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Reports & Essays: Biography - Literary Authors

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Odd Couple
Themes and characters are most often the key factors that influence a writer's work. Most of the time the author has no control over this influence. This is clearly shown in Neil Simon's play, The Odd Couple. Not only is Simon's own life depicted in his play, but also the lives of those close to him, can be parallel to his work. Neil Simon's life is depicted in his characters and themes of his play, The Odd Couple. Marvin Neil Simon was born in the Bronx on July 4, 1927. His father, Irving, was a salesman in Manhattan's garment district; his mother Mamie worked in Gimbel's department store. The family moved to Washington Heights, in northern Manhattan, when Simon was young. Irving was an errant husband who occasionally abandoned the family altogether, leaving Mamie, a frustrated and bitter women, alone to deal with Neil and his older brother Danny. Eventually, the parents were divorced, and Neil went to live with relatives in Queens. From an early age, he exhibited a quick wit and an active imagination. He loved films and was often asked to leave the theater for laughing to loud. In high school, Simon was sometimes ostracized as a Jew, an experience that would later inform his work. Meanwhile, he and his brother began collaborating on comedy material that they sold to stand-up comics and radio announcers. Simon graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in 1944 at the age of sixteen(Magill2216). He entered New York University under the US Army Airforce Reserve Program. Throughout his military career, he wrote for many military newspapers. Discharged in 1946, Simon took a job in the mail room at Warner Brothers in New York, where Danny worked in the publicity department. The brothers were soon hired to write for Goodman Ace of CBS, and over the next decade they provided material for many popular comedians. During the summers of 1952 and 1953, they wrote sketches for a professional acting company at Camp Tamiment, in Pennsylvania. At Camp Tamiment, Simon fell in love with a young actress named Joan Baim, and the couple was married on September 30, 1953. Five years later, Joan gave birth to a daughter, Ellen; a second daughter, Nancy, was born in 1963(Magill2261). 2 In 1956, when Danny Simon moved to California to be a television director, Neil stayed in New York and wrote for many popular television shows. He also adapted broadway plays for television. By the later 1950's, however, he wanted more independence than television writing could offer. He began writing a play of his own. For three years, he wrote and revised his first full-length play, Come Blow Your Horn. In 1965, Simon had a second smash hit with The Odd Couple, which ran for two years and earned him his first Tony Award(Magill2261). In 1972, Simon faced an awful personal tragedy. His wife, Joan, was diagnosed with cancer and after fifteen gruesome months, she passed away. After twenty years of happy marriage, the lost effected him deeply. Later that year, Neil met an actress named Marcia Mason, who he later married. Although the marriage wasn't as special as it was with Joan, they had a good marriage that lasted nine years. In 1974, Simon received a special Tony Award for his contributions to the American theater. In 1983, he received a singular honor. The Nederlander Organization renamed a broadway theater after him. By the 1990's, through four decades of diligent writing, Simon had developed great skill and technique. With the monumental output already behind him, he has claimed his position in the history of American theater(Magill2262). The Odd Couple was Neil Simon's second and one of his most successful full- length plays. It opens when Oscar's Friday night poker game is interrupted by the news that Felix, one of the game's regulars, has left his wife after sending her a suicide telegram. When Felix arrives, his every move is interpreted as a suicide attempt. Oscar calms him down and suggests he moves in with him. But Felix is a hyper- allergic, fanatic for organization and cleanliness, while Oscar is a cigar-smoking, compulsive slob. The characteristics that drove each of them to leave their wives soon have them at each other's throats. Although, they still feel it is a good idea to live with each other in order to save money for alimony and child support. Oscar tries to loosen 3 Felix up by inviting the neighboring Pigeon sisters to dinner. Oscar promises Felix that he will be home at seven o'clock to help him with dinner, but casually walks in the door close to eight. Not to mention the girls are also late, all of which results in the dinner being destroyed. The party turns out a disaster, and the next day Oscar kicks out Felix because of the conflicting habits. This causes Oscar a great deal of guilt to have to do this to his best friend. Felix returns for his clothes later that night during the poker game announcing that he is moving in with the Pigeon sisters. Felix and Oscar discuss the happenings of the night before and the rift in their friendship had been repaired. As the poker games resumes, Oscar cautions his pals to use coasters and ashtrays. This shows the effect Felix has had on Oscar