Legendary playwright Neil Simon has died at age 91. The playwright, screenwriter, and author, is known for shows like The Odd Couple, Come Blow Your Horn, and Barefoot in the Park, and has received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.
Simon was born on July 4, 1927, in The Bronx, and raised by Jewish parents, Irving Simon and Mamie Simon. He has openly admitted that he had a difficult childhood– much of which was owed to his parent’s difficult marriage.
Interested in learning more about Neil Simon’s family? Read on.
1. He Was Married Five Times
Simon was married five times. First to dancer Joan Baim from 1953 to 1973, then to Marsha Mason from 1973 to 1983. His third wife, Diane Lander, he married twice, and at the time of his death, he was married to Elaine Joyce.
Baim was a Martha Graham dancer, and died of bone cancer at age 41. Simon was known for using his own life experiences as fuel for his plays, and avid Simon fans may be well aware that Baim’s death inspired the 1977 play, Chapter Two. Interestingly enough, however, Joan (or the character she inspired) never appears onstage. In an interview with the New York Times, Simon once said, “I knew I’d never write about Joan’s death… That’s too private a thing, and it was not what I wanted to write about. Somehow I wanted to be able to talk about her, to tell about her, but I did not want to write a play about somebody dying from a terminal disease. I’d seen those plays and they’re maudlin, and in a way they put people off. At least I can’t deal with that. I don’t want to deal with that.”
Mason, Simon’s second wife, was an actress and director. She was nominated four times for an Oscar for Best Actress, for her work in Cinderella Liberty, The Goodbye Girl, Chapter Two and Only When I Laugh.
2. He Openly Discussed His Parents Volatile Relationship in Interviews
Simon’s father, Irving, was a fabric salesman. His mother, Mamie, was a saleswoman at Gimbel’s department store.
His parents were known to have a contentious relationship, which is examined in the play Brighton Beach Memoirs, which tells the story of a Jewish American teenager being raised in a troubled family. Notable Biographies writes, “Simon claimed that writing the play helped him address the problems he had with his own mother.”
In an interview with Lawrence Grobel, Simon is quoted as saying, “”To this day I never really knew what the reason for all the fights and battles were about between the two of them … She’d hate him and be very angry, but he would come back and she would take him back.”
3. He Has Three Children
Neil Simon fathered three children: Nancy Simon, Bryn Simon, and Ellen Simon.
Nancy Simon was married to Woody Harrelson for one year from 1985 to 1986. They had been dating for approximately five months before tying the knot.
Despite their famous father, Simon’s children have managed to avoid the limelight, and apart from Nancy’s one IMDB credit as a production assistant on Chapter Two, they appear to have avoided the entertainment industry, as well.
4. He Married the Same Woman Twice
Simon was married to Diane Lander from 1987 to 1988. They divorced, and were remarried from 1990 to 1998.
When the two met, Lander was a struggling actress and single mother. While they were together, her daughter, Bryn, was adopted by Simon.
Lander was a private person, and in the couple’s pre-nuptial agreement, she insisted that Simon was not allowed to write about her or their relationship in his books, movies, or plays.
5. He Was Very Close with His Brother Danny
Simon was very close with his brother, Danny, who served as an inspiration to him. Danny often said, “There have been more plays written about me than about Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc and Julius Caesar all put together.”
In particular, Danny inspired plays like “Come Blow Your Horn”, “The Odd Couple”, “Plaza Suite”, “Chapter Two”, “Brighton Beach Memoirs”, and “Broadway Bound.”
Speaking to the Washington Post about what it was like watching “Broadway Bound” for the first time in 1986, Danny said, “I was shaking all through it… He’s actually portraying me up there more accurately than in any other play. When I went backstage to meet the boy who’s acting me, I still couldn’t stop crying. Manny [Emanual Azenberg, the producer] had me call up Neil right away to tell him how I felt. You know, I have no recollection of what our conversation was about. But I’ve always loved him, and I think he’s always loved me.”
Danny Simon worked as a TV writer and comedy teacher. He passed away in Portland, Oregon, in 2005.