Neil Simon Biography

Neil Simon Biography

For Neil Simon, art truly does imitate life. Arguably one of the most commercially successful playwrights of the twentieth century, Simon forged a career out of turning his life into serio-comic theater. When Simon lost his beloved first wife, Joan, to cancer in the early 1970s, it inspired Chapter Two, a play about a widower trying to start his life over. Critical acclaim came Simon’s way with his highly autobiographical trilogy of plays: Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, and Broadway Bound. Written in the 1980s, they follow Simon’s alter ego, Eugene Morris Jerome, as he grows up during the Depression, serves in the Army during World War II, and tries to break into writing for TV shows. Following the trilogy, Simon’s heartfelt Lost in Yonkers won the Pulitzer. That and many other honors helped cement Simon’s reputation as one of America’s favorite playwrights.  

Facts and Trivia

  • At one point in the late 1960s, Simon had four successful plays running on Broadway at the same time: Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Sweet Charity, and The Star Spangled Girl.
  • Simon never profited from the popular TV series The Odd Couple, which was based on his hit play. In an ill-advised business scheme, he sold all rights to the play and thus never saw any proceeds from the TV show.
  • Simon helped adapt his highly acclaimed screenplay for the film The Goodbye Girl as a stage musical in the early 1990s. The show, which featured Martin Short and Bernadette Peters, was savaged by critics and closed quickly.
  • Simon has a Broadway theater named after him, The Neil Simon Theatre.
  • Simon’s daughter, Ellen, is also a writer. Her play Moonlight and Valentino was adapted into a 1995 film.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)
ph_0111205466-Simon_N.jpg Neil Simon. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Born in the Bronx, New York, on July 4, 1927, Marvin Neil Simon was the second of two sons in a middle-class Jewish family. His father, Irving, was a garment salesman who abandoned the family several times before the Simons’ marriage ended in divorce. Because of his parents’ domestic difficulties, Simon’s childhood was not particularly happy, but he nevertheless developed his affinity for comedy at an early age. As a schoolboy, he earned his nickname “Doc” for his ability to imitate the family doctor, and he reported in a Life magazine interview:

When I was a kid, I climbed up on a stone ledge to watch an outdoor movie of Charlie Chaplin. I laughed so hard I fell off, cut my head open and was taken to the doctor, bleeding and laughing. I was constantly being dragged out of movies for laughing too loud. Now my idea of the ultimate achievement in a comedy is to make a whole audience fall onto the floor, writhing and laughing so hard that some of them pass out.

Simon’s plays are often quite nearly that amusing, but his gift for provoking riotous laughter has ultimately been a burden, because it has prevented most critics from taking him seriously as a comic dramatist.

Simon demonstrated his ability to make people laugh even as a teenager, when he teamed with his older brother Danny to write material for stand-up comics and radio shows. After briefly attending New York University (he never graduated from college) and serving in the Army at the end of World War II, Neil teamed with Danny again as they began, in 1946, to create material for one of the radio era’s most successful comedy writers, Goodman Ace.

The Simon brothers prospered as radio comedy writers but shifted in the early 1950’s to television as the new medium developed. Writing for such television notables as Phil Silvers and Tallulah Bankhead, they were each earning huge weekly salaries of sixteen hundred dollars by the mid-1950’s. During his television writing in the 1950’s, Simon worked alongside many young writers who would later make successful careers of their own, most notably Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. Danny left the writing team in 1956 to pursue a career as a television director, but Neil continued writing for such stars as Sid Caesar, Garry Moore, Jackie Gleason, and Red Buttons, earning two Emmy Awards (in 1957 and 1959) for his comedy writing.

Simon believed that writing for television did not allow him enough independence, so while writing for...

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Neil Simon Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Simon has always been able to make audiences laugh, although it has been debated whether he is more than a gag writer, a creator of situation comedies for the stage. Chapter Two, the three plays of his Brighton Beach trilogy, and Lost in Yonkers have wrested additional respect from most, though not all, critics. Audiences, on the other hand, have been markedly less critical, usually flocking to Simon plays regardless of the level of seriousness he achieves. While it is not yet appropriate to place Simon in the company of Shakespeare, Moliere, or Shaw, his is no small achievement: to have become the most commercially successful playwright in the history of theater.

Neil Simon Biography

(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

Son of a Bronx garment salesman who abandoned the family several times, Marvin Neil Simon learned independence early. After brief duty in the Air Force Reserve, Simon joined his brother Danny writing comedy for radio and the new medium of television. In 1953, he married Joan Baim, with whom he had two daughters. Throughout the fifties, the Simon brothers wrote for increasingly prestigious shows, culminating in the classic Your Show of Shows, for which Simon won an Emmy Award in 1957. Simon won a second Emmy in 1959 for his work on the Sergeant Bilko show, confirming a reputation as one of the top writers in television.