in their short time living together. Almost all literary work has been critiqued at some time or another. This holds true for Neil Simon's, The Odd Couple. In the statement made by Edythe McGovern, "It really does not matter that the two main characters, Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar, are both men. They could be women, or they could be a married couple in the traditional sense," she feels that any relationship would've been just(McGovern39). In the play, Oscar and Felix argue constantly, so much that they could be labeled as acting like "an old married couple. If they were actually married, this wouldn't have such a humorous value. This is proven in the quote from The Odd Couple: "Felix: It's so much harder on the women, Oscar. She's all alone with the kids. Stuck there in the house. She can't get out like me. I mean, where is she going to find someone now her age? With two kids?"(Simon545). This quote proves again the importance of Oscar and Felix both being males. Simon presents his characters realistically and lets the laughs come where they will when it becomes apparent that males when placed in certain situations, behave in some ways that could be labeled as feminine(McGovern38). This quote also proves Felix's insecurity towards his break-up. He must make himself feel that this is hurting his wife 4 Frances, more than it is hurting him. It is obvious that it is he who can't "make it alone." "Felix has learned nothing from his failed marriage: he continues making the same mistakes in his relationship with Oscar(Bennet1160). This statement, made by critic Bennet, can go both ways. Felix may still be making the same mistakes in his relationship with Oscar, but that is only because neither is able to compromise, especially Felix. On the other hand, Felix has learned something from his failed marriage. This can be proven in the following quote from The Odd Couple: "Faults?......We have a maid who comes in to clean three times a week. And on the other days, Frances does the cleaning. And at night, after they've both cleaned up, I go in and clean the whole place again. I loused up the marriage. Nothing was ever right. I used to recook everything. The minute she walked out of the kitchen, I would add salt or pepper. It's not that I didn't trust: it's just that I was a better cook."(Simon549) >From his failed marriage, Felix has learned that he is too particular about everything. He also knows that this is why Frances left him, because he is aware of his faults but is powerless to change his ways. The Odd Couple, just like many other works of literature, can be connected to events in the author's life. Needless to say, Neil Simon's life greatly influenced the writing of his play, The Odd Couple. To start off, the two main characters, Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar, are based mainly on his brother Danny, and their mutual friend Roy Gerber, respectively(Simon143). "At about the same time Danny broke up with his wife, Arlene, Roy broke up with his wife Connie. Their breakups led to a new union, more famous and longer- lasting than their two marriages combined(Simon143)." 5 This new union in many ways resembled the one of Felix and Oscar. Danny was careful about his money and adored his children dearly. He watched every penny he made as security for the future of his two children, in many ways just like Felix. Roy on the other hand, was a fun loving man who didn't worry about organization and wasn't too careful with his money. The two men had alimony and child support to pay. Danny thought it would be a good idea if him and Roy moved in together to cut back on expenses(Simon143). A way that Simon himself influences one of his characters, is his inability to share his emotions. Oscar is presented in the same way, afraid to share his feelings(Simon147). Themes, as well as characters, are effected by the author's life. A main theme in The Odd Couple is importance of family. This same theme often appears in the life of Neil Simon. When Neil was a young boy, his father left him and the rest of his family. His mother always seemed to indirectly blame Simon and Danny for this misfortune. Simon didn't have a prominent father figure, so by having Felix perceived as a devoted father, he was making up for the lost love and bond he could have shared with his father. Although Oscar isn't a bad father, he doesn't seemed as attached to his children on the outside. This could be a way for Simon to describe his father(Simon145). Divorce is an important part in the significance of family. Simon's parents were divorced when he was a young boy. His friends, brother, even himself were all divorced at least once. He had been around divorce all of his life, which explains why it acts as such an important part in his play. All of Neil Simon's plays, including The Odd Couple, are to some extent a reflection of his life, sometimes autobiographical, other times based on the experiences of those close to him. Such elements that are effected by the author's life are themes and characters, as seen in The Odd Couple. When an individual reads a play of Simon's, although grounded in his own experience, you are provided only a glimpse into the mind and soul of this private man.

 



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