The Legendary Neil Simon

Even if Plaza Suite is your first Neil Simon play, you may feel you know him already. He’s a writer who’s always with us, in one way or another.

 

But where did his legacy come from?

Click on the titles below to explore four reasons Neil Simon is a legend.


Source: AP Photo/Richard Drew

Neil Simon became one of America’s most beloved and successful playwrights because he knew how to write comedy with a heart. His plays are hilarious and filled with great one-liners, and they’ve also got jokes that let us laugh at ourselves.

As Harvey Fierstein says, Neil Simon “could write a joke that would make you laugh, define the character, the situation, and even the world’s problems.”

His unforgettable style is still influencing artists today. Whether its Seinfeld characters delivering zingers in Jerry’s apartment or 30 Rock episodes delivering 30 jokes a minute, they’re all influenced by plays like Plaza Suite. “It’s hard to overstate the impact Neil Simon has had on comedy,” says Steve Levitan, who co-created the sitcom Modern Family. “We all learned from him.”


Source: Friedman-Abeles

Neil Simon’s plays know a lot about being alive. In smart comedies like Plaza Suite, tender dramas like Brighton Beach Memoirs, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lost In Yonkers, he tells stories that we’re always happy to hear. “He brought a unique eye for life to stage and screen,” says Dan Rather. “He prodded us—in laughter and tears—to contend with the traits that make us human.”

And here’s the thing: Everyone loved him for doing it. In The Season, William Goldman’s famous book about Broadway, he wrote, “In an envy-ridden racket, no one ever says anything unkind about him. He is not only the best comedy writer, he is somehow undespised. Until you’ve spent a year talking with these people about these people, you can’t realize what an achievement that is.” That’s the kind of funny-smart tribute that Neil Simon himself might have written.


Source: Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson

Neil Simon’s shows also became famous for the incredible actors who appeared in them. Plaza Suite‘s Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are part of a lineage that includes Robert Redford, George C. Scott, Gwen Verdon, Bernadette Peters, and Maureen Stapleton, to name just a few.

Actors flocked to his plays because they knew he’d write great parts for them. In fact, 20 actors have won Tony Awards for their work in Neil Simon’s plays and musicals—including Matthew Broderick, who won a Tony in 1983 for Brighton Beach Memoirs. “I owe him a career,” Broderick says.

Actors loved working with Neil himself as much as they loved being in his plays. “There was no sweeter sound a young actor could hear than the laughter of Neil Simon during your audition,” recalls Josh Radnor. Linda Lavin adds, “You wanted Neil Simon in the room while you were rehearsing his plays, because when he laughed, you knew you’d hit the truth!”


Source: AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler, File

With the possible exception of Shakespeare, there has never been a Broadway playwright more successful than Neil Simon. He had 30 different shows on Broadway, and including revivals, they’ve been produced 41 times.

In the first six months of 1967, he had four shows running at once. Throughout his career, he had 17 productions that ran for over a year.

A Broadway theater was named after him in 1983, when he was only 55. It’s incredibly rare for a theater to be named after a living writer, let alone a writer so young.

In the 1960s, his plays had more performances than Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, William Inge, Arthur Miller, and Harold Pinter combined.

The original production of Barefoot in the Park is the tenth longest-running play in Broadway history, with 1,530 performances.

The original productions of Brighton Beach Memoirs (1,299 performances) and Plaza Suite (1,097 performances) are among the 25 longest-running plays in Broadway history.