Playwright Neil Simon, a master of comedy whose laugh-filled hits such as “The Odd Couple,” ”Barefoot in the Park” and his “Brighton Beach” trilogy dominated Broadway for decades, has died. He was 91.
Simon died early Sunday of complications from pneumonia at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, said Bill Evans, a longtime friend and spokesman for Shubert Organization theaters.
In the second half of the 20th century, Simon was the American theater’s most successful and prolific playwright, often chronicling middle class issues and fears. Starting with “Come Blow Your Horn” in 1961 and continuing into the next century, he rarely stopped working on a new play or musical. His list of credits is staggering.
The theater world quickly mourned his death , including Tony Award-winning actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein, who tweeted that Simon “could write a joke that would make you laugh, define the character, the situation, and even the world’s problems.”
Matthew Broderick, who in 1983 made his Broadway debut in Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and his movie debut in Simon’s “Max Dugan Returns,” added: “I owe him a career. The theater has lost a brilliantly funny, unthinkably wonderful writer. And even after all this time, I feel I have lost a mentor, a father figure, a deep influence in my life and work.”
For seven months in 1967, he had four productions running at the same time on Broadway: “Barefoot in the Park,” ”The Odd Couple,” ”Sweet Charity,” and “The Star-Spangled Girl.”
Even before he launched his theater career, he made history as one of the famed stable of writers for comedian Sid Caesar that also included Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.
Simon was the recipient of four Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, the Kennedy Center honors (1995), four Writers Guild of America Awards and an American Comedy Awards Lifetime Achievement honor. In 1983, he had a Broadway theater named after him when the Alvin was rechristened the Neil Simon Theatre.
In 2006, he won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which honors work that draws from the American experience. The previous year had seen a popular revival of “The Odd Couple,” reuniting Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick after their enormous success in “The Producers” several years earlier.
In a 1997 interview with The Washington Post, Simon reflected on his success: “I know that I have reached the pinnacle of rewards. There’s no more money anyone can pay me that I need. There are no awards they can give me that I haven’t won. I have no reason to write another play except that I am alive and I like to do it,” he said.
Simon had a rare stumble in the fall of 2009, when a Broadway revival of his “Brighton Beach Memoirs” closed abruptly after only nine performances because of poor ticket sales. It was to have run in repertory with Simon’s “Broadway Bound,” which was also canceled.
The bespectacled, mild-looking Simon (described in a New York Times magazine profile as looking like an accountant or librarian who dressed “just this side of drab”) was a relentless writer — and rewriter.
“I am most alive and most fulfilled sitting alone in a room, hoping that those words forming on the paper in the Smith-Corona will be the first perfect play ever written in a single draft,” Simon wrote in the introduction to one of the many anthologies of his plays.
He was a meticulous joke smith, peppering his plays, especially the early ones, with comic one-liners and humorous situations that critics said sometimes came at the expense of character and believability. No matter. For much of his career, audiences embraced his work, which often focused on middle-class, urban life, many of the plots drawn from his own personal experience.
“I don’t write social and political plays because I’ve always thought the family was the microcosm of what goes on in the world,” he told The Paris Review in 1992.
Simon received his first Tony Award in 1965 as best author — a category now discontinued — for “The Odd Couple,” although the comedy lost the best-play prize to Frank D. Gilroy’s “The Subject Was Roses.” He won a best-play Tony 20 years later for “Biloxi Blues.” In 1991, “Lost in Yonkers” received both the Tony and the Pulitzer Prize. And there was a special achievement Tony, too, in 1975.
Simon’s own life figured most prominently in what became known as his “Brighton Beach” trilogy — “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” ”Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound” — which many consider his finest works. In them, Simon’s alter ego, Eugene Morris Jerome, makes his way from childhood to the U.S. Army to finally, on the verge of adulthood, a budding career as a writer.
Simon was born Marvin Neil Simon in New York and was raised in the Bronx and Washington Heights. He was a Depression-era child, his father, Irving, a garment-industry salesman. He was raised mostly by his strong-willed mother, Mamie, and mentored by his older brother, Danny, who nicknamed his younger sibling, Doc.
