Saturday, April 20, 2024

Library of Congress Acquires the Papers of Neil Simon, Broadway’s Most Successful Playwright


For several decades there wasn’t a Broadway without a Neil Simon play, or two, lighting up the Great White Way.

Now the Library of Congress as acquired the late playwright’s papers. It’s a huge effort, and one that can only be applauded. Even though some feel “Plaza Suite,” currently on the boards, is a little creaky, the bulk of his work is hilarious and thoughtful and important. My personal favorite Simon work is his screenplay for “The Heartbreak Kid,” from the early 70s.

The official presentation will happen tonight at “Plaza Suite,” starring Matthew Broderick (a Simon favorite) and Sarah Jessica Parker.

The collection includes approximately 7,700 items documenting Simon’s creative process and life. The materials range from hundreds of scripts, notes and outlines for his plays, including handwritten first drafts and multiple drafts of typescripts, documenting the evolution of his shows. It contains papers from Simon’s most celebrated plays, including Barefoot in the Park, The Sunshine Boys, Brighton Beach Memoirs, and Lost in Yonkers.

The donation also includes materials from the 25 screenplays Simon wrote during his career, including The Prisoner of Second Avenue, The Heartbreak Kid, and The Goodbye Girl, in addition to several scripts for shows never completed or produced, such as one titled The Merry Widows, written for Bette Midler and Whoopi Goldberg.

Beyond Simon’s typed scripts, materials in the collection include his Pulitzer Prize, a Tony Award, dozens of personal notebooks, notes and drafts of letters and speeches. In addition, there are photographs, programs, clippings, original posters and signed baseballs (Simon was a noted fan).

“There was only ever one answer to the question, ‘What do I do with all of Neil’s stuff?’ I am delighted that his brilliant work, his prized possessions, and his personal artifacts will live alongside so many of the world’s treasures in the Library of Congress,” said Elaine Joyce Simon, actor and Simon’s widow. “I hope that by providing access to these materials for students, researchers and educators, Neil’s singular mind will continue to inspire generations of theater makers and comedy writers well into the future.”

A few highlights of the collection include:

·         Dozens of notebooks, full of Simon’s tight scrawl. Some are clearly first drafts written in his study, while others were likely notes scribbled in the back of darkened theaters, including changes, additions, and notes for the actors or director, inspired by what he saw on stage during rehearsals. 

·         A yellowing first act of Barefoot in the Park. Sixty years old now, it wasn’t Simon’s first Broadway show, but it was, perhaps one that marks the beginning of his unequaled track record. It was also the first appearance on Broadway of a then unknown actor, Robert Redford.

·         Perhaps the most surprising discovery in the collection has been over a dozen notepads filled with watercolors, drawings, and cartoons by Simon.

·         Simon began his career in the 1950s writing for radio and television, famously for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.” By the end of his career, Simon had 30 new shows open on Broadway, not including revivals. While Simon was known for writing comedies, he took on increasingly serious subjects, including the 1991 play Lost in Yonkers, which received the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Simon was nominated for an unprecedented 14 Tony Awards throughout his career and won three, in addition to a special prize for contribution to the theatre. He died in 2018 in New York City.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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