BAREFOOT IN THE PARK
by Neil Simon
Neil Simon is the world’s most successful playwright. He has been showered with more Academy and Tony nominations than any other writer, and is the only playwright with four Broadway productions running simultaneously. His plays have been produced in dozens of languages, and have been blockbuster hits from Beijing to Moscow, and in 1983 became the only living playwright to have a New York theatre, the Neil Simon Theatre, named in his honor.
Born in the Bronx on July 4, 1927, Marvin Neil Simon grew up in New York during the Great Depression, with his parents’ financial hardships affecting their marriage, giving him a mostly unhappy and unstable childhood. He often took refuge in movie theaters where he enjoyed watching the early comedians like Charlie Chaplin. After a few years in the Army Air Force Reserve, and after graduating from high school, he began writing comedy scripts for radio and some popular early television shows. Among them were Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows from 1950 (where he worked alongside other young writers including Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and Selma Diamond), and The Phil Silvers Show, which ran from 1955 to 1959.
By the 1960s, Simon had begun to concentrate on writing plays for Broadway. His first hit came in 1961 with Come Blow Your Horn, and was soon after followed by the very successful comic romance Barefoot in the Park. His huge hit The Odd Couple (1965) won him a Tony Award and made him „the hottest new playwright on Broadway”. Those successful productions were followed by many more, including Plaza Suite, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, The Sunshine Boys, The Good Doctor, God’s Favorite, California Suite, Chapter Two, I Ought to Be in Pictures, Jake’s Women, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, etc.
Simon wrote the screenplays for motion-picture adaptations of his plays as well as screenplays for a number of original motion pictures. He also wrote the books for musicals, including Little Me (1962), Sweet Charity (1966), Promises, Promises (1968), They’re Playing Our Song (1979), and The Goodbye Girl (1993).
Throughout his career, Simon has drawn extensively on his own life and experience for materials for his plays. Many of his works take place in the working-class New York neighborhoods he knew so well as a child. One of Simon’s great achievements has been the insightful representation of the social atmosphere of those times in New York. In 1983, he began writing the first of three autobiographical plays, Brighton Beach Memoirs (1983), Biloxi Blues (1985) and Broadway Bound (1986). With them, he received his greatest critical acclaim. After his follow-up play, Lost in Yonkers (1991), Simon was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
Neil Simon has for almost 40 years invigorated the stage with touching stories and zany characters, but possibly his greatest contribution has been the ability to create humor from the lives and troubles of everyday people. Actor Jack Lemmon said of him, „Neil has the ability to write characters – even the leading characters that we’re supposed to root for – that are absolutely flawed. They have foibles. They have faults. But, they are human beings. They are not all bad or all good; they are people we know.”
He passed on August 26, 2018 in New York, aged 91.