Simon attended New York University and the University of Colorado. After serving in the military in 1945 and 1946, he began writing with his brother for radio in 1948, and then for television, a period in their lives chronicled in Simon’s 1993 play, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”
The brothers wrote for such classic 1950s television series as “Your Show of Shows,” 90 minutes of live, original comedy starring Caesar and Imogene Coca, and later for “The Phil Silvers Show,” in which the popular comedian portrayed the conniving Army Sgt. Ernie Bilko.
Yet Simon grew dissatisfied with television writing and the network restrictions that accompanied it. Out of his frustration came “Come Blow Your Horn,” which starred Hal March and Warren Berlinger as two brothers (not unlike Danny and Neil Simon) trying to figure out what to do with their lives. The comedy ran for more than a year on Broadway. An audience member is said to have died on opening night.
But it was his second play, “Barefoot in the Park,” that really put Simon on the map. Critically well-received, the 1963 comedy, directed by Mike Nichols, concerned the tribulations of a pair of newlyweds played by Elizabeth Ashley and Robert Redford, who lived on the top floor of a New York brownstone.
Simon cemented that success two years later with “The Odd Couple,” a comedy about bickering roommates: Oscar, a gruff, slovenly sportswriter, and Felix, a neat, fussy photographer. Walter Matthau, as Oscar, and Art Carney, as Felix, starred on Broadway, with Matthau and Jack Lemmon playing the roles in a successful movie version. Jack Klugman and Tony Randall appeared in the TV series, which ran on ABC from 1970-1975. A female stage version was done on Broadway in 1985 with Rita Moreno as Olive (Oscar) and Sally Struthers as Florence (Felix). It was revived again as a TV series from 2015-17, starring Matthew Perry.
The play remains one of Simon’s most durable and popular works. Nathan Lane as Oscar and Matthew Broderick as Felix starred in a revival that was one of the biggest hits of the 2005-2006 Broadway season.
Besides “Sweet Charity” (1966), which starred Gwen Verdon as a goodhearted dance-hall hostess, and “Promises, Promises” (1968), based on Billy Wilder’s film “The Apartment,” Simon wrote the books for several other musicals.
“Little Me” (1962), adapted from Patrick Dennis’ best-selling spoof of show-biz autobiographies, featured a hardworking Sid Caesar in seven different roles. “They’re Playing Our Song” (1979), which had music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, ran for more than two years. But a musical version of Simon’s movie “The Goodbye Girl,” starring Martin Short and Bernadette Peters, had only a short run in 1993.
Many of his plays were turned into films as well. Besides “The Odd Couple,” he wrote the screenplays for movie versions of “Barefoot in the Park,” ”The Sunshine Boys,” ”The Prisoner of Second Avenue” and more.
Simon also wrote original screenplays, the best known being “The Goodbye Girl,” starring Richard Dreyfuss as a struggling actor, and “The Heartbreak Kid,” which featured Charles Grodin as a recently married man, lusting to drop his new wife for a blonde goddess played by Cybill Shepherd.
In his later years, Simon had more difficulty on Broadway. After the success of “Lost in Yonkers,” which starred Mercedes Ruehl as a gentle, simple-minded woman controlled by her domineering mother (Irene Worth), the playwright had a string of financially unsuccessful plays including “Jake’s Women,” ”Laughter on the 23rd Floor” and “Proposals.” Simon even went off-Broadway with “London Suite” in 1995 but it didn’t run long either.
“The Dinner Party,” a comedy set in Paris about husbands and ex-wives, was a modest hit in 2000, primarily because of the box-office strength of its two stars, Henry Winkler and John Ritter. A hit revival of “Promises, Promises” in 2010 starred Kristin Chenoweth and Sean Hayes.
Perhaps Simon’s most infamous production was the critically panned “Rose’s Dilemma,” which opened at off-Broadway’s nonprofit Manhattan Theatre Club in December 2003. Its star, Mary Tyler Moore, walked out of the show during preview performances after receiving a note from the playwright criticizing her performance. Moore was replaced by her understudy.