The 1960’s

The Broadway production in 1961 of his first full-length play, Come Blow Your Horn, was the first in a string of nine hit comedies in as many years in Simon’s most prolific decade. Each of Simon’s nine plays of the 1960’s explores different aspects of life in that decade. The first four all share a common motif of mismatched couples, a theme receiving its classical expression in Simon’s most famous work, The Odd Couple (1965). In Come Blow Your Horn, the mismatched pair are brothers, one hedonistic, the other straight-laced. Little Me (1962), though Simon’s contribution was merely fleshing out an existing plot, concerns the misalliance of a poor girl and a high-society bachelor. Barefoot in the Park (1963) contrasts a fun-loving new bride and her staid new husband. The remaining five plays look at different implications of the sexual revolution: Sweet Charity (1966) presents the modern myth of the whore with the heart of gold, and The Star Spangled Girl (1966) the opposite extreme in the wholesome Midwestern virgin pursued by a libertine. In Promises, Promises (1968), an innocent bystander of the sexual revolution offers his bachelor apartment to his libidinous boss; Plaza Suite (1968) is a triptych of scenes in the same hotel room, two of them involving adulterous affairs. The Last of the Red- Hot Lovers (1969) is also a trio of vignettes, this time of a single male character who attempts to seduce a different woman in each scene.

The tremendous success of these comedies led to lucrative screen versions of Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple, for which Simon wrote the screenplays but had little to no control over the final product. Simon considered his collaboration with Italian screen writer Cesar Zavatini on After the Fox (1966) to be marred by Simon’s lack of control; Zavatini and the director spoke no English.

Later Life

Many reviewers doubted that Simon could keep up the play-a-year pace he established in the 1960’s, but through the 1970’s, he averaged nearly two a year, eight stage comedies and eleven screenplays. The 1980’s saw Simon’s plays become increasingly serious, particularly the autobiographical trilogy Brighton Beach Memoirs (1982), Biloxi Blues (1984), and Broadway Bound (1986). Critical acceptance came at last with these plays, as well as Lost in Yonkers,which won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.


Simon’s comedies dominated the stage in the 1960’s not only by outlasting the competition but also by begging imitation. The attention Simon received for such...

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Neil Simon Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Marvin Neil Simon was born in the Bronx, New York, on July 4, 1927. His father, Irving, was a salesman in Manhattan’s garment district; his mother, Mamie, worked at Gimbel’s department store. The family moved to Washington Heights in northern Manhattan when Simon was young. The family’s life was not always tranquil. Irving was an errant husband who occasionally abandoned the family altogether, leaving Mamie, a frustrated and bitter woman, alone to deal with Neil and his older brother, Danny. Eventually, the parents were divorced, and Neil went to live with relatives in Queens. From an early age, he exhibited a quick wit and an active imagination. He earned the nickname “Doc”—which stayed with him into adult...

(The entire section is 1028 words.)

Neil Simon Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

From the early 1960’s into the early twenty-first century, Neil Simon has dominated the popular theater in America. His seemingly endless string of well-made comedies has provided him with both popular recognition and tremendous wealth. He is the son of Irving Simon, a garment salesman, and Mamie Simon. As a young child, Simon remembers sitting on a stone ledge watching a Charlie Chaplin film. He laughed so hard that he fell off the ledge and had to be taken to the doctor’s office. This incident would define for Simon the true meaning of comedy: “to make a whole audience fall onto the floor.” Simon graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in 1943 and entered New York University as an engineering student under the U.S. Army...

(The entire section is 1196 words.)

Neil Simon Biography

(Drama for Students)

Simon was born on July 4, 1927, in the Bronx, New York. His father, Irving, worked as a garment salesman. Irving Simon's job forced him to...

(The entire section is 510 words.)

Neil Simon Biography

(Drama for Students)

Neil Simon (full name Marvin Neil Simon) was born on July 4, 1927, in the Bronx, New York City. He grew up there and made it the setting for...

(The entire section is 409 words.)

Neil Simon Biography

(Drama for Students)

Simon was born on July 4, 1927, in Bronx, New York. Simon attended two universities, New York University (1944-1945) and the University of...

(The entire section is 298 words.)

Neil Simon Biography

(Drama for Students)
Neil Simon in 1988 Published by Gale Cengage

Neil Simon was born on July 4, 1927, in the Bronx, New York, the younger son of a father who sold cloth fabric to the dress manufacturers in...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Neil Simon Biography

(Drama for Students)

Neil Simon was born on July 4, 1927, in the Bronx, New York, to Irving, a garment salesman, and Mamie Simon. He grew up in Washington...

(The entire section is 351 words.)