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 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.
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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