Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Neil Simon: A Bundle of Love

If I had to pick my favorite playwright (outside of Shakespeare, of course), I think Neil Simon would definitely be the winner. As a romantic, he’s the perfect fit for me. Not only did he write some of my favorite plays, but their film versions are also in my favorites list. So I thought I’d celebrate my love for them today with an All-Simon post for you all. Get ready to fall in love with “Barefoot in the Park” (1967), “The Odd Couple” (1968), and “The Goodbye Girl” (1977).

First up, “Barefoot in the Park.” Based on Simon’s first marriage, this lovely story is about a couple of newlyweds in New York City (of course) and their adjustment to their new life together in a 6-story walkup. Jane Fonda stars as the kooky, free-spirited wife and Robert Redford as her conservative new husband. Redford starred in the Broadway production of “Barefoot” with actress Elizabeth Ashley, which ran for 1530 performances from 1963-67. It was Simon’s longest running hit and earned director Mike Nichols a Tony Award. However, when the film was being cast, Ashley was replaced with…Natalie Wood. Or at least she was the producers’ first choice. She had already costarred with Redford twice. But Wood turned the part down for some much-needed rest instead.

The year after “Barefoot” saw another great Simon play made into a film. Again directed by Gene Saks (who directed “Barefoot” as well), Simon’s buddy play “The Odd Couple” found its way to the screen, with the epitome of bro-mances between Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Like “Barefoot,” it also starred one half of its original Broadway leads. Matthau originated the role of messy, relaxed Oscar in the Broadway production, with Art Carney costarring as uptight, neat freak Felix. However, Carney turned the film down, so good friends Matthau and Lemmon got the chance to yet again work together, in what would become one of their best pairings. “Couple” ended up earning two Oscar nominations and three Golden Globes, but alas, no wins.

Finally, and possibly my favorite of them all – “The Goodbye Girl.” Written for the screen straight out of the gate, it is probably Simon’s most successful film ever. Starring Marsha Mason (Simon’s wife at the time) as the infamous title character and Richard Dreyfuss in an Oscar-winning performance, “The Goodbye Girl” tells the tale of a down-on-her-romantic-luck single mother who has once again been abandoned by a guy. Yet this time and without telling her, the bastard ex sublet their apartment to struggling actor Dreyfuss. Refusing to get thrown out on the streets with her young 10-year-old daughter (amazingly performed by newcomer Quinn Cummings), the two strike up a deal to share the apartment. But inevitably, it leads to one thing…love.

Simon originally wrote “Goodbye Girl” for Robert De Niro and Mason to star. Called “Bogart Slept Here” at the time, De Niro was hired and production began. But after only a week of rehearsal, creative differences and lack of chemistry made De Niro quit the project. Simon then suggested Dreyfuss, whose biggest films at the time were only “American Graffiti,” “Jaws,” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” which he had just completed. Once rehearsals started though, Simon could see that Dreyfuss and Mason had a different kind of chemistry. So Simon took the script and completely reworked for the two stars, and thus, “The Goodbye Girl” was born.

By all accounts, it was the right move all around. Dreyfuss loved working with Mason, even having stated since that she was one of the best leading ladies he ever had. The film was a huge success, grossing over $100 million, the first romantic comedy to ever do so. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, one each for Dreyfuss, Mason, Cummings, and Simon, and also Best Picture. Only Dreyfuss won that night, becoming at 30 years of age the youngest person to win a Best Actor award (until 2003 when Adrien Brody won for “The Piano” at 29).

So, if you’re up for some romance, or even bro-mance, watch some Neil Simon this week. Have a wonderful week and I’ll be back next week with another great Hollywood topic. Also, if you have something you’d like to know more about, feel free to send me a comment or note.

(Post-tidbit: Herbert Ross, the director of “The Goodbye Girl,” had two films in the running for the Best Picture Oscar, this and “The Turning Point.” His one directing nomination was for the latter though.)

No comments:

Post a Comment