Biography of Neil Simon

Neil Simon is one of the most beloved American playwrights of the 20th century. The author of more than 30 plays and a number of screenplays, he was nominated for more Academy Awards and Tony Awards than any other writer. Many of his plays draw on his tumultuous and dysfunctional upbringing in New York City during the Great Depression and have a comedic bent.

Simon was born in the Bronx to a Jewish family and he grew up in Washington Heights during the Great Depression, in a household that was often in crisis due to financial instability and parental conflict. His father would leave the family for weeks at a time, and the young Neil was often sent to live with relatives. In the midst of this upheaval and chaos, Simon developed an ear for dialogue and a love of writing, with the encouragement of a loving mother. In an interview with NPR, Simon spoke about how he had trouble distinguishing between his fictions and reality: "I feel the tenseness if I'm writing a scene between, let's say, a husband and wife who are having a fractious marriage. Things are going wrong. There's a big argument. There's a confrontation. I feel the intensity in my body, and I don't think I'm acting that out. I truly feel it. I'm exhausted when I go home, whereas if I write something that's a funnier scene, a lighter scene, a more loving, romantic scene, I don't feel that same tension. I feel a lightness about me. So I don't think that the mind differentiates about what's going on in real life or what's going on in the fiction you're writing."

After quitting his job as a mailroom clerk, Neil began writing television scripts with his older brother, Danny. In 1961, his first Broadway play, Come Blow Your Horn, opened in New York. In 1963, he premiered Barefoot in the Park, and in 1965 he won the Tony Award for The Odd Couple and was launched into the public eye. Other plays of his include Sweet Charity, The Star-Spangled Girl, They're Playing Our Song, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, The Goodbye Girl, Lost in Yonkers (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize), and the musical Promises, Promises.

As a screenwriter, Simon was nominated for four Academy Awards. His films include The Out-of-Towners, Murder By Death, The Goodbye Girl, and The Odd Couple. He was best known for his highly verbal and situational scripts that were often riotously funny but also heartbreakingly profound. He passed away in 2018, and Charles Isherwood summed up his life in The New York Times by saying: "Neil Simon, the playwright whose name was synonymous with Broadway comedy and commercial success in the theater for decades, and who helped redefine popular American humor with an emphasis on the frictions of urban living and the agonizing conflicts of family intimacy...."

Study Guides on Works by Neil Simon

Lost in Yonkers is a play by Neil Simon, a highly acclaimed work that bridged his career into the 1990s and established his reputation as one of America’s major playwrights of the latter 20th century. In the 60s and 70s, Simon's reputation had...