He wrote two memoirs, “Rewrites” (1996) and “The Play Goes On” (1999). They were combined into “Neil Simon’s Memoirs.”
Simon was married five times, twice to the same woman. His first wife, Joan Baim, died of cancer in 1973, after 20 years of marriage. They had two daughters, Ellen and Nancy, who survive him. Simon dealt with her death in “Chapter Two” (1977), telling the story of a widower who starts anew.
The playwright then married actress Marsha Mason, who had appeared in his stage comedy “The Good Doctor” and who went on to star in several films written by Simon including “The Goodbye Girl,” ”The Cheap Detective,” ”Chapter Two,” ”Only When I Laugh” and “Max Dugan Returns.” They divorced in 1982.
The playwright was married to his third wife, Diane Lander, twice — once in 1987-1988 and again in 1990-1998. Simon adopted Lander’s daughter, Bryn, from a previous marriage. Simon married his fourth wife, actress Elaine Joyce, in 1999. He also is survived by three grandchildren and one great-grandson.
“I suspect I shall keep on writing in a vain search for that perfect play. I hope I will keep my equilibrium and sense of humor when I’m told I haven’t achieved it,” Simon once said about his voluminous output of work. “At any rate, the trip has been wonderful. As George and Ira Gershwin said, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me.'”
New York went an entire weekend without a shooting or homicide for the first time in 25 years
New York City had its first weekend without a shooting or a homicide in 25 years, the New York Police Department announced Monday.
“We went Friday, Saturday, Sunday without any shootings and homicides,” NYPD Chief James O’Neill told reporters. “That’s the first time in decades, and that’s something not just the NYPD, but all New Yorkers can be proud of.”
The last Friday-Saturday-Sunday time period during which no shootings occurred across all five of New York City’s Burroughs happened in 1993.
In 2017, New York City saw fewer than 300 killings for the entire year, the New York Post reported at the end of December, marking the fewest of those crimes in nearly 70 years.
There were 292 murders in the New York City in 2017, down from the 334 murders that occurred in 2016.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio lauded the department for that in January: “No one believed it was possible to get under 300 murders,” he said, referring to the 2017 numbers. “The NYPD reached the goal that no one thought possible.”
For 2018, the number of murders in the nation’s largest city is on the rise, The Wall Street Journal reported in June.
New York City saw 147 murders between January 1 and June 30, 2018, an 8% increase from the number of murders during the same time period last year, The Journal wrote, citing data compiled by the city.
Is New York City ready for the e-scooter revolution?
The micromobility revolution that has permeated cities across the U.S. has yet to arrive in New York City, but—having conquered the West Coast through a combination of rule-breaking and eventual cooperation—electric scooter companies are now looking to make their mark in the five boroughs.
As The Verge has pointed out, there’s money to be made there; Bird, one of the leading scooter companies, has reportedly been valued at $2 billion in recent months. And New York City, with its more than 8 million residents—more than half of whom regularly use public transportation—could be a “tremendous scooter city,” according to Gil Kazimirov, the general manager of Lime, the micromobility start-up.
But before that money can pour in, there’s a skeptical populace to win over, some of whom see e-scooters on the same plane as Thanos. There are also laws that must be changed and streets that need to be made safer for the more rugged version of the push-assist scooters that Bird wants to bring to New York.
Those first two necessities are what Bird, the company most prominently trying to enter New York’s market, seem to be focusing on at the moment. The start-up, which is based in Santa Monica, has been courting politicians on both sides of the aisle, though neither Eric Ulrich (a Republican who’s pushed for unfettered competition among bike share companies) nor Robert Cornegy (a Democrat who participated in Bird’s recent Bed-Stuy demo) would comment about their feelings on e-scooters. Bird even snagged one of the city’s most prominent street safety advocates, making clear that it’s approaching New York City expansion in a responsible fashion not usually embraced by “break shit, apologize later” disruptonauts.
Bird has also tried to win over skeptics with demonstrations of how its service works—there was one in Bed-Stuy in September, and one earlier this month that was meant to show how e-scooters could be a key component of the looming L train shutdown. Bird donated scooters for a mass ride from the Myrtle-Wyckoff station to the Grand Street stop, which will be a departure point for a series of Brooklyn-to-Manhattan SBS routes. The demo offered not just a look at how the scooters work but also a proof of concept of how they could help get people around if trains are packed to the brim.
