Neil Simon: Legendary Playwright Dead at 91

Neil Simon’s influence is felt by many Americans from all walks of life. The legendary playwright and Pulitzer- and Tony-winning author of plays such as “The Odd Couple,” “Barefoot in the Park” and “Lost in Yonkers,” had an affect on a young version of myself who happened to spend a large chunk of his childhood firmly planted in front of a television.

Although he was known for many television projects including Your Show of Shows, for which he earned two Emmy Award nominations, and The Phil Silvers Show, the show that I remember his pure genius most for was the television adaptation of one of his many notable projects, “The Odd Couple.”

New York’s WPIX, which played repeats of the show daily, was perhaps my favorite channel in the era of channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13. When I wasn’t watching Sesame Street on PBS 13, I was watching the hilarious dynamic between characters Oscar Madison and Felix Unger.

The adaptation of the Neil Simon play was the first television show developed by Garry Marshall for Paramount Television. Marshall was also a producer or writer on television shows including “Mork and Mindy,” “Laverne and Shirley,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and many others.

I was no older than 3 to 4 years old. Before pre-school was as readily available as it is in today’s urban enclaves, I was learning grammar, and comedic timing from legendary actors Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. They took the format and concept created by Simon, and taught the pre-Kindergarten ConservaRican how to speak English because it wasn’t like my parents, who only spoke Spanish, were going to be able to.

My early childhood, which in some (not so hilariously tragic) ways resembled the early life of movie character Frank Cross from the holiday classic “Scrooged,” is filled with memories of conforting escapism in “The Odd Couple.” Thank you Mr. Simon, a true American legend.

 

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