers, Jay and Arty, who have been left with their grandmother and aunt in Yonkers. Unlike many of Simon’s earlier plays, Lost in Yonkers has little sentimentality, focusing on the trials of coming of age within a dysfunctional family environment. The play netted Neil Simon another Tony Award for Best Play, as well as a Drama Desk Award for Best New Play, and the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. In 1993, he wrote an adaptation of the play for the screen, and it was made into a successful movie starring Richard Dreyfuss and much of the original stage cast.

Over his long career, Neil Simon has incorporated a great deal of his personal life into his plays, lending them a deeply real and heartfelt touch. In later years, his plays have tended even more towards the personal, with a more poignant sense of humor and a level of almost shocking honesty. A trilogy, begun in the 1980s, acts as Simon’s most autobiographical work, with Brighton Beach Memoirs looking at a Jewish American teen living in a dysfunctional family, Biloxi Blues addressing the same boy facing anti-Semitism as he grows into a man, and Broadway Bound watching his enter the world and try to make it in the difficult business of the theatre.

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