The group ride seemed to win over Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who liked his scooter enough to throw it in his SUV and show up with it at another press conference that morning in Brooklyn Heights. Before the Bird ride started, Adams told the assembled crowd in the Myrtle-Wyckoff stop’s pedestrian plaza—itself a symbol of reclaiming the streets from cars—that “too many car riders are making decisions for millions of New Yorkers who are not in vehicles. Selfishly, they think that they have to drive alone.” While Adams doesn’t have the power to vote for the impending bill to legalize e-scooters, he did at least give rhetorical support to their legalization.
That effort is being spearheaded in part by City Council member Rafael Espinal, who announced his support for scooters in a Daily News op-ed earlier this year, and is currently working with Transportation Committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez to introduce a bill legalizing them. Espinal’s interest in the scooter issue is driven not only by their potential usefulness during the L train shutdown, but also as a way to include his district (he represents parts of Bushwick, Brownsville, and Cypress Hills) in a transportation system that Citi Bike has yet to meaningfully reach.
“What I’d like to see is an expansion of modes of transportation—not only in Manhattan, but in the outer-outer-boroughs,” Espinal tells Curbed. “We have Citi Bike, but it hasn’t made its way out to East New York and other neighborhoods on the outskirts of the outer boroughs. We have to make sure this transportation is available to everyone.”
But while scooter companies can stage events and work with elected officials, the issue of safety—and aggressively redesigning the city’s streets—is what will no doubt determine how widely adopted scooters become in New York. While their top speed of 15 miles per hour make them inherently riskier than bikes, a Washington Post article about the rise in scooter-related emergency room visits notes that the number of bike lanes in Washington, D.C. was one of the reasons the city didn’t see the same rate of increases in injuries as other American cities.
Bird itself has put a huge emphasis on bike lanes, telling Curbed that “protected, well-maintained bike lanes are part of our vision for a safe future for all road users—be they on foot, bikes, or scooters.” The company has also pledged $1 per scooter per day in each city it operates in to help cities pay for more protected bike lanes, but at least in New York, opposition to bike lanes has had less to do with price and more to do with parking spots. And on that front, radical thinking seems to be in short supply.
Cornegy, whose district mostly encompasses Bed-Stuy, told Streetsblog that he would “stand up for more protected bike lanes” when he was at Bird’s Bed-Stuy event, but he was also a high-profile opponent of the Classon Avenue bike lane, which was installed in response to a cyclist’s death in 2016.
The city’s addition of bike infrastructure has not stopped opposition from community boards; new bike lanes and other improvements are still at the mercy of the right combination of political pressure. Even Adams—who’s called for something as ambitious as a Flatbush Avenue bike lane next to Prospect Park—was ambivalent about the relationship between community boards and the need to quickly shift space away from cars.
“We should never count out the voices of people,” Adams said after the Brooklyn Heights press conference. “[Community boards’] advisory status helps as we carve out bike lanes, because bike lanes are personalized to those communities. It doesn’t mean a community board should be able to have veto power if it’s unreasonable. Allow community boards to have their space to voice their concerns; but at the same time, don’t allow anybody in government to get in the way and stop progress.”
Espinal says that when it comes to New York’s existing network, “the city can be doing more to make sure that bike lanes are acceptable and not being blocked,” though said he’d rather see the results of a scooter pilot program before committing to any type of radical street redesigns.
But Curbed’s urbanism editor Alissa Walker, who’s written previously about how micromobility give cities a huge opportunity to move away from being so car-centric, said that instead of reacting once scooters are being used, street design “needs to be a part of the conversation at the same time.” Without being comfortable on the streets, people either won’t ride scooters, Walker says, or wind up taking to the sidewalks—which simply wouldn’t work in New York City.
