Friday, February 22, 2008
AN IMPORTANT NEIL SIMON ANNIVERSARY
Loving Neil Simon's comedies are one thing. But loving Neil Simon and the characters that he created for the stage because you studied comedy writing with one of those characters makes it quite important and dimensional. On this day back in 1961, Neil Simon's first play "Come Blow Your Horn" opened on Broadway. Alan and Buddy Baker were the characters based on the real life episodes of Neil and his older brother Danny. I am proud to say that I spent four years studying with Danny-- and bar none it was the best money I ever spent in my life. Neil was "Buddy Baker" the kid who wanted to write for the stage and maybe television who moves into the Manhattan apartment of his older brother Alan-- who was of course dear Danny. Danny Simon was one of the funniest and most wonderful characters I have ever met. He was the real life Felix Unger. I treasure those days of his teaching. In the beginning of the play, Alan (Danny Simon) is the typical lady's man, and his younger brother (Neil) is the twenty one year old virgin who has decided to run away from home, and leave the family's waxed fruit business. As the play progresses, Alan finds out that Connie, one of the ladies that he is sleeping with, is "the girl" and without her in his life, he falls apart. Buddy, however has taken his brother's place in life, becoming the ladies man, while his brother sits around and mopes over the loss of Connie, the girl of his dreams. Hal March played the Alan Baker part and Warren Berlinger played the Buddy part. The father was played by the3 one and only Lee J. Cob. The play was made into a movie, with a screenplay by Norman Lear, starring Frank Sinatra, Lee J Cobb, and Barbara Rush. The play had a London production in 1962 at the Prince of Wales Theatre.An offstage character in the play is Felix Ungar, later one of the protagonists of Simon's The Odd Couple. I remember when I first called Danny about his classes and at the end of the phone interview I asked him a bold question: I said "Mr. Simon, did you father really call you a bum"-- Danny's voice on the other end of the phone laughed and laughed-- boy I guess I knew the back story of these guys pretty well. Was Danny as neat as Felix Unger was in the play? The answer is "more so". We writers were invited up to his condo once which we all called "the sanctuary". It had a pure white rug and we each had to take our shoes off. We had to promise before hand to wear "new white socks". I got him twice that evening when I said "Danny, you're the only guy I know whose toaster is cleaner than his toilet!" and later I quipped "Danny, you're the only guy I know whose doilies are breaking in new doilies". Both quips got huge laughs. I met Neil Simon at Danny's class-- what an amazing guy! My sweetest memory of Danny was when I left the last class session when I said "Danny, I want to dedicate a play to you". Now one of the things that Danny harped on all those four years was "Great comedy comes from great conflict and pure honesty" Now most instructors would have answered that dedication remark with a "thank you"-- not Danny. He was using great honesty to get you to remember what fueled it in the first place. So Danny retorted "What if it isn't good enough? One of my dearest ambitions besides winning a Tony on the New York stage would be (after dedicating a comedy play to Danny) would be to tell the audience the story, hold up the Tony and announce: "Danny Simon, wherever you are, I think this makes it good enough!" So today we celebrate forty-seven years of amazing honesty and great comedy!