Neil Simon was a victorious showman both in films and in theater

In 1968 there were two reports from my sisters and I have been constantly bickering about it. Three actually, since the double disc release & # 39; The Beatles & # 39 ;, a.k.a. The White Album, was. The other was a 45 rpm promotion unit with two dialogue scenes from the smash hit movie comedy "The Odd Couple" of the year, based on the Broadway game.

We constantly listened to that single, both sides, on the plastic sleep-play record player of my middle-heavy school, scratching unpardonable grooves into the cheap vinyl. Side A was called "Domestic Quarrel" and started with Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau), "I & # 39; m HOME, honey!" Against his navy roommate Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon) before an escalating spitting reached the climax with the last waving a "spoon" "In the face of the former and triumphantly crowing," Aha! Which. Is. A. Ladle! "- an expression that I find useful to conclude arguments to this day.

The B-side was "Clean Poker", which contained the immortal rule: "Murray, borrow me $ 20 or I'll call your wife and tell her you're wearing a dress in Central Park." In his comical mix of male castration anxiety and New York paranoia, that line is a Neil Simon stock cube.

Simon, who died on Sunday at 91, was celebrated as a sleazy comic genius of Broadway, but if Broadway was all he had done, his death was no news on the front page. Just like in the theater, Simon was in the film at the end of the sixties and most of the 70s as an overwhelming showman. He was not so much a revolutionary force as a seasoned consolidator – a master craftsman who followed lessons he had learned in the trenches of live and scripted 1950s TV and applied them to the New York theater, the American commercial cinema and immediately back on television. .

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It's all there in that 45 single – itself a spin-off of a 1968 "Odd Couple" soundtrack album that mixed dialogue scenes with fragments of the iconic score of Neal Hefti. In my memory, the dialogues came with a smile track, which seems strange, but is confirmed by a visit to a streaming version of the album available on Youtube. Are the yuks recorded during a sample screening or in a studio? Who knows, but they make this thin piece of vinyl a perfect mix of entertainment media from 1968. Theater, film, TV with sitcom and audio recordings – they were all simulated.

If you have come through childhood or adolescence during this age, you may forget how much of Simon's work has placed on the common cultural consciousness and your own sensitivities. There was "The Odd Couple", clearly a play that became a film that became an ABC main element of Friday night from 1970 to 1975, it is only the theme music that does doot-do-doo in the brain of the country. In the process the show (along with the other debut & # 39; The Mary Tyler Moore Show & # 39; from 1970) served as an important blueprint for every smart, spirited sitcom with three cameras that came after it.

Earlier, Simon's first hit game, 1963's "Barefoot in the Park", became the first true "Neil Simon" movie in his incarnation on the 1967 screen, and it bears witness to Simon's savvy that his characters fit so nicely with the persona's of the rising stars who were embodied them: Robert Redford, repeated his stage role as the staid young man, and Jane Fonda as a woman who pushed against decency. One exchange – She: "That's the problem with you: you're almost perfect." He: "What a bad thing to say to someone." – is again the comedy of Simon in a neurotic nutshell.

He was a New Yorker who wrote stories about New Yorkers who were directed by New Yorkers. And also played by them: Matthau was the original Id of five, whether she was cast as Oscar Madison or tried to wrestle a drunken whore in her panty before his wife arrived in "California Suite" (1978). Lemmon was the picky Manhattan Super-ego, even as one of "The Out-of-Towners" (1970) and certainly in "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" (1975). Simon's regular film directors – Gene Saks, Arthur Hiller, Herbert Ross – were by no means hacks, but by no means artists. They were there to serve the material, and they did.

Simon's world was also a human world, and the women there were usually hector or bedevil or silver plated the schlumpy heroes. There were exceptions – "The Goodbye Girl" is perhaps the closest to him to center a work around a female character – but they are few. This stands as a failure of the imagination as he regards him as a very entertainer and a man of his place and time.

While Simon left the theater in original scenarios, the results could vary. Mostly hit, at least commercially, and there is very little argument with "The Goodbye Girl" (1977), "the matchless foolish spoof" Murder by Death "(1976), and" The Sunshine Boys "(1975) – the last a geriatric "Odd Couple" and pretty much watertight.There is no quarrel with "The Heartbreak Kid", a comedy of misogyny, adapted from a Bruce Jay Friedman story, in which newlywed Charles Grodin sloppy Jewish woman Jeannie Berlin for WASP-goddess Cybill Shepherd ditch.Directed by Elaine May (the mother of Berlin!) With an unpleasant feeling of envelopes that makes it an outlier in Simon's oeuvre, it remains courageously incorrect today.

As for the scenarios in the 1980s and 1990s – "Max Dugan Returns" (1983), "The Marrying Man" (1991), "The Odd Couple II" (1998), oyvey – we leave them in relative pass silence. The true legacy of Simon as an adult writer consists of the memory plays which, starting in the eighties, finally brought him to the critics' favor and became expert theatrical photocopies on film, "Brighton Beach Memoirs" (1986), "Biloxi Blues "(1988))," Broadway Bound "(1993, for TV) and" Lost in Yonkers "(1993).

Those games remain moving, funny and true – but the best of early work is simply indestructible, just as rooted in the timeless human comedy of clashing personality types, all those frazzled Fricks and Fracks, as the legendary farces of theater history. Seriously (or not) – go back and watch the 1968 film version of "The Odd Couple". Now Which is a ladle.

Ty Burr can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.

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