One idea the city can embrace is instituting the Vision Zero Design Standard, a series of pedestrian, cycling, and mass transit improvements that are implemented whenever a road needs to be fixed. “It traditionally takes longer to build protected bike lanes than it does to, say, empty a truckload of scooters onto the street,” says Transportation Alternatives’ Joseph Cutrufo. “The best way to accommodate more people on bikes and scooters is to make safer street redesigns part of regular repaving projects. This way, every time a street is repaved, we have the opportunity to make our streets more accommodating for New Yorkers on two wheels, and, more to the point, to save lives.” While Cutrofo says the idea has been endorsed by a majority of members on the City Council, it hasn’t been instituted in any street repavings yet.
As a scooter agnostic/skeptic, Bird’s demonstration earlier this month certainly worked on me: The mass of riders didn’t seem to have any huge problems with Bushwick’s streets that are barely habitable to bikes in some stretches, especially the heavily-trucked and pockmarked stretch of Knickerbocker and Morgan Avenues north of Flushing Avenue. If you squinted, you could see a vision of the future where people used the scooters in peace, although they had some good fortune in clear bike lanes and a dearth of double-parked cars on side streets.
And while some might worry about scooter companies “imposing their will” on the city, the fact remains that car companies have already imposed their will on New York in a way that e-scooters could never possibly match. Besides, if you’re out on the street, you can already see the scooters are there. The same afternoon as the Bird demonstration, I saw a scooter rider salmoning on Ann Street, just blocks from City Hall. Later, I came across an e-scooter rider named Mike while I was walking down Flatbush Avenue.
“It’s convenient, you can slip between cars,” Mike said when asked what he liked about his push-assist scooter that he bought online. He also sees larger benefits for the city if it embraces the scooter revolution. “I feel like you can definitely help the environment, and even start new businesses. Cars suck, and you could open a bunch of mom and pop shops to service the scooters and sell scooters, and just help with the transportation system.”
NYC DRIVER ALLEGEDLY BEAT JEWISH MAN WALKING TO SYNAGOGUE IN ROAD RAGE INCIDENT
A taxi driver in New York reportedly beat a 62-year-old Hasidic Jewish man on Sunday as he walked to synagogue in Brooklyn, police said.
Lipa Schwartz, 62, was walking in broad daylight on his way to synagogue in Borough Park when he was allegedly brutally attacked by a cab driver. Farrukh Afzal, 37, was driving toward 46th Street and 13th Avenue in Borough Park around 7:30 a.m. before he slammed on his brakes and jumped out of his car. He then proceeded to beat Schwartz, police said.
Surveillance video captured Afzal over the victim in the middle of the intersection while pummeling Schwartz in the head. The victim suffered a split lip, a cut ear and other injuries, according to the blog BoroPark24, which first reported the incident.
“I feared for my life,” Schwartz told the blog. “I knew it was either fight my way out of this or I might be dead.”
In an interview with WABC, Schwartz said he asked Afzal, “What did I do to you that you tried to murder me? Tell me.” Afzal did not respond.
Schwartz told WABC that he did not know why Afzal attacked him, but said he believed it was because he was Jewish. Authorities initially said hate crime charges could be filed, but the investigation led detectives to conclude the attack occurred due to a road rage incident.
Afzal’s lawyer claimed Schwartz punched the vehicle’s window as he crossed the street, prompting his client to fear for his life, the New York Post reported. The two men reportedly began yelling at each other after Afzal honked at Schwartz for walking too slowly, prosecutors said. Schwartz then punched Afzal’s car window, prompting Afzal to jump out of his car and allegedly commit the assault.
The attacker was not licensed by New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). The TLC did not immediately respond to Newsweek’s request for comment.
However, in a statement to WABC, the TLC said, “The driver is not licensed by the TLC, and has been summoned by the TLC in the past for unlicensed operation of an unlicensed vehicle and being an unlicensed operator.”
Afzal, from Staten Island, was arraigned on charges of second-degree attempted assault, third-degree assault, menacing and harassment. None of the charges included a hate crime component, WABC reported. He was being held in lieu of $15,000 bail.
Police said Afzal had eight prior arrests.
New York went an entire weekend without a shooting or homicide for the first time in 25 years
Is New York City ready for the e-scooter revolution?
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