As the most financially successful playwright in history, Bronx-born Neil Simon hardly needs TV and movies to enhance his reputation -- though at least one-third of his output has been geared exclusively to non-theatrical projects. Upon graduating from New York University, Simon began penning comedy material for nightclubs and revues, then signed on as a staff writer for TV comedian Sid Caesar. During his years with Caesar, and his later tenure on Phil Silvers' military sitcom "You'll Never Get Rich" (1955-59), Simon became skilled in the art of allowing jokes to flow naturally from the situation and the characters, rather than merely inserting gags arbitrarily for quick, cheap laughs. After an ignoble Broadway debut as librettist for the shortlived musical The Adventures of Marco Polo (1959), Simon scored a hit with his play Come Blow Your Horn (1961), which later became a successful Frank Sinatra film vehicle. Simon's first script written directly for the screen was After the Fox (1966), an uneven "international" comedy suffering from too many cooks (including star Peter Sellers and director Vittorio de Sica). Simon's next movie original, The Out of Towners (1969), was far more successful both financially and artistically. While his stage plays of the 1970s and 1980s were almost invaribly hits, Simon's film scripts of the same period fluctuated wildly in quality. There are few if any faults in The Heartbreak Kid (1972), The Goodbye Girl (1977), and Seems Like Old Times (1979). Conversely, Simon's movie-genre spoofs Murder by Death (1975) and The Cheap Detective (1978), while frequently uproarious, are little more than elonganted Sid Caesar sketches. And The Slugger's Wife (1983) is not only Simon's weakest screenplay, but also one of the worst big-budget pictures ever made. However, in the final analysis, Simon has hit the mark far more often than not -- in addition to his Pulitzer Prize for the 1991 play Lost in Yonkers, his scripts for The Odd Couple (1968), The Goodbye Girl (1977), and California Suite (1978) have been honored with Academy Awards. As he entered the 1990s, Simon suffered one major cinematic setback with 1991's The Marrying Man, then -- as always -- regained lost ground with still another Broadway smash, 1993's Laughter on the 23rd Floor.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Broke into television as a writer for the DuMont Network's Cavalcade of Stars in 1949.
- The Odd Couple is based on the experiences of his older brother Danny, a TV-comedy writer, who began work on the play and then allowed Neil to finish it.
- In 1966-67, had four plays (Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Sweet Charity and The Star Spangled Girl) running simultaneously on Broadway.
- Won a 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Lost in Yonkers.
- In 1983, the Alvin Theatre on Broadway was renamed the Neil Simon Theatre.
- Received the Kennedy Center Honors Award in 1995 and the Mark Twain Prize in 2006.