On Sunday, Neil Simon died at the age of 91. Carl Reiner knew and worked with Simon on “Your Show of Shows” in the early 1950s, and they were longtime friends. Reiner reflects on the memory of his friend, as told to TheWrap’s Daniel Kohn.
I first met him when he was a young writer on “Your Show of Shows.” A neophyte writer, he came with his brother, who was an established writer. And Neil was very quiet, sat quietly in the writers’ room, along with Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Joe Stein, Tony Webster. He was a very quiet guy, but he had a mind like no other.
As a matter of fact, I called him “the guy with the voice of a turtle” — he talked so quietly that nobody ever heard him. Lucky for both of us, I was sitting next to him, and this was a phrase that was used hundreds of times in the years he was with Sid [Caesar, host of “Your Show of Shows”], starting from the first year. I would say, “Doc’s got it.” Neil Simon was called “Doc Simon.” Neil Simon, who mumbled a very usable joke, and throughout the years he never spoke up — I always made sure of being close enough to hear him mumble.
And then, of course, he turned into “Doc” Simon, perhaps the most prolific writer ever.
We didn’t know if we were onto something, but we knew if it was tickling us. If we were tickled we were just regular folks, if we could tickle ourselves we knew that other people would be tickled too. But we heard them laugh, so we knew it was working.
He was one of the first ones to leave, and when he left the show to write “Come Blow Your Horn,” we were both on Fire Island at the time. He was writing it and I think I was writing my first novel, and at the very end of the season, he said he’s got this play, and I read it and it was wonderful — “Come Blow Your Horn.” And he asked me if I’d like to play the lead or one of the leads, I said I’d love to, but I was starting a project of my own at that time, which was a novel that became a play.
How many plays did he write? Thirty-two plays and the word genius is thrown around many times, but I said he’ll be called a genius, and he deserved to be called that. Two things have to happen: You have to write something that’s quality, but not only excellent, there needs to be quantity. Shakespeare would not be called genius if he’d written only “Hamlet,” or “Romeo and Juliet.” He wrote 32 plays, as did Neil!
Neil not only wrote 32 plays, but he wrote — I don’t know how many television series, 16 or something. He also had something that nobody has ever had: He had four Broadway shows playing on Broadway at the same time. That had never happened before. And of course, he has a theater named after him — the Neil Simon Theatre — which he deserves to have.
Every one of them [Simon’s plays] was valid, made you laugh — “The Odd Couple,” you name it — none of them did not work, they all worked. They were a pleasure to the senses.
He’ll be remembered as one of the few people in the industry who poured out so much good work. Those plays of his will be played in theaters all over the world forever. Just all worthwhile putting on the stage again.