If you don’t know Neil Simon, then you’re missing out on a key pillar in American theater. Known for his fall out of your seat laughing funny plays and musicals, Simon is one of the most revered playwrights of the last two centuries. That status is well deserved because he’s been in show business longer than most people have alive. Spending all that time in show business comes with quite a few stories and fun facts, and this list highlights some of the best Neil Simon facts.
1. How Successful was Simon?
Calling Simon a pillar of American theater wasn’t a mistake, he’s won three Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and has been nominated for four Academy Awards. If that’s not enough for you, he had four plays running on Broadway at once during the 1966-1997 season. One of which was the musical Sweet Charity, which would run for 608 performances and be nominated for 9 Tony awards.
2. Simon Had No Choice When It Came To Sweet Charity
According to Simon’s autobiography, Rewrites, his wife threatened to leave him if he didn’t work on Sweet Charity. At the time, Simon was writing a screenplay for his other hit play, Barefoot In The Park, while also working on a film called After The Fox. Bob Fosse sent Simon the script for Charity to ask for advice, but once Simon gave Fosse his two cents Fosse practically forced him to join the production.
Despite Simon being busy with other work, Fosse unexpectedly flew out to Italy where Simon was shooting After The Fox and played some musical numbers from the show for Simon and his wife. According to Simon, after they listened to a few songs he was in love with the show, and his wife told him, “If you don’t do this show you and I are through.”
3. Little Me got a little help from an unexpected source
While Simon was struggling to finish a complete draft of Barefoot in The Park and ride the momentum his first play, Come Blow Your Horn, had earned him, he was approached to write a musical called Little Me.
Simon agreed, but one day the production’s producer brought in a friend to get his opinion. That friend just happened the be the Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. Steinbeck’s advice to Simon and the rest of the production? “Remember, you can still only eat two eggs a day.”
4. Simon’s mother turned down Harry Truman
After writing several successful plays, Simon was able to get his mother a job answering the phone and selling tickets at a theater he owned. One day, she got a call from Harry Truman’s son-in-law asking for four tickets to a show with the hopes that the press would be in the dark about the event.
Simon’s mother hung up thinking it was a prank call, but after he had called back, she realized it was the real deal and sold the tickets.
5. Simon was not a wise investor
As most people with big names and big paychecks usually are, Simon was approached by several people seeking investments from him after his first successful plays. One of these seekers convinced Simon to invest in a herd of cattle. Unfortunately, that winter a massive blizzard struck and all of Simon’s cattle froze to death, leaving him with nothing. Simon was also a part owner of a theater but got out of the theater running business soon after.
6. Simon Beat Death
Until 1983, no playwright other than Simon got to see a Broadway theater named after themselves. Not because they weren’t successful, but because theaters were always named after a person after they had died. That changed in 1983 when the Alvin Theatre became the Neil Simon Theatre.
7. Simon worked with Legends
Simon worked with legendary directors and producers like Mike Nichols and Saint Subber, but he also worked with theater legend Bob Fosse on multiple occasions. As mentioned, Fosse surprised Simon by flying out to Italy to convince him to work on Sweet Charity, but Fosse also worked with Simon on Little Me.
While the list of people Simon worked with is long and accomplished, Fosse has to be near the top. He won a record 8 Tony awards for choreography and even one more for direction. If it’s any reflection of how much Simon appreciated Fosse’s talent, according to his autobiography after Fosse had played a few songs from Sweet Charity Simon told him that he would pay to be able to write the play.
8. Simon didn’t have to look far to find Felix Unger’s character
Legend has it The Odd Couple was born after Simon visited his recently divorced brother in California and stayed with him and his roommate. Supposedly after seeing the contentious relationship, they had, Simon created The Odd Couple by dramatizing his brother and his roommate. In fact, Felix Unger is said to be directly based on Danny Simon. Other sources say the inspiration behind the famous work was Mel Brooks. The story goes that Simon modeled the play after he observed a post-divorce Mel Brooks living with writer Speed Vogel. Speed Vogel claims that at any moment they were “a scintilla away from insanity.” Regardless of which legend is the truth, it seems that The Odd Couple had a story that was close to home.