Neil Simon, Broadway’s master of comedy, dies at 91
By MARK KENNEDY
AP Entertainment Writer
Monday, August 27
NEW YORK (AP) — 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.’”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
Opinion: Ban on Texting While Driving? No
By Marc Scribner
Should there be a nationwide ban on texting while driving? To many, the obvious answer is a resounding yes. After all, texting while driving, along with other distractions, increases crash risk. However, scratch the surface and the issue becomes more complex. That is why many safety advocates conclude government bans will not do much to improve highway safety, especially compared to other remedies.
Cell phone use accounts for only a tiny fraction of fatal highway crashes. In 2016, there were 37,461 highway fatalities in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Of those, 9 percent, or 3,450, were distraction-affected crash fatalities. Of that subset, 14 percent, or 486 fatalities, involved cell phone use.
So, of total nationwide crash fatalities in 2016, just 1.3 percent involved cell phone use of all kinds — including texting, handheld voice, and the use of hands-free, Bluetooth-enabled phones. Compare that to the 28 percent of highway fatalities associated with alcohol-impaired driving, it’s clear that calls for drastic federal policies appear grossly out of proportion to the actual problem.
Moreover, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Data Loss Institute cautions against texting-while-driving bans. It notes that most distraction factors have nothing to do with texting or cell phone use — these include adjusting the stereo, eating and drinking, retrieving items from the floor or glove compartment, and talking to other passengers. Insurers have real skin in the game, as they wish to avoid paying out crash claims.
Insurance industry researchers also note that texting-while-driving bans may actually make the roads more dangerous, since police catch texting drivers through high-visibility enforcement. This may cause texting drivers to hold their phones lower, out of view from police, leading them to avert their eyes from the road.
Earlier government studies have repeatedly found other distractions pose a far more serious problem than phone-related distraction. According to 2010 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, cell phone distraction has barely budged as a fatal crash factor, ranked behind drivers being “lost in thought.” This has not led to calls for nationwide prohibitions on daydreaming while driving.
Finally, a federal ban would upend traditional highway safety authorities held by the states. While there is a federal ban on drunk driving, it applies only to the 3.7 percent of roads owned by the federal government — mostly within national parks, on Indian reservations, and military bases that few Americans regularly travel. State laws on impaired driving and open containers cover the rest.
It is true the federal government incentivizes states to adopt stricter drunk driving and open container laws via strings attached to federal highway funding, but given the above concerns from the insurance industry, the most sensible approach is to put texting-while-driving in perspective to other distraction factors and not blow it out of proportion.
Texting while driving provides a convenient bogeyman in the road safety debate, but at less than 1 percent of nationwide highway fatalities, it threatens to distract attention from the most critical safety challenges.
Humans will always make mistakes while driving — driver behavior accounts for 94 percent of crashes. The best way to deal with this problem is to provide additional support to drivers and ultimately relieve human responsibility for driving altogether. Instead of focusing on relatively insignificant crash factors, highway safety advocates should promote advanced driver assistance technologies, improved roadway designs, and a future with computer-directed self-driving cars.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Marc Scribner is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Hurricane Lane barrels toward Hawaii with torrential rains
By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER and AUDREY McAVOY
Friday, August 24
HONOLULU (AP) — Hurricane Lane barreled toward Hawaii on Friday, dumping torrential rains that inundated the Big Island’s main city as people elsewhere stocked up on supplies and piled sandbags to shield oceanfront businesses against the increasingly violent surf.
The city of Hilo, population 43,000, was flooded with waist-high water. The National Guard and firefighters rescued six people and a dog from a flooded home. Five tourists from California were rescued from another home.
“There’s so much rain, the drainage is all saturated,” said Hawaii County Managing Director Wil Okabe. “We’re just letting nature take its course, getting water down to the ocean and responding to any rescues.”
As much as 35 inches (89 centimeters) of rain fell on the island in 48 hours. On the east side, crews responded to landslides.
Road closures “seem to be changing by the minute,” said Hawaii County Civil Defense spokeswoman Kelly Wooten. “They get cleaned up and there’s another landslide somewhere else.”
The Category 2 storm was expected to turn west on Saturday before reaching the islands and skirting Oahu — the state’s most populated island. Even without making a direct hit, the system threatened to bring a huge storm surge, high wind and heavy rain, forecasters said.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in this forecast,” warned Federal Emergency Management Administrator Brock Long. “We hope all citizens are heeding the warning that local officials are putting out.”
On Oahu, gusts Friday morning rattled windows and roofs in Honolulu’s hillside neighborhood of Nuuanu overnight and scattered tree branches, palm fronds and at least one downed electrical line across roadways.
Almost 16,000 homes and businesses on the islands lost electrical power as the outer edges of the hurricane battered the islands, but service was restored to a portion of them, Hawaiian Electric spokesman Peter Rosegg said.
A brushfire on the island of Maui forced the relocation of a hurricane shelter in Lahaina as nearby residents were evacuated. Fire officials said the fire jumped a highway and was approaching a gas station. The flames spread to 300 acres (121 hectares), and a woman who was burned in the hands and legs was flown to Honolulu, Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said.
At 8 a.m., the center of the hurricane was about 170 miles (274 kilometers) south of Honolulu and spinning north at 2 mph (3.2 kph).
Police warned tourists to leave the world-famous Waikiki Beach ahead of the storm’s arrival in Honolulu. So far, about 1,500 people, mostly on Oahu, were in emergency shelters, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.
Emergency crews rescued five California tourists from a home they were renting in Hilo after a nearby gulch overflowed and flooded the house on the Big Island.
Suzanne Demerais said a tiny waterfall and small stream near the home turned into a torrent. Hawaii County firefighters evacuated the friends from the Los Angeles area by floating them out on their backs, Demerais said.
“It was quite an experience because we weren’t planning to have a hurricane during our vacation time,” Demerais said.
In Honolulu, employees of the Sheraton Waikiki resort filled sandbags to protect the oceanfront hotel from surging surf.
Stores along Waikiki’s glitzy Kalakaua Avenue stacked sandbags along the bottom of their glass windows to prepare for flash flooding.
The Marriott Resort Waikiki Beach in Honolulu designated a ballroom on the third floor as a shelter for guests and began removing lounge chairs from around the pool and bar area.
At the Hilton Hawaiian Village, guest Elisabeth Brinson said hotel staff left a notice that rooms will still have water and phone service, and a backup generator would power one elevator per building in the event of an electrical outage.
Brinson, a native of the United Kingdom now living in Denver, said many shops were closed, and those still open were frantic with people buying food, beer and water to take back to their rooms.
“We knew it was coming, so I tried to just cram as much as I could into the last few days in anticipation so we could cross things off of our list,” said Brinson, who is used to hurricanes after living in Florida.
United Airlines canceled its Friday flights to and from Maui. The airline added two more flights from Honolulu to San Francisco on Thursday to help transport people off the islands.
Hawaiian Airlines canceled all Friday flights by its commuter carrier, Ohana by Hawaiian. Some Hawaiian Airlines flights from the West Coast to Maui were delayed, but flights from the mainland to other destinations in Hawaii are operating as normal, said airline spokesman Alex Da Silva.
The biggest hotels were confident they could keep their guests safe as long as they stay inside, said Mufi Hannemann, CEO of Hawaii Tourism and Lodging Association.
“The only concern is those that venture outside of the properties, that would like to hike on a day like this or who would like to still go into the ocean and see what it’s like to take a swim or surf in these kind of waters,” Hannemann said.
The central Pacific gets fewer hurricanes than other regions, with about only four or five named storms a year. Hawaii rarely gets hit. The last major storm to hit was Iniki in 1992. Others have come close in recent years.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency moved several container ships packed with food, water, generators and other supplies into the region ahead of Hurricane Hector, which skirted past the islands more than a week ago, Long said. Warehouses were double-stocked with emergency supplies, and federal officials were working with grocers to ensure stores would have enough food.
Associated Press writers Brian Skoloff and Caleb Jones in Honolulu, Mark Thiessen and Dan Joling in Anchorage, Alaska, Colleen Long and Seth Borenstein in Washington and Annika Wolters in Phoenix contributed to this report.
Hurricane Lane Disrupts Travel to Hawaii
COLUMBUS, Ohio (August 24, 2018) – According to the latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center, the center of Hurricane Lane will move over, or dangerously close to, portions of the main Hawaiian Islands later today and tonight, Friday August 24. Excessive rainfall associated with the slow-moving hurricane will continue to impact the Hawaiian Islands into the weekend.
Since Hawaii is a popular vacation destination, AAA is closely monitoring Hurricane Lane and any damage it leaves behind. AAA’s travel experts offer the following advice for travelers already on the Hawaiian Islands, and those planning trips in the near future.
For anyone currently visiting Hawaii:
Monitor weather conditions regularly and heed all official evacuation advisories and orders.
Travel agents are available to assist travelers with their travel plans.
For those planning to visit Hawaii in the near future:
Check with your travel agent and travel providers for cancellation policies and itinerary changes.
Many airlines are waiving change fees and issuing changes to their rebooking policies as a result of the storm. Check with your airline on their policy.
Even after the storm, check your flight status before leaving for the airport. Consider signing up for text or mobile alerts from your airline for the latest flight information.
If you have hotel reservations, check with your hotel for local updates on the storm’s impact. As specific questions regarding storm damage to the facility and amenities.
Travelers can also ask their travel agent about options for alternative travel. You can reach a AAA travel expert by calling 888-AAA-OHIO (222-6446), or by visiting your local AAA store.
As North America’s largest motoring and leisure travel organization, AAA provides more than 58 million members with travel-, insurance-, financial- and automotive-related services. Since its founding in 1902, the not-for-profit, fully tax-paying AAA has been a leader and advocate for the safety and security of all travelers. AAA clubs can be visited online at AAA.com.